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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Feb. 27, 2024

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Abortions jump 23% in WA as visiting patients reverse decadelong decline

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The number of abortions provided in Washington rose 23 percent last year, to the highest level in a decade, as the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion, recently released data shows.

Over 20,000 abortions were performed in the state in 2022, according to new data from the Washington State Department of Health provided to The Seattle Times. That is nearly 3,800 more than the number of abortions recorded the previous year, and a reversal of a long-term decline in the number of abortions performed in the state.

While residents and nonresidents drove the overall increase in abortion care in the state, the number of people from outside Washington seeking abortions in the state rose to a modern peak in 2022, according to a Times analysis of state data.

For more than a decade, nonresidents accounted for about 5 percent of all abortions performed in the state. Their share grew 2 percentage points in 2022.

More than 1,400 people residing outside Washington sought abortion care in the state in 2022, a 46 percent increase over the previous year. Abortions among residents grew 22 percent.

The increase in people outside Washington coming to the state for abortion care continues a trend observed since 2017, when anti-abortion legislative efforts saw an upsurge.

Even as the state has recorded an overall increase in abortions, the bulk of care was performed in a handful of counties.

More than two-thirds of abortions for residents were carried out in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties in the Puget Sound region, as most clinics are located along the Interstate 5 corridor.

In Eastern Washington, most abortions were performed in Spokane County, where conservative groups are known to protest outside the local Planned Parenthood clinics. Benton County in the Tri-Cities region and neighboring Yakima County in Central Washington followed.

Six counties recorded declines in abortions. Walla Walla and Whitman counties in the east recorded the greatest drops in abortions.

Patients traveling to Washington for abortions hailed from a variety of states, as close as Idaho or as far as Texas, where lawmakers moved to ban abortions after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson in June 2022.

Since then, as Washington moved to fortify reproductive rights, Idaho has instituted some of the strictest abortion regulations in the country, leading to an exodus of OB-GYNs and shuttered labor and delivery units.

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In 2021, Idaho had three open abortion clinics, according to data from the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health database at the University of California, San Francisco. By October 2022, the state had none. Washington still had at least 30 clinics offering abortion services then.

“Access does not simply rely on states’ abortion laws, but rather is a product of geographic access, legislative access, and health care professional availability,” said Dr. Dawn Kopp, vice chair for obstetrics and gynecology at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and author of a recently published research paper on drive times to abortion care facilities across the U.S.

The study found over 41 percent of U.S. women of reproductive age have to drive over half an hour one way to get to a clinic that offers abortion care. In Washington, the study found this was so for nearly 15 percent of women.

“Even within a state where abortion is not restricted (such as Washington state), the time it takes for a person to travel to an abortion facility can vary widely,” Kopp said in an email. Just as in states with severe abortion restrictions, people can cross borders to access care.

“For example, we found that 16.3 percent of Idaho women ages 15-49 have access to an abortion facility within a 90-minute drive,” Kopp said.

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