Montana

Before Roe Ruling, Out-of-State Abortions in Washington Hit Decade High in 2021

Alison Saldanha / The Seattle Times

Even before the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade lifted in June, more people from outside of Washington sought abortion treatment here last year, the latest Health Department data shows.

Bucking the national trend, abortions in Washington have been steadily declining over the past decade, with 16,349 abortions in 2021 and an abortion rate of 9.9 abortions per 1,000 people of childbearing age.

This is a slight increase from 2020, when abortions in Washington hit an all-time low of 16,310 — an increase primarily due to an increase in out-of-state residents seeking abortion treatments here, with eastern Washington seeing the largest increase recorded.

In 2021, the state recorded 988 abortions for foreigners, the highest number in more than 10 years. In 2010, the state recorded 1,020 abortions for out-of-state residents.

Raw numbers of abortions for out-of-state residents show that they declined precipitously until 2015, after which they began to rise, particularly since 2017, when President Donald Trump took office and anti-abortion legislative efforts experienced a resurgence.

The largest increases in abortions have been recorded outside the Seattle area, particularly in eastern Whitman and Benton counties, where abortion rates in 2021 doubled and tripled, respectively, from the previous year.

Each of these counties has a publicly funded abortion clinic and is located near rural eastern counties that do not have access to a publicly funded facility. In Spokane, where conservative groups are known to be protesting outside of the local Planned Parenthood, the abortion rate rose nearly 50%.

Meanwhile, Mason, Thurston, and Grays Harbor counties in southern Puget Sound and the Peninsula saw significant declines in 2021 abortions. Clallam, Snohomish, and Pierce counties, which have one or more publicly funded abortion clinics, also saw declines.

Following the Supreme Court ruling, most abortions are now banned in at least 13 states as restrictive laws come into force. With more bans expected in other states in the coming years, the number of people traveling to Washington for abortions is expected to quadruple, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that advocates for abortion rights.

Those forecasts are likely to be affected by the results of the recent midterm elections, as voters in California, Michigan and Vermont voted to introduce permanent protections into their state constitutions, and those in Kentucky, Montana and Kansas rejected anti-abortion measures.

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