Since the US Supreme Court overturned the right to an abortion, estimates suggest that there have been tens of thousands of pregnancies as a result of rape in states with near-total abortion bans. Very few, if any, of those pregnancies were ended by a legal in-state abortion, even if states had exceptions for rape.
The right to an abortion was protected in the US for nearly 50 years under the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade legal ruling. But in June 2022, the country’s Supreme Court repealed this decision, allowing states to decide whether abortion is legal. Since then, 14 states have outlawed nearly all abortions.
To understand how this affects survivors of rape, Samuel Dickman at reproductive health non-profit Planned Parenthood of Montana and his colleagues estimated rape-related pregnancies in these states between July 2022 and January 2024.
The researchers first looked at the most recent data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on rape incidents, which was collected between 2016 and 2017. From that, they could approximate the proportion of rapes that resulted in pregnancy nationwide each year.
They then used data from law enforcement to estimate the number of rape-related pregnancies in each state since abortion bans were enacted. The result suggests that almost 65,000 people became pregnant as a result of rape in the 14 states. More than 90 per cent of those individuals lived in states where there weren’t exceptions that allow for an abortion in the case of rape.
Even in states with exceptions, fewer than a dozen legal abortions are being performed each month. One reason for this is that these states no longer have abortion providers, says Dickman. Plus, “most of the states with rape exceptions require some amount of reporting to law enforcement”, he says. “That’s a decision many survivors of rape choose not to do.”
Most sexual assaults go unreported due to stigma and fear of retaliation. That is also why these findings are most likely to be an underestimate, says Dickman.
Previous research shows that people denied abortion are more likely to stay with abusive partners, live in poverty and have poorer mental and physical health. These consequences may be especially pronounced for survivors of sexual assault. “The psychological impact of that is incalculable,” says Dickman.