There Have Been Tens of Thousands of Rape-Induced Pregnancies Post-Roe
In 14 states that have banned abortion since June 2022, an estimated 519,981 rapes “were associated with 64,565 pregnancies.”
Last summer, the mother of a 13-year-old Mississippi girl who was raped then became pregnant told Time magazine the story of how her daughter was forced to give birth due to the state’s abortion ban. The family wasn’t able to travel out-of-state, and the woman didn’t know that Mississippi’s law has a rape exception—let alone the complex process of seeking out that exception for her child. The gutting story came about a year after it became public that a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio was forced to travel to Indiana for an abortion, because Ohio’s abortion ban—which has since been blocked in court—didn’t have a rape exception.
According to new research published last week, stories like these are just the tip of the hellish iceberg. In 14 states that have banned abortion since the Supreme Court Dobbs decsion overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, an estimated 519,981 rapes “were associated with 64,565 pregnancies.” These estimates draw from available data that track rates of reported and unreported rapes in states with abortion bans, as well as “findings from prior research on rape-related pregnancy rates,” the research states. Of these 64,565 rape-induced pregnancies, “an estimated 5,586 rape-related pregnancies (9%) occurred in states with rape exceptions,” and “58,979 (91%) in states with no exception,” with 26,313 (45%) in Texas.
“Most people will think that these numbers are high—but what stands out to me is that the real numbers are most likely higher given how underreported and under-counted acts of sexual violence are,” Alison Turkos, a survivor and activist at the intersections of reproductive and survivor justice, told Jezebel. A 2016 analysis by the Justice Department estimates that about 80% of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported to police.
That the majority of estimated rape-induced pregnancies occurred in states whose abortion bans lack rape exceptions is striking—but it’s not as if care is accessible to survivors whose states do have rape exceptions: The research also notes that comparing “the 10 or fewer legal abortions per month” in the states that ban abortion with “the large number of estimated rape-related pregnancies” clearly indicates that tens of thousands of rape victims are being denied care—even if their state’s ban has an exception.
As staggering as the 65,000 figure is on its face, Turkos emphasized the importance of considering what the numbers alone don’t tell us. After experiencing the trauma of sexual violence, victims who seek a rape exception in order to get an abortion are often forced to “engage with the criminal legal system and health care system,” which can be “invasive and retraumatizing.”
“It all becomes 10 times harder when they should just be able to focus on healing,” Turkos said.
Samuel Dickman, an abortion provider involved in the research, said in a statement shared with Jezebel that he was moved to research rape-related pregnancies “because I had taken care of so many patients who had been sexually assaulted.”
“I knew that many survivors wouldn’t want to disclose their assault, but the numbers we found were truly awful,” Dickman said. “Lack of access to abortion care is…especially tragic for survivors of rape who become pregnant and aren’t able to get abortion care, who are less likely to be able to travel out of state, and more likely to remain trapped in unsafe, abusive relationships.”
In July, the National Domestic Violence Hotline revealed it saw a 99% increase in calls from people saying their partners were trying to control their reproductive choices (which experts call reproductive coercion) before and after Dobbs. (Between June 2021 and June 2022, the hotline received 1,230 calls about reproductive coercion; from June 2021 to June 2022, it received 2,442.) Crystal Justice, a spokesperson for the hotline, told Jezebel that callers said their abusers blocked their access to birth control pills, lied to them about abortion laws, and threatened to report them to the police if they sought abortion care.“With abortion bans, state laws have really put controlling someone’s access to reproductive health care in the toolbox of abusive partners,” Justice said. (Since 2022, legal experts have warned that abortion laws like SB 8 in Texas, which allows citizens to sue anyone who helps someone access abortion care for at least $10,000, could empower rapists and abusers to profit off their victims’ pregnancies; at least one Texas man is presently suing friends of his wife who allegedly helped her access abortion pills.)
“Since the Dobbs decision, we have heard the countless stories out of Texas of abusers using abortion bans to further exert control over survivors, and those are only the stories that have made it to the news,” Raven Freeborn, executive director of the Texas reproductive rights advocacy organization Avow, told Jezebel. “Every extremist policy maker who supports abortion bans is complicit in enabling reproductive coercion.” Freeborn made sure to note that “abortion is healthcare and many times part of a survivor’s safety plan.”
With or without rape exceptions, abortion restrictions have long inflicted “sexual violence” on people seeking care, Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi, the founder of Pegasus Health Justice Center, told Jezebel. As an example, she cited mandatory transvaginal ultrasound requirements—which she calls “state-mandated sexual assault”—that Missouri and other states had imposed on people seeking abortions even before Roe was overturned.
And though research like this illuminates the trauma that can be inflicted—or further inflicted—by abortion bans, Moayedi said that she’s often frustrated by the fact that “only the most extreme circumstances of abortion stories” (like rape-induced pregnancies, or extreme fetal conditions) “will draw public outrage.” Meanwhile, what she witnesses as someone who provided abortions in Texas for years often goes ignored. “The reason someone seeks abortion doesn’t matter; that abortion exceptionalism—which sees only some abortions as worthy—is part of how we got here in the first place.”