The U.S. Abortion Rate is at its Lowest Numbers Since 1973

Abortion protestors (FIUsm)

WASHINGTON – JANUARY 22: Pro-choice advocates participate in protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building January 22, 2010 in Washington, DC. Activists from across the nation gathered to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which decriminalized abortion in all fifty states. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)Abortion protestors (FIUsm)

A recent study released by the Guttmacher Institute found that the U.S. abortion rate has fallen to its lowest rate since 1973.

The study claims that in 2014, the abortion rate is 14.6 abortions per ever 1K women of childbearing age (defined as ages 15-44). The rate peaked at 29.3 abortions per 1K women in 1980-1981. In 2013, the abortion rate “fell below 1M for the first time since the 1970s.”

Number of abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 (The Guttmacher Institute/NPR)

Number of abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 (The Guttmacher Institute/NPR)

The study also found that 12% of clinics had at least one patient who tried to self-induce her abortion. There was no correlation between the closing of abortion clinics and more restrictive abortion laws by state. In areas where more abortion clinics opened, there was not a higher abortion rate.

There appears to be a substitution effect at work, with other birth control methods taking the place of abortion. Most notable is that of the intrauterine device (IUD), which has gained in usage over the past several years.

But why 1973? 1973 was the seminal year where the U.S. Supreme Court handed down their decision on Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion. It’s a good sign that women are using more birth control methods and not having to rely on abortion to get rid of unintended pregnancies.

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By The Numbers: How Many States Require an Ultrasound Viewing Before an Abortion?

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 16: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) March 16, 2013 in National Harbor, Maryland. The American Conservative Union held its annual conference in the suburb of Washington, DC to rally conservatives and generate ideas.  (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 16: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) March 16, 2013 in National Harbor, Maryland. The American Conservative Union held its annual conference in the suburb of Washington, DC to rally conservatives and generate ideas. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, Wisconsin Republican governor/maybe-presidential hopeful Scott Walker signed a new law requiring that women who wanted to get abortions be required to get an ultrasound of the fetus before making their decision. Walker’s reasoning was that he wanted women to make informed choices (i.e. choose life!) about their unborn children. (Side note: he also referred to ultrasounds as “a cool thing out there.” I’m not touching that one.)

I wanted to find out how widespread the practice of requiring expectant mothers to view an ultrasound before proceeding with an abortion was. So I turned to trusty source The Guttmacher Institute for some stats.

Number of states that require giving contextual information (i.e. written materials and/or verbal counseling) around the ultrasound: 12

Number of states that require the abortion provider to show and describe the ultrasound: 3

Number of states that require the abortion provider to offer a viewing of the ultrasound if it’s part of the abortion process: 9

The Guttmacher has more numbers on this topic. Personally, I find it fascinating that these laws are essentially banking on the assumed fact that women are ruled by their emotions and are baby-crazy, and so seeing an ultrasound before an abortion would change their minds.

The U.S. Abortion Rate Has Been Decreasing Since 2002

Baby (Santa Banta)

Baby (Santa Banta)

Abortion rates have been falling over the years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) completed a study last year that analyzed long-term abortion trends, spanning from 1969 to 2011.

The Declining Abortion Rate (The Atlantic)

The Declining Abortion Rate (The Atlantic)

The CDC counted 730K+ abortions in 2011, which works out to 16.9 abortions per 1K women ages 15-44. This is the lowest ratio for abortions since 1973, where 16.3 abortions were recorded for every 1K women within the aforementioned age range. The study’s abstract notes that abortions were highest among adolescents and lowest among women ages 30-39 for the duration of the study. Women in their 20s had the majority of abortions.

Researchers speculate that the decrease in abortions is linked to changing social attitudes about the practice, as well as marriage. When marriage was the socially-acceptable default setting for relationships, abortions were much more rare. But now that marriage rates have decreased, many women are choosing to terminate an unplanned pregnancy rather than have a shotgun wedding with the father.

An article on “The Atlantic” also notes that American attitudes toward abortion have shifted in recent years. While only 20% of the surveyed population would like to see the practice outlawed, 38% surveyed believe it’s “morally objectionable.” This prevailing idea is likely preventing some women from having abortions, and so carrying the fetus the term. It’s very possible that the numbers on abortion are higher than reported, due to any lingering shame or stigma (either internal or external) women who’ve gone through it may face.