Abortion Reporting: Iowa (2017)

Tessa Longbons  

Iowa’s abortion report for 2017, published online in October 2018 on the Iowa Department of Public Health website, shows that annual abortion totals are continuing to trend downward.


Changes in Iowa Abortions, 2016-2017


*Information on Planned Parenthood’s Iowa market share is not publicly available



Abortion Totals and Trends


In 2017, there were 3,269 abortions reported in Iowa, down 12 percent from 3,722 in 2016 (Fig. 1). Chemical abortions declined seven percent from 2016. Since 1999, the first year with data available, Iowa abortions have fallen by 46 percent. Chemical abortions have increased by 27 percent since 2004, the first year Iowa reported chemical abortion data. In 2017, chemical abortions made up 64 percent of all abortions reported in the state. Iowa’s state abortion rate continued to fall, declining from 6.3 to 5.5 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 (Fig. 2).


State Report Summary


Eighty-seven percent of the abortions occurring in Iowa were performed on state residents. More than half (57 percent) were performed on women in their twenties, while 29 percent were performed on women in their thirties, three percent on women age 40 or older, and 10 percent on females age 19 or younger. Ninety-four abortions were performed on girls under the age of 18, including six girls who were age 14 or younger. White women made up the majority at 73 percent. Sixteen percent of the abortions reported in Iowa were performed on black women, six percent on Asian or American Indian women, and five percent on women of other or multiple races. The Charlotte Lozier Institute estimates that in 2017, Iowa’s white abortion rate was 4.5 abortions per 1,000 white women between the ages of 15 and 44, while the black abortion rate was 16.8 abortions per 1,000 black women between the ages of 15 and 44.


Over half of the abortions reported in Iowa, 58 percent, were performed on women who had completed at least some college. Forty-one percent were on women who had finished nine to 12 years of education, while just one percent were on women who had finished eight or fewer years of schooling. Eighty-three percent of the women were unmarried, and 17 percent were married.


Iowa reports abortions by trimester. In 2017, 95 percent of the abortions were performed in the first trimester (13 weeks of gestation or earlier), and four percent were performed in the second trimester (14 to 28 weeks of gestation). Zero abortions were reported after the second trimester. The month of June had the highest number of abortions, with 332 abortions reported in June. November had the fewest, 227. On average, 272 abortions were performed each month.


Heartbeat Law


Currently, Iowa is one of 19 states to prohibit abortion after five months of pregnancy. The Iowa legislature recently passed a bill extending further protections to the unborn by banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which usually occurs between six and 10 weeks of pregnancy. Before performing an abortion, a doctor must perform an abdominal ultrasound. If the ultrasound detects cardiac activity, the abortion may not be performed except in cases of medical emergency (significant risk to the mother’s life or a major bodily function) or medical necessity (cases of rape, incest, or fetal anomaly “incompatible with life”). However, a state district court decision blocked the law as unconstitutional.


Iowa is not the first state to consider heartbeat legislation; Mississippi and Kentucky’s heartbeat bills were signed into law in March 2019, although the heartbeat legislation is being challenged in court. Arkansas and North Dakota have both passed similar laws which were blocked by the courts. The Ohio legislature passed a heartbeat bill that was vetoed by then-governor John Kasich. Ohio is now considering the reintroduced bill, and new governor Mike DeWine has indicated that he supports the legislation. Heartbeat bills are also being considered by Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Heartbeat bills have also been proposed in Illinois and Rhode Island, although the bills are unlikely to pass in these states.


State Ranking


In CLI’s 2016 survey of abortion reporting across the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and New York City, Iowa’s abortion reporting tied for 33rd place in quality. Iowa could add several key data points to its reports. Because chemical abortions have a higher complication rate than surgical abortions, and so many Iowa abortions are induced chemically, Iowa could require doctors to report any complications resulting from abortion. Additionally, Iowa could report the specific facilities where abortions occur. As Iowa considers its heartbeat legislation, the abortion report could include pertinent information on women’s reasons for abortion, including any abortions performed due to medical emergencies.





  1. Iowa reports the state abortion rate, but the formula used to calculate the rate has changed over the years, making it difficult to track changes in the rate from year to year. Rates were calculated by the Charlotte Lozier Institute using population data from Iowa’s vital statistics reports. Abortion totals were taken from Table 4 of the vital statistics reports. The rates were calculated using the following formula: (total number of abortions performed in Iowa ÷ number of resident women ages 15-44) x 1,000.

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