The Supreme Court appears to be poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that made abortion legal nationwide, leaving what had been viewed as a constitutional right up to states to decide. Massachusetts is among the states where abortion will remain available, since lawmakers enshrined the provisions of Roe into state law in 2020.
Demand is expected to rise in Massachusetts as patients from states restricting abortion seek treatment in states that continue to provide it. Advocates are proposing expanded funding and access to accommodate all those who need abortions, from Massachusetts and beyond.
Here’s a look at who has been getting abortions in Massachusetts, based on 2020 statistics, the most recent data available, and whom the codified abortion rights will continue to protect.
1. Frequency of abortions
2. Racial disparities
Though a plurality of those who had abortions in 2020 was white, Black patients were dramatically overrepresented, based on population. About 7 percent of Massachusetts’ population is Black, according to the 2020 Census, but Black patients made up 20 percent of those who had abortions.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites a number of potential factors that contribute to racial disparities nationally, including unequal access to quality family planning services, economic disadvantage, and distrust of the medical system.
3. Marital status
Most of those who have abortions are not married.
4. Previous pregnancies
Most of those who had an abortion in 2020 were doing so for the first time. But it wasn’t always the first time they were pregnant. Those seeking abortion in Massachusetts often already have children. The state’s data show that in 2020, a plurality had previously given birth.
5. Gestational age
The vast majority of abortions occur before 8 weeks gestation. Pregnancy is calculated from the first day of the last menstrual period; at the first missed period, the patient is considered four weeks pregnant. While some premature babies survive earlier delivery, viability is typically between 23 and 24 weeks.
In Massachusetts, abortions can be performed up to 24 weeks. After that, they may only be performed if a physician deems one necessary to preserve the patient’s life, physical health, or mental health; in cases of lethal fetal anomaly; or if the fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside the uterus.
6. Patient’s age
More than half of those who had abortions were in their 20s. Anyone under 18 needed to have parental consent or a judicial bypass order to get an abortion at that time. The ROE Act lowered the age to 16 in 2021.
8. Medication abortion
The most common form of abortion now is medication abortion — a two-step protocol of prescriptions that can be taken to end a pregnancy up until 10 weeks. First approved in 2000, the method had been highly restricted until the pandemic, when the Food and Drug Administration lifted the requirement that it be dispensed in person, by specially certified providers. It is now available by telehealth, website, and mail, but states seeking to limit abortion have begun imposing new limits on this method.