Tens Of Thousands Of Rape Victims Became Pregnant In States With Abortion Bans In The U.S., Finds Study


Researchers estimated there may have been more than 64,500 pregnancies resulting from rape in the 14 states that have enacted near-total abortion bans since Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, according to a research letter published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. The study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American of Medical Association (JAMA) used federal data to estimate the number of rape-related pregnancies that occurred between July 1, 2022, and Jan. 1, 2024.

The 14 states included in the study were: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

The data demonstrates that abortion bans likely make it impossible for most victims of rape to obtain abortions in their home states, even for the minority of people who live in states with exemptions for rape, researchers said.

The analysis stops short of estimating the number of women who might have been forced to carry a rape-related pregnancy to term. Abortion remains legal in most circumstances in 30 U.S. states, and nearly three-quarters of women seeking an abortion have shown a willingness to travel to states where abortion is legal, recent research has found.

A report by USA Today (Thousands of rape-related pregnancies estimated in abortion ban states) said:

Other research has found the number of abortions fell to nearly zero in states with the strictest bans, which indicates people who were raped and became pregnant couldn’t access abortions in their home state, even when there is an exception for rape, according to the study by researchers from Planned Parenthood of Montana, Hunter College in New York, Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts and the University of California, San Francisco.

“These are people who have really experienced a very traumatic event,” said study co-author Kari White, executive and scientific director for Renowned Research for Reproductive Health in Texas. “Not only have they lost their own reproductive autonomy as a result, but that is now being further undermined by the policies in place in their state that are really now making it difficult for them to make their own personal decisions about and determine the trajectory of their lives following this event.”

How Did Researchers Develop This Estimate?

The USA Today report said:

To generate this estimate, researchers combined several surveys and reports, White said, including estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the frequency of rapes nationwide, the fraction of rape survivors of child-bearing age from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and state-level data on the number of rapes from the FBI’s most recent uniform crime report.

Using other peer-reviewed studies to determine how often rape results in pregnancy, White said the group found 64,565 rape-related pregnancies occurred in the four to 18 months bans were in effect in the 14 states with strict abortion bans.

Lack Of Data Made Study Difficult, Said Researcher

The report said:

White said getting accurate and reliable data on rape and pregnancies that result from rape is difficult in part because it is such a sensitive topic. A 2018 study by CDC researchers estimated about 2.9 million women in the U.S. experienced a rape-related pregnancy during their lifetime.

White acknowledged the estimate reached in the study is not definitive.

“Even some of those estimates provided by the CDC report are considered to be underestimates, so the incidence of rape may be more common than what we estimated in our study,” White said.

Still, she added, “anybody who experiences this is one person too many.”

Alison Norris, a professor at The Ohio State University who studies sexual and reproductive health and was not involved in the study, said that despite the limitations of the data, the research is “extremely, thoughtfully executed.”

“I am impressed at the ways in which the authors have compiled the available data to give us a quantitative answer to an important problem that otherwise we haven’t been able to get our arms around the scope of people who are impacted,” she said.

Even With Exceptions, Barriers To Abortion For Rape Survivors Exist

The study does not estimate how many rape survivors are likely to seek an abortion, and White said there is not good data on how often this happens. An analysis of survey data from 2004 and 1987 by the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that supports abortion rights, found 1% of women reported that being raped contributed to their decision to get an abortion.

More than 90% of the thousands of estimated rape-related pregnancies occurred in states that do not include an exception for rape in their abortion bans, including 26,313 in Texas, which White said can force people who do want an abortion to travel out of state. The proportion of patients traveling out of state to get an abortion has risen from 1 in 10 in 2020 to nearly 1 in 5 in the first half of 2023, according to a study in December from the Guttmacher Institute.

Even in states that do have exceptions, White said, the law may require people to report the rape to law enforcement to qualify for an exception, which survivors may not be willing or able to do. Only 21% of rapes and sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement, according to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Norris said the paper demonstrates not everyone who could qualify for an exception gets an abortion.

“Those exceptions are a false promise because of how hard it is for victims of rape to be granted an exception,” Norris said. “So the exception makes people feel better about the law, but it doesn’t actually make the law anymore suitable to taking care of people who have been raped.”

Nearly 65K rape-related Pregnancies In States With Abortion Bans

A report by The Hill said:

Based on available data, researchers estimated 519,981 completed rapes occurred in this time frame, with 64,565 associated with pregnancies. Among rape-related pregnancies, 5,586 — 8.7 percent — are estimated to have occurred in states with abortion bans that included exceptions for rape.

“In this cross-sectional study, thousands of girls and women in states that banned abortion experienced rape-related pregnancy, but few (if any) obtained in-state abortions legally, suggesting that rape exceptions fail to provide reasonable access to abortion for survivors,” the study stated.

Texas is estimated to have had the highest rate of rape-related pregnancies by far at 26,313, more than four times the second state on the list, Missouri, with an estimated 5,825.

The researchers acknowledged there were some limitations to their study.

“We used CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] data, the most accurate available national data on rapes, but such highly stigmatized experiences are difficult to measure accurately in surveys,” they wrote.

“Nonetheless, the large number of estimated rape-related pregnancies in abortion ban states compared with the 10 or fewer legal abortions per month occurring in each of those states indicates that persons who have been raped and become pregnant cannot access legal abortions in their home state, even in states with rape exceptions,” the researchers added.

The study notes a conflict of interest with two of the researchers. Samuel L. Dickman, who serves as Medical Director at Planned Parenthood of Montana and is currently part of several lawsuits dealing with abortion access. Another researcher on the study, Kari White, has previously been paid by groups that support abortion access.

Morally Acceptable

A report by The Guardian said:

The figures come as rape exemptions have fallen out of favor among anti-abortion activists and politicians, despite the fact that most Americans, including Republicans, believe that victims of assault should have access to abortion, and that most Americans believe abortion is “morally acceptable”.

“The large number of estimated rape-related pregnancies in abortion ban states compared with the 10 or fewer legal abortions per month occurring in each of those states indicates that persons who have been raped and become pregnant cannot access legal abortions in their home state, even in states with rape exceptions,” researchers wrote in a research letter in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Although the observational nature of the study might draw criticism, it is part of an important and growing number of analyses documenting the effect of abortion bans on women’s lives, health and fertility. This growing body of evidence crosses disciplines, with contributions from clinicianseconomists and researchers.

In July 2022, the US supreme court overturned Roe v Wade, a nearly 50-year-old precedent that provided a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy, in a case called Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization (or simply “Dobbs”).

The decision caused a seismic change in reproductive rights in the US – states were suddenly permitted to ban the procedure. Fourteen moved to do so immediately and almost totally, with five of those providing exemptions for victims of rape. Twenty-five million women of childbearing age now live in states that ban the procedure.

The report said:

In JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers estimated the number of women who are likely victims of “completed” vaginal rape – forced and/or drug/alcohol–facilitated vaginal penetration – using estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of intimate partner violence. They then determined the fraction that were likely to be of childbearing age (15-45) using Bureau of Justice Statistics data, arriving at a figure of roughly 520,000 total rapes. (Importantly, as noted by JAMA, data from BJS undercounts rapes.) Finally, they apportioned assaults to the 14 US states that ban abortion using the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ uniform crime statistics, which include rapes reported to law enforcement in 2019.

The estimate found that the overwhelming majority of rape-related pregnancies, 58,979, likely occurred in states without exceptions to their abortion ban. Texas alone accounted for as much as 45% of that number (26,313) because of its large population and total ban without exceptions.

An estimated 5,586 rape-related pregnancies occurred in states with exceptions for victims of rape. Although not all women who become pregnant from a rape want an abortion, those who do are likely confronted with the reality that their state offers no access to abortion. Researchers found that even states with exemptions likely fail to provide any meaningful opportunity to terminate a pregnancy, given the low number of legal abortions per month in these states.

At least in part, researchers surmise this is driven by requirements for victims to report rape to law enforcement, which few feel comfortable doing. It would likely be worsened by the near total lack of providers who would be willing to perform an abortion in a state with severe criminal and professional penalties for doing so.

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