Abortion Rate Falls, but Not for Everyone

By Christine Cupaiuolo — September 27, 2008

“The rate of abortion in the United States is at its lowest level since 1974, having declined 33% from a peak of 29 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 in 1980 to 20 per 1,000 in 2004. However, this overall trend masks large disparities in rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion across demographic subgroups,” according to “Trends in the Characteristics of Women Obtaining Abortions, 1974 to 2004,” a new report released by the Guttmacher Institute.

The abortion rate among Hispanic and black women is three and five times higher, respectively, than non-Hispanic white women, according to the report.

Here’s the summary, the full report (PDF) and an extended version (PDF) of the report with tables.

Among the key findings:

  • Age: Over the past three decades, the proportion of abortions obtained by teens has dropped steadily, from 33% in 1974 to 25% in 1989 to 17% in 2004. In 2004, more than half of all abortions (57%) were obtained by women in their twenties. Teen abortion rates have also declined — by more than 50% — from 42 per 1,000 women aged 15 -19 in 1989 to 20 in 2004. A large part of the decline in abortion among teens — which began long before abstinence-only sex education programs began receiving federal funding — is attributable to increased use of contraceptives and use of more effective methods.
  • Gestation: Overall, trends in second-trimester abortions (those occurring after 12 weeks) have changed little, notwithstanding improved technology and increasing state restrictions. The majority (89%) of U.S. abortions occur during the first trimester, and the proportion of very early abortions (those at seven weeks or earlier, when the procedure is safest) has increased substantially, from 16% in 1994 to 28% in 2004. The continuing shift to earlier abortions most likely reflects increased availability and use of home pregnancy detection kits, greater availability of early surgical procedures and increasing use of medication abortion.
  • Motherhood: In 2004, 60% of women having abortions already had children, up from 50% in 1989 and 46% in 1974. Part of the reason for this shift is that fewer teenagers and young women are having abortions than did in previous years. Previous Guttmacher analysis has found that women who are already mothers cite responsibility for their children and families as one of the primary reasons for obtaining an abortion.

“The shift in age, more women who already have children — this really does paint a different picture of women having abortions than the way it’s portrayed in popular culture,” Rachel Jones, a senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute, tells Time magazine. Jones was referring to the impression given that unintended pregnancy happens to careless teens and college kids.

One response to “Abortion Rate Falls, but Not for Everyone”

  1. I read this in the NYT first. I found the stats interesting from 1974 to 1989. In 1972 finally the last law was lifted against single women getting the pill. The pill was pretty strong up until the 80’s, so many women relied on less effective birth control. As birth control is improving and more options are available the abortion rate drops. Poor women are lacking in eduction as well. I worked at Planned Parenthood both in an abortion clinic and a regular health clinic. In the reg clinic, I did pregnancy testing and counseling for walk-in patients. A lot of poor adult women had a lot of incorrect info. “I was taking the pill, but I did not know that you had to take it everyday, and not just when you wanted to do it.” I also heard, “if you did it standing up, you could not get pregnant.” That is just a sampling of the lack of knowledge that is out there. Many of these women were crying because they could not afford or had the energy to care for another kid.

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