Researchers say as many as one in four women will have an abortion in their lifetime.
The estimate comes from a peer-reviewed analysis by researchers with the Guttmacher Institute, whose abortion statistics are widely cited.
Data also shows that women who receive abortions come from all backgrounds, but changes in access — such as Wisconsin experienced for more than a year — fall harder on some than others.
Now, as Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin resumes abortions and state lawmakers hear multiple bills related to the issue, the Journal Sentinel takes a look at what else data and surveys say about the women most affected.
The information is from the years before the June 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. The Dobbs decision overturned the constitutional right to abortion, instead leaving abortion laws to the states. In Wisconsin, that meant the re-emergence of a 19th Century law widely interpreted as banning almost all abortions.
But with that law now called into question, here's what we know about the women, in Wisconsin and nationally, getting abortions prior to Dobbs:
Most were in their 20s.
Most were in their first trimester.
Most already had given birth at least once before.
Most were unmarried.
Most identified with some religion.
So what else do the data say?
How many abortions were performed in Wisconsin annually?
Until the Dobbs decision, Wisconsin averaged more than 500 abortions a month.
In 2021, nearly 6,600 abortions were performed in Wisconsin, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. That's much lower than the number performed in Wisconsin in the late 1970s and 1980s, when between 17,000 and 22,000 abortions were performed each year.
Abortion rates have been falling for decades across the country. One of the reasons is access to better birth control. Another is that abortion restrictions have contributed to clinic closures, meaning women may have to travel farther for services. That's a major hurdle for women with limited resources.
Even before Dobbs, many women in northern Wisconsin lived more than 100 miles from the nearest abortion clinic.
It's unclear exactly how many Wisconsinites have gone to Illinois or Minnesota for abortion care since last year's Supreme Court decision, but Planned Parenthood of Illinois, reported seeing seven times the number of Wisconsinites coming to Illinois since last summer.
How did abortion rates in Wisconsin compare nationally?
The abortion rate for Wisconsin was much lower than the national rate.
Before the Dobbs decision, Wisconsin's abortion rate was six abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years old, according to state data. That's compared to a national abortion rate of about 11.2 abortions per 1,000 women in 2020, the latest year with available data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The actual rate is almost certainly higher, because the CDC data does not include numbers from California, Maryland or New Hampshire. Those states do not report abortion data to the CDC.
The Guttmacher Institute — which supports abortion rights but whose research is widely cited, including by abortion opponents — estimated that the national rate was closer to 14.4 abortions per 1,000 women.
And neither the state nor national data included abortions happening outside of formal, clinical settings. Some women have gotten medication abortion pills by mail, after ordering them online or from virtual providers.
How old are women who get abortions?
Most abortion patients in Wisconsin were in their 20s. In 2021, nearly three in five, or 3,800 abortion patients, were in their 20s, data show.
Around one-third were 30 years old or older.
Teenagers used to make up a higher share — as many as one-fifth of abortion patients in the late 1990s. But in 2021, people under 20 made up about one-tenth of abortion patients.
Do most women getting abortions already have children?
Wisconsin does not report this statistic, but almost every state that reports it found that more than half the women receiving an abortion already had had at least one child. That included surrounding states Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa and Indiana.
Nationally, about three in five women who get abortions already were mothers, according to 2020 data reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those women, more than half had given birth at least twice before, according to the CDC.
The vast majority of people who got abortions were not married, and that held true in Wisconsin as well. In 2021, about 85% of abortion patients had never been married.
At what stage in pregnancy do most abortions occur?
The overwhelming majority of abortions occurred in the first trimester, state data showed.
About three in five occurred in the first eight weeks of pregnancy, and 88% in the first 12 weeks.
What religion were women who got abortions?
Neither the state health department nor the CDC collects data on the religious affiliations of people seeking abortion care.
But the Guttmacher Institute collects data on religious affiliation as part of a periodic, national survey of abortion patients. In 2014 and 2015, Guttmacher conducted a survey of nearly 8,400 abortion patients at more than 80 clinics. Of those who answered, 24% identified as Catholic, 17% identified as mainline Protestant and 13% as evangelical Protestant, and 8% as some other religion. About 38% had no religious affiliation.
What was the economic status of women who got abortions?
The state and national data did not include information on abortion patients' income.
But the Guttmacher Institute's 2014 survey found that nearly half of respondents were in households living below the poverty line. Another quarter lived in low-income households with incomes no more than two times the poverty line.
What was the racial identity of women who got abortions?
In 2021, about half of Wisconsin abortion patients were white, though the state did not break out how many were non-Hispanic white. About one-third of patients were Black.
Black women had the highest abortion rate of any racial or ethnic group. In 2021, the rate was about 27 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years old.
The reasons for higher abortion rates among some racial or ethnic groups are complex and have to do with systemic issues, including lack of access to family planning and mistrust of the medical system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Due to some of these same systemic barriers, Black women are more likely than white women to have an unintended pregnancy, said Amy Williamson, associate director of the Collaborative for Reproductive Equity at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Black women also are more likely than white women to develop pregnancy complications and have higher rates of medical conditions that put them at high risk for complications.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: What data say on women who got abortion in Wisconsin, nationally