Georgia’s abortion rate increases for third consecutive year

Supporters and opponents of Georgia’s anti-abortion fetal cardiac law, which a federal judge blocked from taking effect Jan. 1, will keep the measure in the spotlight during next year’s elections for the state Legislature and other offices. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Supporters and opponents of Georgia’s anti-abortion fetal cardiac law, which a federal judge blocked from taking effect Jan. 1, will keep the measure in the spotlight during next year’s elections for the state Legislature and other offices. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

The number of abortions performed in Georgia grew slightly in 2020 — by about 2% over last year, according to new numbers from the state Department of Public Health.

After declining over the past two decades, 2020 marked the third consecutive year the rate of reported abortions increased in Georgia.

The latest figures, for 2020, were released earlier this month as Georgia continues to defend its restrictive anti-abortion law. The law would have banned the procedure in most cases when a doctor could detect fetal cardiac activity — typically about six weeks into a pregnancy.

A federal judge struck the law down last year, but the state has appealed the decision. A federal appeals court hearing is scheduled for September.

State records show 31,248 abortions were performed in 2020, a rate of 9.3 abortions per 1,000 females between the ages of 10 and 55.. That is 592 more abortions than were reported in 2019, when 30,656 abortions were performed, a rate of 9.2 abortions per 1,000 females.

As is occurring across the country, the number of births in Georgia decreased last year, from 126,250 in 2019 to 122,379 in 2020. According to U.S. census figures, Georgia added nearly 108,000 residents between 2019 and 2020.

Planned Parenthood Southeast President and CEO Staci Fox said she’s not surprised that abortions continued to be performed in 2020, even during a pandemic that brought most of the state to a halt during the spring.

“People’s healthcare needs don’t stop in a pandemic,” she said. “I think given the state of the world — with the pandemic and economic stress and health concerns — people don’t want to start or expand a family with such uncertainty. They’re just not convinced that having a child right now is the best decision, and that’s OK.”

Joshua Edmonds, executive director of anti-abortion group Georgia Life Alliance, said he was pleased to see the rate of increase had slowed from last year.

“It’s certainly reflective of the policies that Georgia has been enacting over the last three years,” Edmonds said, pointing to expanded funding for low-income mothers who receive Medicaid — the public health program that provides care to the poor and disabled. “As a result we’re seeing Georgia women feel more empowered to choose life today than three years ago.”

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

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

The abortion count has dropped by about 6.8% since 1994, due mostly to increased access to various forms of birth control, experts say. Georgia had a population of about 7 million in 1994, according to census figures. By 2020, that had increased to 10.7 million.

Supporters have said the strict anti-abortion law passed by the Georgia Legislature in 2019 was an attempt to further decrease the number of abortions that are performed in the state.

ExploreGeorgia abortion law case heads back to court in September 2021