Study estimates nearly 65,000 pregnancies resulting from rape in states with abortion bans and restrictions following overturn of Roe v. Wade

By Abigail Palotas, Staff Writer 

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay 

Polls show that about seven in ten Americans say abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest.[1] Yet, since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, nine states have banned abortion even in these instances.[2]Five other states have exceptions for rape, but only in the very early stages of pregnancy or after the assault is reported to law enforcement.[3] In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from Planned Parenthood, Resound Research for Reproductive Health and academic institutions across the United States used federal surveys on crime and sexual violence to estimate that there were about 520,000 rapes that led to 64,565 pregnancies in the time since abortion restrictions and bans have been enacted in a total of fourteen states.[4]

Dr. Samuel Dickman, an abortion provider and medical director of Planned Parenthood in Montana, worked on the study.[5] Dickman routinely sees patients who tell him they became pregnant after a rape.[6] He sensed the patients telling him this were only a fraction of the true number.[7] Further, Dickman stated,”[t]here are certainly far more survivors of rape who become pregnant as a result, who — for totally understandable reasons — don’t want to disclose that fact to a medical provider that they just met.”[8]

For the study, Dickman and his team used Bureau of Justice Statistics data on criminal victimization, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reports to assess the number of vaginal rapes of women, ages fifteen to forty-five, that happened in those fourteen states while abortion bans were in effect, arriving at approximately 520,000 rapes.[9] They then calculated that 12.5% of those would result in a pregnancy, based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Dickman acknowledges the imperfection of the estimates due to the limited data available, but also speaks to the emotional gravity of the situation, saying, “Part of why we do research is because when I think about the individual patients, it’s too much.”[10]

Other research suggests there have been fewer than ten abortions each month in states with bans, suggesting that most victims were not able to get abortions in the states where they live, even those where the law allows exceptions for rape.[11] Because of the burdensome criteria for obtaining an abortion, not just on the survivor, but on the medical provider, providers essentially tell survivors of rape that they need to travel out of state, find somewhere else to go, or continue a pregnancy that was a result of sexual violence.[12] Dr. Sami Heywood, an OB-GYN in Illinois and fellow with the advocacy group Physicians for Reproductive Health who was not involved in this research, states that while exceptions to abortion bans may appear to be a reasonable solution, they can cause more trauma and danger for patients who have already experienced a traumatic event.[13] “No other health care is reserved only for people who can prove a crime occurred. That’s not an ethical way to practice medicine. It is cruel to force people who have already been victimized to jump through legal and logistical barriers that cause further harm.”[14] Additionally, victims of rape may take longer to recognize a pregnancy than other pregnant people due to the trauma they have experienced.[15] This may mean that by the time they learn they are pregnant, they no longer have the option of medical abortion, which is only available up to ten weeks gestation.[16] This also contributes to patients traveling long distances to abortion providers.[17]

Certainly not all people who become pregnant due to rape want an abortion, Dr. Rachel Perry, a professor of OB-GYN at the University of California, Irvine who was not involved with this research, observes.[18] However, Perry states that those who become pregnant after rape are more likely to choose abortion than to continue their pregnancies.[19] This suggests tens of thousands of Americans wanted an abortion after a rape and had no meaningful access.[20]

There are a variety of reasons pregnant people, including victims of rape or incest, may choose to continue a pregnancy. Opponents of abortion ban exceptions for rape and incest argue that the abortion experience inflicts trauma, so rape and incest survivors need involvement of other actors, rather than access to abortion, for support to mitigate trauma.[21] Additionally, opponents argue that protection from physical and emotional effects of pregnancy are ultimately less important than protecting a fetus.[22] Opponents believe fetuses are “innocent” in cases of rape and incest and therefore deserve protection.[23] Further, opponents believe that those making exception determinations cannot assume claims of rape and incest are true.[24]

In contrast, supporters of rape and incest exceptions think pregnant people should be believed.[25] Supporters believe abortion should be dealt with as a health issue, with less involvement from law enforcement.[26] They also believe that pregnant survivors of rape and incest forced to carry a fetus to term experience further trauma.[27] Moreover, supporters value protection of the pregnant person over the fetus because in cases of rape and incest, it was not their choice to become pregnant.[28]

A few cases of abortion after rape have recently been used to draw attention to this issue. A ten-year-old from Ohio who received an abortion after rape was the center of a political firestorm in Indiana soon after the Dobbs decision.[29] Another young girl, who was raped by her stepfather and became pregnant when she was twelve, appeared in a campaign ad for Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear.[30] This study serves as a first look at the national impact of abortion bans, which is of tantamount importance as the 2024 presidential election nears, with reproductive health continuing to be a key issue for voters.[31]


[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.



[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.




[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.


[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.


[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.


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