National survey shows increase in Illinois abortions

January 11, 2011

Scarlett Robertson & NPR News

(Flickr/Amber Wilkie Photography)
The March for Life rally on the National Mall, January 2010. A recent study found most abortion providers experience harassment.

The number of abortions performed in Illinois has increased according to the latest survey from the Guttmacher Institute.

While the think tank is associated with the abortion-rights side of the contentious debate, those on both sides consider its periodic surveys, which seek to question every known abortion-provider in the nation, as the gold standard.

The data for Illinois shows the number of abortions performed increased from 50, 970 in 2005 to 54, 920 procedures in 2008. The state’s abortion rate is now higher than the national average, and rose from 18.9 to 20.5.

The survey also found that for the first time in three decades, the number and rate of abortions performed in the United States is no longer declining. Specifically, an estimated 1.2 million abortions were performed nationwide in 2008, an increase of 0.5 percent from 2005. At the same time, the abortion rate, which is considered the more accurate measure of how many abortions take place because it accounts for the size of the child-bearing population, also rose just slightly, to 19.6 from 19.4 per 1,000 women.

Researchers give many potential reasons for the figures, ranging from the recession to increased instances of early medication abortions. “Maybe we’ve come to a natural plateau in abortion services,” said Christopher Mooney, Professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois. He points out that these kinds of statistics are open to multiple interpretations since any number of things could be influencing the data.

This time around Guttmacher researchers found "harassment is almost universal" at abortion providers, particularly the larger ones, said Rachel Jones, lead author of the study. Picketing remained the most common type of protest—reported by 55 percent of abortion providers. More aggressive picketing to block access and vandalism were also reported. For the first time the researchers asked about Internet harassment, and 3 percent of providers reported that abortion opponents had posted patient pictures on the Internet.

Protest, however, was not the same around the country. Abortion providers in the Midwest and South (75 percent) were far more likely to report having experienced some sort of harassment (85 percent) than those in the Northeast (48 percent) and West (44 percent).Despite the frequency of harassment in the region, Illinois currently has the highest abortion rate in the Midwest.

“Illinois is a pretty unrestrictive state,” said Christopher Mooney, Professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois. In fact, Illinois is among the 10 least restrictive states in the nation when it comes to abortion. Most states in this category are in the Northeast or West. Currently, Illinois abortion law does not include any of the major types of abortion restrictions such as waiting periods, mandated parental consent or limitations on public funding often found in other states.

“Illinois is like an island right in the middle of these highly restrictive states,” said Mooney.