Around 65,000 Rape-Related Pregnancies Have Taken Place In U.S. States With Abortion Bans

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A new study suggests that tens of thousands of women and girls in American states here abortion was outlaws post Roe v. Wade have experienced pregnancies resulting from rape.

Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the study utilized data from federal crime and sexual violence surveys to uncover the impact of abortion restrictions on rape-related pregnancies.

The findings reveal that approximately 520,000 rapes occurred in the 14 states that implemented abortion restrictions, leading to an estimated 64,565 pregnancies.

Alarmingly, over 90 percent of these pregnancies took place in states where abortion bans lacked exceptions for cases of rape.

“Thousands of people in the U.S. become pregnant from rape every month, and many of these people live in states where abortion is now illegal, and traveling or self-managed abortion is out-of-reach for many of them,” says Corinne Rocca, PhD, MPH, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California in San Francisco, who wasn’t involved in the new study.

“Abortion bans are already having a devastating effect on people’s bodily autonomy and lives, including those of rape victims,” she adds.

Texas emerged as the state with the highest number of rape-related pregnancies, accounting for around 26,000 cases, followed by Missouri and Tennessee.

Throughout the study duration, varying from 4 to 18 months across the 14 states in accordance with the duration of abortion bans, Texas reported approximately 26,000 pregnancies resulting from rape, representing 45 percent of the total. Following Texas, Missouri documented around 5,800 cases, while Tennessee recorded nearly 5,000.

Few Legal Abortions Reported in States With Restrictions

Dr. Rocca explains that although the study did not specifically investigate the desires of rape survivors regarding abortion or their decisions to continue their pregnancies, states with abortion bans in effect provided 10 or fewer legal abortions monthly.

“These people either had to endure the practical and emotional challenges of getting an out-of-state abortion, self-manage an abortion, or carry the rape-related pregnancy to term,” Dr. Rocca says.

A public health professor at Hunder College, City University of New York, Steffie Woolhandler, MD, MPH, and senior study author, points out that it remains unclear how many rape survivors in states with abortion bans attempt to access abortion medications from out-of-state or cross state lines to reach a clinic.

Dr. Woolhandler says, “The circumstances of the tens of thousands of rape survivors who become pregnant vary greatly. Our point is that the survivor of a rape is the one who should be making the decision as to whether to continue or terminate their pregnancy.”

Challenges in Reporting Rape Limit Abortion Access in States With Exceptions

There are five states included in the study, namely Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, West Virginia, and North Dakota, which had abortion bans with exceptions for rape. However, a legal abortion under this exception could require someone to report the rape to the police or go through an invasive medical exam to document the crime.

Nada Stotland, MD, MPH, a past president of the American Psychiatric Association who has done extensive research on reproductive health says, “Some may remain pregnant because of strong religious objections to abortion or the misery of alleging rape.”

But “most would want an abortion rather than endure a pregnancy and raising a child that is a constant reminder of the assault,” Dr. Stotland says. “There is also the fear that the child would inherit a genetic tendency toward criminality, and the challenge of responding to the child’s inevitable questions about their father.”

Dr. Rocca explains that individuals who are pregnant in states with abortion bans encounter numerous obstacles when seeking to end their pregnancies. According to Dr. Rocca, traveling out-of-state to access abortion services can be challenging, as it involves location and reaching a clinic that may be located hundreds of miles away.

Additionally, it may necessitate taking time off from work, arranging for childcare, and covering expenses for medical care and travel. Furthermore, Rocca notes that obtaining a medication abortion requires understanding that it is a safe option and being knowledgeable about how and where to obtain the necessary pills.

“Fear of legal ramifications is also highly likely to hinder people’s willingness to either travel for care or to self-manage,” Rocca says. “We haven’t looked explicitly at rape-related pregnancy; it is certainly possible that rape victims face additional obstacles.”