Abortion Access for Incarcerated People: Incidence of Abortion and Policies at U.S. Prisons and Jails

Carolyn Sufrin, Rachel K. Jones, Lauren Beal, William Mosher, Suzanne Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVE:To understand abortion incidence among incarcerated people and the relation to prison and jail pregnancy policies.METHODS:We collected abortion numbers and policy data from convenience sample of 22 state prison systems, all Federal Bureau of Prisons sites, and six county jails that voluntarily reported monthly, aggregate pregnancy outcomes for 12 months in 2016-2017. Sites also completed a baseline survey of institution characteristics and pregnancy policies, including abortion. We reported facility policies and abortion incidence according to state-level abortion characteristics.RESULTS:Only half of state prisons in the study allowed abortion in both the first and second trimesters, and 14% did not allow abortion at all. Of the 19 state prisons permitting abortion, two thirds required the incarcerated woman to pay. Four jails of the six study jails (67%) allowed abortions in the first and second trimesters, and 25% of those required the incarcerated woman to pay for the procedure. The three prisons and two jails that did not allow abortions were in states considered hostile to abortion access. In the state and federal prisons studied, 11 of the 816 pregnancies (1.3%) that ended during the study time period were abortions. Of the 224 pregnancies that ended at study jails, 33 were abortions (15%), with more than half of those (55%) occurring in the first trimester. The abortion ratio (proportion of pregnancies ending in abortion) was 1.4% for prisons and 18% for jails.CONCLUSION:Although some incarcerated individuals have abortions, many prisons and jails have restrictive policies surrounding abortion, either through self-payment requirements or explicit prohibition. Findings from this study should prompt further inquiry into abortion incidence in these settings and address interventions to ensure incarcerated people, in accordance with legal requirements and health equity, have access to abortion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)330-337
Number of pages8
JournalObstetrics and gynecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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