Even before lawmakers passed legislation this year severely limiting abortions, the procedure had been on the decline for decades in Georgia.
While Georgia’s population has ballooned in recent decades, the number of abortions dropped more than 18% in 23 years, according to state records, much of it due to increased access to birth control, experts say.
Anti-abortion activists and lawmakers motivated by the desire to stop even one abortion from occurring in the state passed legislation earlier this year that all but outlaws the procedure as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
In 1994, the earliest year data was available on the Georgia Department of Public Health’s vital statistics database, there were 33,516 abortions reported — a rate of about 13.7 abortions per 1,000 Georgia females between the ages of 10 and 55. There were 27,453 abortions reported in 2017, the most recent data available, at a rate of 8.3 per 1,000 females.
According to U.S. census figures, Georgia had a population of about 7 million in 1994. In 2017, there were about 10.4 million people living in Georgia.
Sarah McCool, an assistant professor in Georgia State University’s School of Public Health, said it’s difficult to pinpoint why there has been a decrease in the number of abortions in Georgia. But experts cite a few possible reasons.
“First is improved access to contraceptives, and some of that is attributed to the passing of the (federal) Affordable Care Act,” she said. “That made it so contraceptives are covered for people with insurance, so there’s a correlation there.”
The federal government also allowed the over-the-counter sale of the emergency contraceptive Plan B beginning in August 2013, a year after insurance companies were required to provide birth control at no cost. That also increased the popularity and use of long-acting reversible contraceptives, such as intrauterine devices, which cut down on unwanted pregnancies — a major contributor to the decision to get an abortion, McCool said.
In Georgia, there was a decline in the number of abortions after the contraceptive mandate went into effect in August 2012, dropping by about 3,000 reported abortions between 2011 and 2014.
The state also passed legislation in 2012 that banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, which, after a court battle, went into effect in 2015. Georgia law previously allowed abortions until 24 weeks.
Anti-abortion activists have questioned the accuracy of state numbers, alleging that procedures done by obstetricians/gynecologists aren’t accurately reported and that more are performed. A Georgia DPH spokeswoman said the law requires providers to report all abortions performed in the state.
Advocates on both sides of the issue point to different reasons for the decline in abortions.
Cole Muzio, the executive director of the anti-abortion Family Policy Alliance of Georgia, said women are getting fewer abortions because more people identify as “pro-life,” or anti-abortion.
“We are in an increasingly pro-life generation and pro-life culture,” he said.
A study of polls by Gallup found that in 1975, 33% of Americans considered themselves to be “pro-life” while 56% identified as “pro-choice,” or as supporters of abortion rights. In 2019, 49% of Americans identified as “pro-life” and 46% considered themselves to be “pro-choice.”
Still, support for outlawing abortions hasn’t changed much in the past 35 years, according to Gallup. It was about 21% in both 1975 and 2019. Most people support allowing abortions under some circumstances, at about 54% in 1975 and 53% in 2019.
Planned Parenthood Southeast President and CEO Staci Fox attributed the decline in abortions to increased access to contraception and sex education.
“When people are given the resources and information they need to make the decisions that are best for them, they’re able to plan their families and their lives accordingly,” she said.
Georgia passed House Bill 481 this year, which would outlaw most abortions once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity — usually at about six weeks of pregnancy and before many women know they’re pregnant. It’s scheduled to go into effect in January.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia is challenging the law in court on behalf of Planned Parenthood Southeast and other abortion rights advocates and providers. The ACLU has asked the court to keep the law from going into effect while the case makes its way through the legal process.
“Access to safe, legal abortion has continued to decline across the Southeast because of draconian legislation like HB 481 and worsening physician shortages,” Fox said. “No matter how you look at it, the bottom line is that we need to be doing everything in our power to expand access to health care instead of restricting it.”
Muzio said his organization, which lobbied in support of HB 481, will continue fighting until there are no more abortions happening in Georgia.
“We’re going to treat every life as valuable,” Muzio said. “That’s why it’s important (to keep fighting) and there really isn’t more to it than that.”
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