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Study Estimates Almost 65,000 Pregnancies Resulting from Sexual Assault in States with Abortion Restrictions

Almost 65,000 pregnancies resulting from sexual assault are estimated to have occurred in states where abortion is prohibited, according to a recent study. The research, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, involved collaboration between Planned Parenthood, Resound Research for Reproductive Health, and various academic institutions across the United States. By analyzing federal surveys on crime and sexual violence, the study projected that approximately 520,000 rapes led to 64,565 pregnancies in the 14 states where abortion bans were implemented, ranging from four to 18 months ago.

In these states, where abortion options are limited, other research indicates that there have been fewer than 10 abortions monthly, implying that most victims, even in cases where exceptions for rape exist in the law, were unable to access abortion services. The study underlines the potential devastating consequences of restricting abortion access for survivors of rape. The medical journal’s editors emphasized the unknown outcomes for these survivors, whether they resorted to illegal abortions, received medication abortion by mail, traveled to other states, or carried the pregnancy to term.

While public opinion on abortion varies, with approximately 20% of U.S. adults supporting legal abortion in all cases according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey, a significant majority (nearly 70%) believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape. However, experts caution that implementing these exceptions can pose challenges in practice, potentially causing additional trauma and danger for survivors.

Dr. Sami Heywood, an ob/gyn in Illinois and fellow with the advocacy group Physicians for Reproductive Health, highlights the ethical concerns of making health care conditional on proving a crime occurred. Dr. Rachel Perry, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Irvine, adds that factors related to trauma responses may delay the recognition of pregnancy among rape survivors, impacting the feasibility of medication abortion within the recommended time frame.

The study also sheds light on the difficulties faced by rape victims, who may know their assailant and live with them, making it challenging to travel for abortion care or order pills online. Dr. Samuel Dickman, medical director of Planned Parenthood of Montana and lead author of the study, acknowledges the challenges in measuring sexual assault occurrences and the statistical assumptions in the study but emphasizes the importance of raising awareness about the impact of abortion bans and potential exceptions.

Idaho, one of five states with a rape exception in abortion laws, is estimated to have experienced 1,436 pregnancies resulting from rape in the 16 months since the law’s implementation. Dr. Dickman highlights the absence of abortion access in the state, questioning the acceptability of any number of affected pregnancies.

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