The latest statistics demonstrate once again reported abortions in the United States have continued to decline.
The number of abortions fell in one year by more than 13,000 to 623,471 in 2016, the latest year for which data is available, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a Nov. 29 report. That 2 percent drop matched a 2 percent decrease in the abortion rate to 11.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 years, according to the CDC. The abortion ratio – the number of abortions per 1,000 live births – decreased by 1 percent to 188 in the same time period.
The CDC – a division of the Department of Health and Human Services – also reported a dramatic decline in abortion prevalence during the decade of 2007 to 2016:
- The number of abortions dropped by 24 percent from 825,240.
- The abortion rate fell by 26 percent from 15.6 abortions per 1,000 women.
- The abortion ratio decreased by 18 percent from 226 abortions per 1,000 live births.
The number of abortions has declined since reaching its peak of 1.43 million in 1990, according to the CDC’s statistics. The rate and ratio of abortion peaked in the mid-1980s. The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973 by means of its Roe v. Wade decision.
Pro-life leaders expressed gratitude for the continued trend while calling for ongoing efforts on behalf of women and their babies.
“While the abortion industry’s continual assault on women and their unborn children should cause us to mourn, the continual drop in the abortion rate should encourage us to press forward,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
“My prayer is that the pro-life movement will continue advancing not only to end abortion but also to care for the children and champion the women that are preyed upon by that industry,” he said in written comments for Baptist Press (BP).
David O’Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, said the CDC’s report is “good news, because it means lives are being saved and that the pro-life movement is making the kind of difference we want to make.”
“Of course, we’re not pleased until all the babies are safe,” he told BP in a telephone interview. “But a reduction in the numbers of abortions from the ’90s to the present of close to 800,000 a year is incredibly significant. It’s a credit to millions of people across the country that these babies are being saved.”
When asked what the pro-life movement should take from the CDC’s latest report, O’Steen said, “Keep working and keep praying. It’s working, and just keep on doing it.”
The pro-life movement in the United States has taken a multi-faceted approach that has included seeking to educate the public about the humanity of the unborn child and the nature of abortion, elect pro-life candidates to office, enact legislation that protects unborn children and their mothers, and establish and grow a network of pregnancy care centers across the country.
State legislatures have approved far more than 500 pro-life laws in the last decade, according to Americans United for Life. In 2019, the new state laws have included a nearly outright ban in Alabama as well as prohibitions earlier in pregnancy in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Utah.
The ministry of pregnancy care centers has grown with the increase in availability of ultrasound technology. The ERLC’s Psalm 139 Project and other ministries continue to provide ultrasound machines to centers across the country.
O’Steen cited not only the pro-life movement’s work but the testimonies of post-abortive women in explaining the continuing decrease in abortions.
“Many women are thoroughly traumatized, sometimes long after the abortion,” he said. “And we’re seeing this effect: You have women who have had abortions telling their friends and their daughters and their sisters that this is not a solution, this is not a good thing, this does not help.”
The CDC report also showed:
- The proportion of abortions reported as non-surgical or chemical/medical abortions before 9 weeks’ gestation more than doubled from 13.1 percent in 2007 to 27.9 in 2016. Another 3.4 percent were performed non-surgically – a two-step drug process often referred to as RU 486 – at nine weeks or later.
- Women in their 20s had 59 percent of the abortions in 2016, based on reports from the 46 areas that provided maternal age information.
- About 57 percent of the women who chose abortion had the procedure for the first time, while 35 percent underwent their second or third abortion and 8 percent had at least their fourth abortion, according to the 42 areas that reported such information.
- While the abortion number, rate and ratio declined in all ethnic groups in 2016, the rate was 3.8 times higher for non-Hispanic black women than for non-Hispanic white women and 1.8 times higher for Hispanic women than for non-Hispanic white women.
The CDC acknowledges its abortion statistics are incomplete, however, because states are not required to report such information. Its latest data are based on reports from 47 states and New York City. Three states – California, Maryland and New Hampshire – and the District of Columbia did not provide statistics. Those states also failed to do so in the previous 10 years.
The Guttmacher Institute – formerly a special affiliate of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) for 30 years – has reported similar decreases in the abortion total and rate based on its survey of known abortion providers in the country. Its research showed the highest total of abortions since the Roe v. Wade ruling was 1.61 million in 1990.
In September, Guttmacher said the number of abortions dropped by 7 percent during a three-year period to 862,320 in 2017. The abortion rate fell from 14.6 in 2014 to 13.5 in 2017, according to Guttmacher.
In its report, Guttmacher acknowledged state restrictions have played a role in curtailing abortions but said the decline in the number of such procedures could be related to the fall in births and pregnancies. It cited as a possible factor for this secondary decline the increased availability of contraceptives as a result of the 2010 health-care law.
Like the CDC, Guttmacher reported in September a dramatic increase in chemical/medical abortions. It reported 39 percent of abortions in 2017 were non-surgical – a 10 percent jump from 2014.
Despite Guttmacher’s former connection to the country’s leading abortion provider, both pro-life and pro-choice organizations cite its statistics as the most reliable. Guttmacher – which conducts its study about every three years – collected data for its latest report from 59 percent of all facilities it believes perform abortions and supplemented it with health department information on 19 percent of the clinics. It made estimates for 20 percent, Guttmacher reported.
Tessa Longbons, a research associate with the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, said the continued decrease in abortions is “good news for pro-lifers” but the CDC report “demonstrates that the U.S. abortion reporting system is inconsistent and spotty.”
“In order to accurately measure the impact of state laws and pro-life efforts, as well as the continued rise of chemical abortion, we need a comprehensive national abortion reporting system,” she said in a written statement.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)