Michigan abortion rate reaches nearly 30-year high, boosted by visitors

Karen Bouffard, The Detroit News on

Published in Political News

DETROIT — Michigan's abortion rate increased nearly 9% 2020 to to its highest level in almost three decades — an increase providers and other experts attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The increase to 15.8 abortions per 1,000 women of child-bearing age from 14.5 in 2019 was the highest jump in the state's abortion rate since 2013, according to state data. It marks Michigan's highest abortion rate since 1993, although a portion of the increase is attributed to visitors from outside the state.

"We definitely saw a significant increase in the number of patients seeking abortion care," said Ashia George, nurse manager at Scotsdale Women's Center, an abortion clinic in Detroit.

"We saw an increase in both in-state and out-of-state. We’ve had several patients fly in from Texas for abortions."

The biggest double-digit percentage increases in abortion rates for women age 15 to 44 years old in 2020 occurred in rural, more sparsely populated northern Michigan counties, many of which have higher poverty rates than the state average of nearly 9% .

They included a 25% increase in Gladwin County and a 55% jump in Montmorency County, which a United Way measurement finds has the fourth-highest concentration of working poor households in Michigan, according to the University of Michigan. Alpena County had the largest increase at over 62%, going from 5.1 abortions per 1,000 women in 2019 to 8.3 in 2020.


Larger populated counties with urban centers had less dramatic but notable increases, many of which were above Michigan’s overall 8.9% increase in the abortion rate. They ranged from Genesee County’s 12% rise to a nearly 15% hike for Detroit, which is America's second poorest city of more than 300,000 people. Detroit contributed to Wayne County’s overall increase of 11%. Muskegon and Saginaw counties topped the list of larger urban counties with 22% and almost 23% increases, respectively.

Abortion providers said fears about pregnancy outcomes or financial insecurity led to increased demand for abortion services during the pandemic. But they also pointed to an influx of patients from other states, such as Ohio, that deemed abortion a nonessential service, shuttering clinics during pandemic-related shutdowns.

An executive order in March 2020 by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer required hospitals, freestanding surgical outpatient facilities, dental facilities and all state-operated outpatient facilities to postpone nonessential procedures. But the order made an exception for “pregnancy-related visits and procedures,” which were excluded from postponement, said Suzanne Thelen, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

Anti-abortion groups criticized Whitmer at the time for defending her continuation of abortion procedures in Michigan amid the COVID-19 ban on elective surgeries as “life-sustaining.”


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