Since 1973, when elective abortion was legalized nationwide under the banner of Roe v. Wade, at least 296,035 lives have been lost to abortion in Kentucky, according to information gathered from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
At least 118,282 Kentucky residents are included in that figure, but 26 years of missing data renders the tally a significant underestimation. Since 2017 alone, residents of 30 other states have obtained abortions in the commonwealth.
Only 967 abortions were reported in Kentucky during 1973, but the annual numbers quickly soared to as high as 11,340 by 1979 – bringing the decade total to 53,573 terminated pregnancies. Abortions peaked in the 1980s and 1990s, when there were 78,045 and 79,451 legal abortions reported to the CDC. A major drop came in the 2000s and 2010s; both decades dipped below 40,000 total abortions.
Overwhelmingly, women aged 20-24 had the most abortions in Kentucky, with the 25-29 demographic trailing behind. There were 40,791 teenagers 19 or younger who had abortions; 1,925 of those young women were under 15 years old.
Information on the gestational age of aborted fetuses was only reported by the CDC beginning in 1987, leaving 14-year gap in Kentucky’s abortion history. In that time, approximately 159,598 abortions occurred in the first trimester; 32,851 were performed in the second or third trimesters.
Nearly 90% of reported abortions were completed via surgical procedures, which included suction curettage, sharp curettage and dilation and evacuation. Only 15,205 unborn lives were ended using medication. Saline and prostaglandin instillation were used to terminate 93 pregnancies, though the procedure was not reported after 2000.
Most abortions in the past 50 years were performed on women who had given birth at least once prior to the procedure. Only 69,792 had not birthed a child at the time of the abortion; more than 15,000 were mothers to three or more children.
While 58,535 women were repeat patients, having received one or more previous abortions, nearly 100,000 women obtained their first abortion between January 1989 and April 2022.
Following a consistent decline in reported legal abortions starting in 2010, the procedure is again on the rise in Kentucky. In 2020 and 2021, abortions surpassed the 4,000 annual threshold for the first time in a decade.
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade when the high court issues a ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization this summer, abortions would immediately be banned in the commonwealth, bringing the procedure’s steady march to a halt just shy of 300,000 lives lost.
Editor’s Note: Information for this report was gathered from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and reflects Kentucky abortions through April 2022. Gaps in data provided to the CDC and multiple changes to the formatting and reporting of abortion statistics by the CDC in the past five decades leaves many pockets of information missing when examining the history of Kentucky’s abortion landscape.