Georgia’s abortion rate continues to rise as state awaits decision on new law

The number of abortions performed in Georgia jumped by nearly 4,000 in 2021 — about 12% — over the previous year, according to the latest count from the state Department of Public Health.

After declining for two decades, 2021 marks the fourth consecutive year the rate of reported abortions increased in Georgia.

The latest figures, for 2021, were released last week as Georgia awaits a decision from a federal appeals court about the state’s restrictive anti-abortion law that could impact this year’s count. The law bans the procedure in most cases when a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity — typically about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many know they are pregnant.

The law is expected to take effect soon after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a similar case out of Mississippi last month that overturned Roe v. Wade, a nearly 50-year-old decision that guaranteed the constitutional right to an abortion.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asked attorneys debating Georgia’s law to file additional arguments last week outlining if and how the Supreme Court ruling in the Mississippi case affected the lawsuit.

A federal judge struck the law down in 2020, but the state appealed the decision. A panel of federal appeals court judges heard arguments on the law in September but put the case on hold to await a decision from the Supreme Court on the Mississippi lawsuit.

State records show 34,988 abortions were performed in 2021, a rate of 10.3 abortions per 1,000 females between the ages of 10 and 55. That is 3,740 more abortions than were reported in 2020, when 31,248 abortions were performed, a rate of 9.3 abortions per 1,000 females.

After steadily decreasing for the past five years, the number of births in Georgia increased in 2021, from 122,379 in 2020 to 123,971.

After years of decline, the number of abortions jumped by nearly 4% from 2017 to 2018, by more than 7% from 2018 to 2019 and about 2% between 2019 and 2020.

While the number of abortions performed in Georgia had trended downward over about 25 years, there was a similar spike in 2016, when the number of procedures jumped by nearly 3,000.

Despite the recent increase in the number of abortions performed, the rate the procedure occurs in Georgia is still down from 13.7 per 1,000 females in 1994 to 10.3 last year. Experts say the decrease can mostly be attributed to increased access to various forms of birth control.

Supporters have said once the strict anti-abortion law passed by the Georgia Legislature in 2019 takes effect, likely in the coming days, that number will drastically fall.