Abortions, now illegal in Missouri, rose last year for the first time in more than a decade

Abortions in Missouri increased last year, a new state report says, the first such uptick in more than a decade.

The Department of Health and Senior Services’ annual vital statistics report, finalized Friday and provided to the News-Leader, shows that at least 3,639 Missouri residents received abortions in 2021, up from 3,391 in 2020, during the final full year the procedure was legal in the state. Abortion was outlawed in June minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

It marks the first year-to-year percentage increase in Missouri abortions since 2008, according to previous state reports. The increase is also likely an undercount, as the state does not have access to the increasing numbers of women crossing state lines for the procedure (abortion remains legal in Kansas and Illinois).

Abortions have dropped dramatically in Missouri over the past decade — in 2011, the state recorded 9,234 abortions, or 60.6% more than the 2021 total. Prior to the June ban, the state had one operating abortion clinic — a Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis.

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Missouri’s Republican lawmakers passed a bill in 2019 banning abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy. Although that eight-week ban was blocked in court, their inclusion of a “trigger law” upon the overturning of Roe resulted in the immediate ban of abortion in all situations except for medical emergencies, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Some lawmakers have proposed further restrictions on abortion. One proposal would have allowed private citizens to sue those who aid and abet people seeking abortions across state lines, and another would have made performing an abortion after ten weeks of pregnancy a class A felony. A bill that passed the House but died in the Senate criminalized mail-order abortion medication and blocked Medicaid funds from going to Planned Parenthood.

In a recent poll of likely voters, 58% of respondents said they believed it should be possible “for a woman to legally obtain an abortion in the state of Missouri in the first eight weeks of pregnancy.” Vast majorities of respondents said they agreed that abortions should be legal in cases of rape (75%), incest (79%) or where the mother’s life is in danger (87%).

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Teen births continued to decrease last year, according to the report — 3,342 babies were born to mothers under 20 years old, down from 3,591 in 2020 and a 52% decline from 2011. There were 817 births from teens younger than 18, down from 877 in 2020.

While the rate of infant deaths remained at a record low at 5.7 per 1,000 live births, the African-American infant death rate increased — from 11.7 per 1,000 in 2020 to 12.2 per 1,000 in 2021. That mark is “more than two and one half times the white rate.”

Inadequate prenatal care also dropped, from 21.3% in 2020 to 19.1% in 2021, the lowest rate since 2016. The state defines inadequate care as fewer than five visits for pre-term pregnancies, fewer than eight for term pregnancies, or prenatal care starting after the first four months or pregnancy.

The number of mothers on Medicaid, WIC and food stamps programs also all decreased in 2021, as the state continues to slowly expand enrollment in its low-income health care program. An attempt by some lawmakers to extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers post-pregnancy came up short this spring in Jefferson City.

Galen Bacharier covers Missouri politics & government for the News-Leader. Contact him at gbacharier@news-leader.com, (573) 219-7440 or on Twitter @galenbacharier.

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