The U.S. pregnancy rate is hovering near a record-low point, while the legal abortion rate has already hit a historic low, the federal government says in a new report.
These findings — combined with rising pregnancy rates among women age 30 and older — suggest that the U.S. remains a "baby-on-board" nation, even if many of its young adults are deliberately delaying family life for a few years.
The National Center for Health Statistics report, released Thursday, looked at pregnancy rates and outcomes — live births, miscarriages and stillbirths, abortions — for 2009. It said there were 6.3 million pregnancies in the U.S. in 2009, with 4.1 million live births, 1.1 million induced abortions and more than 1 million fetal losses through miscarriage and stillbirth.
The most common time for pregnancy was still during a woman's 20s, but pregnancy rates rose only for women age 30 and older.
The report drew its data from other federal surveys and the Guttmacher Institute. Federal reports on pregnancy rates always lag several years behind birth reports because it takes time to compile abortion data.
The NCHS report showed that the decline in U.S. pregnancy rates continued in 2009, falling to 102 pregnancies per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. This was 12 percent lower than the peak since reliable federal records began in the mid-1970s, which was 116 pregnancies per 1,000 women in 1990.
The 2009 rate is also very close to the lowest recorded U.S. pregnancy rate of 101.6 pregnancies per 1,000 women, seen in 1997. Given that previously announced U.S. birthrates have "shown a drop," it's not unlikely that the pregnancy rate will decline again, noted Sally C. Curtin, lead author of the new report.
A major reason the pregnancy rate is declining is the steep decline in teen pregnancies. Almost two decades ago, high school-age girls had a pregnancy rate of 77 pregnancies per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 17. By 2009, this rate had plummeted to 37 pregnancies per 1,000 teens.
College-age teens also delivered a dramatic decline in pregnancies: Among 18- and 19-year-old women, the 1990 rate of 168 pregnancies per 1,000 teens fell to 107 pregnancies per 1,000 teens in 2009.
The NCHS report didn't try to explain why teenage women have such sustained declines in pregnancy rates, but many organizations cite improved use of contraceptives, less sexual intercourse, and strong cultural messages for "responsible" behavior as some of the primary factors.
The new report also found that the teen abortion rate reached a new low in 2009. While that rate has been low for several years, the 2009 rate of 16.6 abortions per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 19 is a record. It is also 58 percent lower than the peak rate in 1990, when there were 40.3 abortions per 1,000 teens.
In fact, the overall U.S. abortion rate for 2009 — 18.5 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 — was "the lowest recorded" since 1976, when the government started reporting data on legal abortion, Ms. Curtin said.
Abortion rates even dropped among unmarried women, the NCHS report said.
In 1990, for instance, the largest share of unwed pregnant women — about 47 percent — had pregnancies end with an abortion. Another 43 percent chose to have their babies, and the remaining 10 percent experienced a fetal loss. By 2009, these outcomes changed: Some 54 percent of unwed women had live babies, while 31 percent had an abortion and another 15 percent experienced fetal loss.
Reasons for this shift in unwed childbearing could include growing social acceptance of cohabiting and having children outside marriage, as well as a steady rise of older, single women deciding to have children on their own.
Pro-life educational campaigns, pregnancy-care centers, and state and federal laws — especially ones that show "the humanity of the unborn child" — could also be playing a role in lowering the abortion rate, said Randall O'Bannon, director of education and research at the National Right to Life.
Rachel Jones, senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute, noted that the national abortion rate had stalled for several years, so the resumption of its long-term decline in 2009 was new. In February, she added, Guttmacher will release a comprehensive, national report on abortion, which will include data through 2011.
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