Study: Abortions in Louisiana fell by nearly a third in the first months of the pandemic
The number of abortions performed in Louisiana fell 31% between March and May from the previous two years, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
The decline was not offset by patients traveling out of state, the study found, suggesting that the drop represents people who would have obtained abortions, had it not been for the impacts of the pandemic.
“This 31% reduction really represents a decrease in abortions among residents of Louisiana,” said lead researcher Dr. Sarah Roberts, professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California at San Francisco. “It is striking for the dramatic impact that there has been. “
The researchers collected monthly data on abortions performed at clinics in Louisiana and clinics in neighboring states and compared those figures to the same time period in 2019 and 2018. They also called clinics in the area through July to find out which clinics were open and the average wait time.
The number of second trimester abortions nearly doubled from 10 percent to 17 percent, the study found, suggesting that many people’s abortions were delayed much later in pregnancy.
According to the researchers, only one or two of the state’s three clinics were open in early May, and the median wait time for an appointment was more than two weeks – a significant delay for an urgent procedure, Roberts said. .
Researchers followed up with abortion clinics until early July and found no rebound in services.
“It’s really an indication that more people were unable to get abortions in the first few months of the pandemic,” Roberts said.
The study’s period of time from March to May shows that abortion did not decline for other reasons – such as fewer pregnancies, Roberts added.
“It was too early for the reduction to be mainly due to people being able to avoid pregnancy, or more people not being able to get contraception and therefore more pregnancies,” she said.
Research supports anecdotal evidence of a decrease in abortions in the spring of last year, as Louisiana entered a shutdown banning elective health services and started a political battle on whether abortion clinics would be forced to close.
Two of the state’s three abortion clinics briefly stopped performing abortions as they tried to determine if they would be allowed to operate under a health notice banning elective procedures issued by the Department of Health Louisiana at the end of March, which did not define whether abortion was considered. elective.
Hope Medical Group for Women, a clinic in Shreveport, sued the health ministry and Attorney General Jeff Landry after Landry’s office sent staff to inspect two of the state’s three abortion clinics as part of a task force set up by Landry to enforce Department of Health orders . According to documents released by the Department of Health, Landry’s task force inspected three abortion clinics and one state endoscopy center.
Meanwhile, abortion clinics in Texas have bounced back between government shutdown orders and federal court rulings allowing them to reopen, forcing patients from Texas to travel to Louisiana.
Elizabeth Gelvin, client and community coordinator of the New Orleans Abortion Fund, recalls a state of “extreme fear and confusion.”
“We had everyone in a really frenetic state of flux,” Gelvin said. “People from Texas who come to Louisiana, people in Louisiana not knowing if they could access care, people who are forced to extend their care. “
The fund helps people pay for abortions and, during the pandemic, it launched a program to help coordinate and pay for hotels, travel and childcare for patients.
Staff called “hotel after hotel to see if they would allow someone to book who wasn’t like an essential worker,” Gelvin said. She said it looked like “a fast-track version” of what would happen if the United States Supreme Court upheld a Louisiana law that summer that would shut down two or all three abortion clinics. of State. Instead of, the court struck down the law.
Merritt Rebouche, who coordinates client support beyond helping pay for abortions, said clients faced several challenges: Children at home study remotely rather than in schools, the flooding caused by summer storms and job losses. More than half of New Orleans Abortion Fund clients are on Medicaid or uninsured, and 70 percent are black.
From March to June 2020, 73% of its customers were already parents, a 135% increase from before the pandemic.
Roberts said research has shown ambiguity and political battles over abortion clinics can have a similar effect as simply shutting down clinics.
“I would say that given all that is going on regarding abortion and abortion policy in general and the messages around abortion, the lack of clarity may also contribute to similar patterns and conclusions,” she declared.
The decline in abortions shows that public health officials need to think about how to offer abortions in emergency situations, she said.
“It’s a service that can be disrupted. It is an urgent service. And when people can’t get this service, it can have long-term implications for their health, as well as the health and well-being of their children, ”said Roberts.
Further research on the impacts of the pandemic on pregnancy and abortion has revealed that COVID-19 has caused many people to reconsider whether to have children. A investigation by reproductive health and rights group Guttmacher Institute in June 2020 found that a third of women wanted to delay pregnancy or have fewer children because of the pandemic, a figure that jumped to 44% for black women and 48% for Hispanic women.