According to a report by the Guttmacher Institute released Wednesday that outlines changes in abortion statistics between 2011 and 2017, the United States abortion rate has hit an all-time low since the procedure became legal nationwide in 1973.
The 48-page research document, used by policymakers and activists on both sides of the abortion debate, provides detailed information by state and region about how Americans access abortion.
According to the report, there is no clear pattern between efforts to restrict or ban abortion and the decline in abortion rates, which has been ongoing for almost 40 years. Nearly every state had a lower abortion rate regardless of its position on abortion and whether the state had passed any laws restricting the procedure. In fact, the abortion rates of some states with new restrictions actually increased.
“Anti-abortion activists are going to try to take credit for this decline, but the facts don’t support their argument,” said Rachel Jones, the principal research scientist for Guttmacher.
Guttmacher said it was impossible to identify what factors are driving the declines, but suggested that increased contraceptive access and use, fewer pregnancies, infertility and an overall decline in sexual activity are possible causes.
Researchers also noted that it is possible the drop is not as large as it appears due to a potential increase in self-managed abortions, which is not reflected within the report’s data.
Additionally, the data is a couple years behind and therefore does not include the effect of this year’s state efforts to ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected as early as six weeks, before many people know they’re pregnant. The 2017 data also predates many efforts made by the current administration, such as the changes to the Title X family planning program that forced Planned Parenthood to refuse federal funding.
The report estimated that the 2017 abortion rate, the most recent year studied, dropped to about 13.5 abortions per 1,000 women 15 to 44 years old. That compares with 14.6 abortions in 2014 and 16.9 in 2011. The 2017 rate is the lowest since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide through the landmark decision Roe v. Wade.
The Guttmacher report also documented a significant trend surrounding abortion: people who have abortions are increasingly relying on medication abortion rather than surgical. In total, 862,320 abortions took place in 2017 at health-care facilities, with about 339,640 of those being medical abortions, which involve taking pills to induce miscarriage, as opposed to traditional surgical abortions.
Sources: TWP 9/18/19; NBC News 9/18/19