February 9, 2014

​ U.S. Abortions Hits Lowest Level Since 1973


The abortion rate in the U.S. has dropped to its
lowest level since the procedure became legal in 1973, according to a new data
analysis that reflects a 13 percent decline in both the abortion rate and the
number of abortions from 2008 to 2011.

The report, issued on February 3, by the
Guttmacher Institute in New York finds the 2011 rate declined to 16.9 abortions
per 1,000 women ages 15-44, second only to 1973, when the rate was 16.3 per

Declines were seen in all but six states —
Alaska, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Wyoming — which
saw either no change or an increase in abortion rates.

“A 13 percent drop over a three-year time period
is a pretty steep decline. It’s unusual,” says Rachel Jones, the lead author of
the study by Guttmacher, a research organization that supports the right to
legal abortion and seeks to expand access to information on sexual and
reproductive health.

Jones attributes the decline to more women using
“highly effective contraceptive methods such as the IUD” and the fact that the
study period was during the recession and sluggish recovery.

“Births have been falling for awhile, and the
recession certainly accelerated the decrease in births,” says economist Ted
Joyce of Baruch College in New York, who has studied reproductive health since

“When you consider the changes in contraception
and the largest recession since the Great Depression, those two factors seem
like compelling explanations for the decline,” he says.

Guttmacher’s analysis this year is the first to
study state restrictions, many of which increased beginning in 2011. The report
says states enacted 205 abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2013, more than
in the entire previous decade combined. However, the 2008-2011 study period
doesn’t include that surge because many restrictions didn’t take effect until
late 2011 or later. During the study period, 106 new abortion restrictions were

“We didn’t find any clear associations between
abortion restrictions and declines in abortion rates,” Jones said. “We saw
drops in abortions in the states that had restrictions, but they were not
substantially bigger than what we saw in other states.”

“No evidence was found that the overall drop in
abortion incidence was related to the decrease in providers or to restrictions
implemented between 2008 and 2011,” the report says.

Randall O’Bannon, of the National Right to Life
Committee in Washington, D.C., which opposes abortion, views the new report as
“significant progress.”

“We’re seeing some tangible results,” he says.
“Obviously, we have had some impact.”

Whether the next report in three years will
reflect continued declines depends on how the courts rule on state laws that
would effectively restrict access to abortion providers, economist Joyce said.

“The courts haven’t ruled whether these are
constitutional,” he said. “It really depends on whether those more serious
restrictions go into effect. If they do, you’re likely to see an increased
decline in abortion rates.”

The study,
published online in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health,
also finds an increase in the proportion of abortions that were early
medication abortion. The non-surgical procedure uses the drug mifepristone,
often called the abortion pill or RU-486, or the drug misoprostol. An estimated
239,400 early medication abortions were performed in 2011, representing 23
percent of all non-hospital abortions, an increase from 17 percent in 2008, the
report says.