People protest in response to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2022, in Washington, D.C. The court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health overturned the landmark 50-year-old Roe v. Wade case and erases a federal right to an abortion. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Four years after the U.S. Supreme Court decided that abortion was a constitutional right in 1973, Idaho passed a law to monitor those abortions — not in a way that would identify patients, but in a way that would allow the state and public to see the statistics.
Abortion is one of few medical procedures that is tracked and analyzed annually by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The state has refused to participate in data collection that would offer similar insight into a vast array of other medical procedures.
From the annual abortion reports, health officials know what abortion looks like in Idaho: who gets them, when, how and where.
What we know about abortion in Idaho
Abortions in Idaho have become much less common over the years.
They peaked at 2,706 in 1981 — about 1,000 more than in 2020, even though Idaho’s population had grown significantly in those 40 years.
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The year of the pandemic’s arrival in Idaho brought with it an increase in abortions. The number of abortions to Idaho residents in 2020 — the most recent data year — was 11% higher than the year before. And rates of abortion also reached their highest levels in at least a decade.
What we know about abortions provided to Idahoans
There is no typical abortion — just as with any other medical procedure, the patient’s health and many other factors can play a role. But we do know what the numbers say.
Most Idahoans seeking abortion were able to get them in Idaho as of 2020. About 72% of the 2,007 abortions to Idaho residents that year occurred in-state. The others occurred mostly in Washington — likely due to availability of abortion care across the state border in North Idaho — with a few dozen in Utah and a small number in Montana, Oregon and Tennessee.
Nearly all abortions occur in Ada or Twin Falls counties. That’s where Planned Parenthood clinics have been located.
The number of Idahoans getting abortions in other states will grow if the Idaho abortion ban survives a pending legal challenge. Planned Parenthood plans to open a new clinic just across the border in Oregon.
What we know about who gets abortions
The ‘typical’ Idahoan who receives an abortion is in her 20s, according to Idaho Health and Welfare data.
She is not married.
She’s white and non-Hispanic.
This is her first time getting an abortion, and the pregnancy is new — less than nine weeks.
There is about a 51% chance she doesn’t have children. If she does, she has one or two kids, but it’s very possible she has three or more.
She probably lives in one of Idaho’s urban areas.
The clinician gives her a prescription for medication that will induce the abortion — as opposed to performing surgery — and she will not report any physical or mental health complications.
The law does not require the state to gather any information about her education, income, poverty level or housing.
Because pregnancies are more common in certain age groups, abortions in that age group may also be more numerous. The rate of abortions per 1,000 female residents in each age group was, as of 2020:
- Age 10-14: 0.1
- Age 15-19: 3.8
- Age 20-24: 11.3
- Age 25-29: 8.5
- Age 30-34: 5.9
- Age 35-39: 3.3
- Age 40-44: 1.1
- Age 45 and older: 0.2
It’s slightly more common for a patient who receives an abortion in Idaho to have no living children — about 51% of abortions in 2020.
It’s much more common for a patient to be undergoing abortion for the first time in their life — about 80% of abortions in 2020.
What about abortions for rape, incest or life-saving care?
The Idaho Legislature has not required health care providers to gather any information from patients on the reason they’re seeking an abortion.
Idaho law enforcement agencies reported at least 576 rapes in 2018, the most recent FBI data year. That is an undercount; many victims do not report their rape, and not all Idaho law enforcement agencies report their numbers to the FBI.
While it is possible for a female to become pregnant at a young age, due to early fertility, their babies are at much higher risk of being born too early and too small, and the birth can be traumatic for the girl.
“Childbearing by very young mothers is a matter of public concern because of the elevated health risks for these mothers and their infants and the socioeconomic consequences,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Girls in Idaho age 10 to 14 have received abortions every year since at least 2003 — anywhere from three abortions among these girls in 2017, to 13 in 2010. Based on the abortion and birth rates in that age group, Idaho girls in their preteens and early teens were more likely to get abortions than to deliver a baby.
Many more Idaho girls age 15 to 17 receive abortions each year — from 56 in 2014 and 2020, to 159 in 2006.
The law also doesn’t require health care providers to report whether abortions were performed to save the patient’s life.
There is no demographic for whom a pregnancy is most likely to cause serious, life-threatening complications. Those can happen to anyone.
But one of the major risk factors for dangerous complications in pregnancy is a history of complications.
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National data show that nearly 10% of pregnancies cause blood-pressure related disorders, including a disorder that results in seizures and can kill the mother. The only way to treat that disorder is to deliver the fetus — whether or not the fetus has developed enough to survive. (There is no data for Idaho, because Idaho does not participate in that national data-gathering program.)
The risk of complications in a pregnancy is never zero, but it does increase with a mother’s age. Some of those complications are resolved or prevented by abortion.
About one in four Idaho women age 40 and up who received abortions in 2020 had already undergone the procedure at least once before.
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