According to a new study from the Guttmacher Institute, the number of abortions in the United States dropped to 1.2 million in 2005, the lowest number in almost 30 years
The report, which is based on a survey of 1,787 abortion doctors, will be published in the March issue of the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health and is available online (PDF) at the Institute’s website.
The Institute also has made available slide shows covering an overview of abortion in the United States; U.S. abortion trends (1973-2005); and data for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The number of abortions fell at least in part because the proportion of women ending their pregnancies with an abortion dropped 9 percent between 2000 and 2005, hitting the lowest level since 1975, according to a nationwide survey.
At the same time, the long decline in the number of abortion providers appears to be stabilizing, partly a result of the availability of the French abortion pill RU-486, the report found, because some physicians who do not perform surgical abortions provide it to their patients.
Both abortion rights advocates and abortion opponents welcomed the news, though there was of course disagreement on the reasons behind the drop.
“This study shows that prevention works, and that’s what we provide in our health centers every day,” Cecile Richard of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America told the Washington Post. “At the end of the day, Americans of all stripes believe that we need to do more to prevent unintended pregnancy and make health care affordable and accessible.”
Randall K. O’Bannon of the National Right to Life Committee said, “It’s still a massive number, but it’s moving in the right direction.” He added that changing attitudes toward abortion have been reflected in recent films like “Juno” (a topic I’ll write more about soon).
And Suzanne T. Poppema of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health raised the issue of wider availability of the morning-after pill: “I would like to say that it’s at least partially due to increased availability of emergency contraception, which is a really good addition to reproductive health care in this country.”
The abortion rate was 19.4 per 1,000 women age 15-44 in 2005, the last year for which information is available. At its peak in 1981, the rate was 29.3, up from 19.3 in 1974.
The abortion rate varies in different parts of the country and among different population groups, notes Rachel Jones, a senior research associate at Guttmacher and lead author of the report. From the Chicago Tribune:
For example, rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion have increased among poor women, but the rate of adolescent pregnancies declined because more teens were using contraceptives. (However, last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the teen birth rate rose in 2006, the first increase in 15 years.)
There are also differences from one part of the country to another. “Some states, such as Connecticut, had increases in the abortion rate,” Jones said. “But Illinois had a larger-than-average decline — the rate came down 19 percent from 2000 to 2005.”
The census does not detail the reasons for the decline, and the number of abortion providers in Illinois has not decreased substantially, Jones said. But it’s possible that more providers are concentrated in urban areas, which could mean women in rural areas are having more trouble getting abortions.
More than 1 in 4 women who obtained an abortion reported traveling at least 50 miles to reach a provider. Nationwide, 87 percent of counties have no abortion services — the same percentage reported in 2000.
Jones told the Los Angeles TImes that it wasn’t easy persuading abortion doctors to share information because the doctors fear reprisal from protesters.
“We used to be able to do this type of survey every year or every other year,” she said. “Now, people are really reluctant to give you the information.”