Abortion pill used for vast majority of Georgia abortions, DPH data shows

Abortions after six weeks of pregnancy have all but ended
Pro-abortion activists and anti-abortion activists hold opposing signs at an anti-abortion rally at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Thursday, February 9, 2023. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Pro-abortion activists and anti-abortion activists hold opposing signs at an anti-abortion rally at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Thursday, February 9, 2023. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Since Georgia’s abortion law took effect last year, the number of procedures performed each month has dropped by nearly half.

There is also a clear shift in the way Georgians are having abortions. The cases of people using medication to induce an abortion, as opposed to surgery, increased by nearly 20% since Georgia’s law took effect last summer, according to the Department of Public Health.

DPH provided the information to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in response to an open records request.

In 2019, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a law that bans most abortions in Georgia once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity, typically about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many know they are pregnant.

In the first seven months of 2022, before Georgia’s law took effect, an average of about 4,000 abortions were performed each month. Since the law took effect in late July 2022, abortions are being performed at an average of about 2,176 per month, according to DPH data.

Cole Muzio, who runs the conservative Norcross-based Frontline Policy Action group, said the entire purpose of the 2019 law was to save lives.

“Abortions are down by (about half) across the state,” he said. “That equates to 20,000 to 21,000 lives — about the size of the city of Acworth. This is exactly what we were hoping for.”

Abortions after six weeks of pregnancy have all but stopped in Georgia. Before Georgia’s law took effect, about 54% of surgical abortions occurred at seven weeks of pregnancy or later. After August 2022, less than 2% of surgical abortions performed in Georgia happened after six weeks of pregnancy.

Georgia law allows later abortions in cases of rape, incest, if the life of the woman is in danger, or in instances of “medical futility,” when a fetus would not be able to survive.

About two-thirds of the 28,000 abortions that took place in Georgia between January and July 2022, before the law was in effect, were done via the abortion pill. Since August 2022, more than 80% of the about 19,500 abortions performed in the state were induced by medication.

Nationally, medication abortion has increasingly become the preferred method for terminating a pregnancy up until 10 weeks. Those seeking to terminate a pregnancy are prescribed two pills: mifepristone, taken first, and then misoprostol.

Vivienne Kerley-de la Cruz, state director for Planned Parenthood Southeast, said the increased use of medication for abortions was expected given the changes made in state law.

“When you eradicate the ability for folks to get an abortion after 6 weeks, the most common means of terminating a pregnancy is the mifepristone-misoprostol two-pill regiment,” she said. “Most people don’t know they’re pregnant by six weeks. When abortions were legal until (22 weeks), most folks know they’re pregnant by then. Sometimes they had a couple of options and sometimes surgical (abortion) was their only option.”

After the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which guaranteed the nationwide right to abortion, anti-abortion advocates set their sights on mifepristone, which health care professionals use to induce an abortion. Anti-abortion advocates have challenged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the medication, which occurred in 2000.

The FDA in 2021 issued guidance that allowed abortion medication to be prescribed through a telehealth visit and sent through the mail. Georgia’s abortion laws, however, require an ultrasound to determine how far along a pregnancy is before an abortion — medical or surgical — can be performed, which requires an in-person visit.

The majority of abortions, both by pill and surgery, performed in Georgia between January and July 2022 were done when the woman was about six weeks pregnant. Since the law took effect, about half of abortions have been performed at about five weeks of pregnancy.

Georgia’s abortion law is being challenged in the state Supreme Court. In November, a Fulton County Superior Court judge threw out the state law, allowing abortions past the detection of fetal cardiac activity to resume. About a week later, the state Supreme Court said the law should be in effect throughout the court process.

That legal back-and-forth resulted in a jump in reported abortions after seven weeks of pregnancy in November. There were 195 abortions performed at seven weeks of pregnancy or later in November compared with 13 in September and 10 in December.

Justices will soon decide whether the law should remain in effect — or if, as attorneys for abortion providers argue, it was illegal from the start because Roe v. Wade was the law of the land in 2019 when the state law was passed.