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Idaho had 5 documented abortions in 2023, but a closer look at the data tells a different story

Flyers pasted on a green electric box. One says "No vamos a para" - we aren't going to stop- and shows two hands exchanging a box with the words "abortion pills" written in it. Another one is torn, with the first two words only partially visible. It reads: "FU... SC... We're doing it anyway"
Julie Luchetta
Boise State Public Radio News
Pro-abortion rights flyers and stickers have been popping up in public spaces around Boise since the repeal of Roe v. Wade.

According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, there were just five reported abortions in the state in 2023. A sharp decline from previous years, that number does not appear to reflect the reality of abortion access since strict abortion bans went into effect.

After the repeal of Roe v. Wade in June of 2022, the state banned physicians from providing abortions, with limited exceptions for cases of rape and incest or when the life of the mother is endangered.

For decades, the state has compiled reports on the number of Idahoans receiving abortions annually, alongside birth and death rates. Prior to 2022, there was an average of 1,400 abortions reported each year in Idaho. Pam Harder, the research analyst supervisor for the Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics said this latest data paints an incomplete picture.

“These are not counting abortions where the patient went out-of-state. In 2022, we did not receive records from all the states surrounding Idaho,” she said.

In 2021, Harder said more than 400 Idahoans traveled to Washington state for abortion care, representing the largest percentage of Idahoans traveling from out of state to terminate a pregnancy. But since the bans went into effect, both Washington and Oregon declined to share their numbers with Idaho.

In a note sent to IDHW after they asked for their 2022 data, Washington State Department of Health said they were prohibited from sending abortion data to states that restrict abortion access to a degree inconsistent with Washington law.

Utah, Harder said, did provide its data. In the months following the bans, she noted the number of Idahoans who went south for abortions almost doubled.

“There were 115 Idahoans that went to Utah in 2022, compared with 63 in 2021,” Harder said, adding most of those occurred in the second half of the year after Idaho’s bans went into effect.

Data from Idaho's Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics show a sharp decline in abortions after strict abortion bans went into effect in the later part of 2022.
Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare
Data from Idaho's Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics show a sharp decline in abortions after strict abortion bans went into effect in the later part of 2022.

Idaho is receiving very few reports of abortions, but official numbers do not account for those who traveled out-of-state and self-managed abortions. Both are legal options.

Data scientist Isaac Maddow-Zimet from the Guttmacher Institute, an advocacy research center focusing on abortion access, said that is a trend seen across the country.

“People have always traveled across state lines to access abortion care, but that has increased enormously,” he said.

The Institute’s latest report shows that despite new bans, the number of abortions in the U.S. increased last year, to the highest recorded number in a decade.

“[A]n estimated 1,026,690 abortions occurred in the formal health care system in 2023, the first full calendar year after the US Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization overturned Roe v. Wade,” the report reads. “This represents a rate of 15.7 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age, and is a 10% increase since 2020.”

“That's almost certainly an undercount,” Maddow-Zimet added, “because it doesn't include abortions happening outside of the formal health care system or any abortions happening in states with total bans.”

Physicians in Idaho can face criminal charges for providing abortions outside of very narrow circumstances, but it is not illegal for women in the state to take abortions pills on their own.

In 2023, Idaho Abortion Rights, a local advocacy group, reported funding 742 abortion kits sent to Idaho residents. Similarly, the international telehealth group AidAccess said it prescribed roughly 450 medication abortion pills to individuals in Idaho last year.

“Historically, estimating abortions that are occurring outside of the formal health care system and really having that estimate be comprehensive is really difficult,” Maddow-Zimet said.

There are no statistics tracking how many of those more than a thousand pills resulted in terminated pregnancies. Despite this, the discrepancy between Idaho’s very low official count and numbers reported by outside sources show the state is not capturing the complex reality of abortion access post Roe.

I joined Boise State Public Radio in 2022 as the Canyon County reporter through Report for America, to report on the growing Latino community in Idaho. I am very invested in listening to people’s different perspectives and I am very grateful to those who are willing to share their stories with me. It’s a privilege and I do not take it for granted.