In Ohio, Black women get abortions at a much higher rate

Economics and already having a child or children play a huge role in reproductive decisions

By: - October 9, 2023 5:00 am
Despite plaintiffs’ claims that medication abortion is dangerous, data from more than two decades of mifepristone uses indicate a generally low rate of adverse events and few deaths, according to the FDA. (Getty Images)

Despite plaintiffs’ claims that medication abortion is dangerous, data from more than two decades of mifepristone uses indicate a generally low rate of adverse events and few deaths, according to the FDA. (Getty Images)

There are six times as many white women as Black women in Ohio. Yet last year, Black women had more abortions. 

The wild disparity and other data in the most recent state abortion report suggest that economics plays a huge role in women’s decisions about whether to abort a pregnancy. The economic impacts of pregnancy and abortion might be considerations for Ohioans as they go to the polls on Nov. 7 to vote on Issue 1, an amendment that would enshrine reproductive rights in the state Constitution. 

The Ohio Department of Health last week released its Induced Abortion Report for 2022. Among its other revelations, it showed that racial disparities when it comes to deciding to end pregnancy are growing.

Despite being so greatly outnumbered by white women in the Buckeye State, Black women have gotten more than 40% of the abortions in each year since 2013. Then, starting in 2020, in terms of raw numbers they got most of any ethnic group in Ohio.

Because their overall numbers are so much smaller, the rate at which Black Ohio women have been getting abortions is much higher than their white neighbors. In each year between 2020 and 2022, between 1.7 and 1.9 per 1,000 white women received abortions, while for Black women, those figures ranged from 10.3 to 12.2 per 1,000.

That women have to juggle considerations of pregnancy, poverty and survival is hardly new. Those are major themes of Daniel Defoe’s 1722 novel “Moll Flanders.” 

And it’s not hard to see how economics might play a role in the vast disparity between abortions among Black Ohio women and their white counterparts. 

An analysis of 2018 Census data showed that women accounted for 56% of Americans living in poverty. That’s also not surprising, given that women are more likely to care for kids and kids are expensive.

Nearly 1 in 4 unmarried mothers lived in poverty, the same analysis said. And Black women were more than twice as likely as white women to live in poverty — 23% versus 9%.

Other research has shown that not having access to abortion increases economic insecurity, and that in many countries — including the United States — economic worries are the leading reason women cite for deciding to end a pregnancy.

Social scientists have tried to examine whether children resulting from unplanned, unwanted pregnancies suffer worse outcomes in later life than their wanted peers, but much of the work has produced mixed results. However, two prominent economists — Steve Levitt and John Donohue  — found a link between the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v Wade ruling, which protected abortion rights, and a huge drop in crime rates starting about 17 years later.

With the current Supreme Court last year overturning Roe, the number of women in financial distress who are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term seems likely to increase. That’s true because the states with the strictest abortion bans also tend to have the highest poverty rates — and because it’s expensive to travel out of state to get an abortion.

The problem of more children born into poverty is also likely to be exacerbated by the loss of a child tax credit championed by the Biden administration. Congress declined to renew it, and its expiration has been linked to an increase of 5.2 million more children living in poverty last year alone.

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe last June, a strict Ohio law passed in 2019 took immediate effect. A common pleas judge later stayed the law as the state Supreme Court considers its constitutionality.

However, during the period the law was in force, horror stories emerged. They included a 10–year-old rape victim, cancer patients who needed to start chemo and women whose fetuses had fatal anomalies who couldn’t get abortions in Ohio.

Much news coverage, including by the Capital Journal, focused on those cases. But David Burkons, a Cleveland area obstetrician who’s been performing abortions since just after Roe, said he’s concerned that such focus implies that there are “good” and “bad” abortions; the “good” ones being when the mother is a victim of a heinous crime or faces a health crisis, and the “bad” being mothers who decide they can’t support another child.

That many women of all ethnic groups face the latter choice is supported by the fact that last year in Ohio, the number of women who were already mothers who got abortions nearly doubled the number who had no children, 11,613 versus 6,345.

“If a woman decides that she can’t have another kid when she can’t afford to support the two she’s already got, that needs to be her decision,” Burkons said.



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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.