U.S. abortion rates have fallen to a level not seen since the procedure was declared a constitutional right in 1973, with declines over the past three years in all but six states, the Guttmacher Institute reported in a study released Monday.
An estimated 1.05 million abortions were performed in 2011, 13 percent fewer than the 1.21 million figure from its previous count in 2008, the organization said. This newest figure is close to the 1.03 million abortions Guttmacher counted in 1975, a raw figure based on a significantly smaller population.
The 2011 abortion rate was also down from 2008, falling to 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44, from 19.4, figures that pro-lifers called heartening and a sign of increasing awareness of “the humanity of the unborn child.”
The last time the rate was this low was in 1973, when Guttmacher estimated 16.3 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44.
Guttmacher analysts did not specifically investigate reasons for the decline, but they pointed to long-lasting contraceptives, better contraceptive use, the deep recession and sluggish recovery as plausible reasons for the downward trends.
The declines “coincided with a steep national drop in overall pregnancy and birthrates,” said Rachel Jones, lead author of the study. “Moreover, the recent recession led many women and couples to want to avoid or delay pregnancy and childbearing,” she said.
What didn’t play a role in the declines were the dozens of new state measures restricting abortion, the Guttmacher report said. The 2008-11 study period predates many state measures restricting abortion, and few or none of the laws enacted during the study period appeared to be related to abortion patterns, it said.
The report also did not find the abortion decline was the result of a reduction of abortion providers — the number of abortion clinics, which provide the bulk of abortion services, fell by just 1 percent and the total number of all abortion providers fell by only 4 percent.
Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, said the lower numbers and rates of abortion were heartening and coincided with a time when Americans were more likely to identify themselves as pro-life.
Overall, the report “shows the long-term efforts of the right-to-life movement to educate the country about the humanity of the unborn child and to enact laws that help mothers and their children are having a tremendous impact,” Ms. Tobias said.
Charmaine Yoest, president and chief executive of Americans United for Life, said the Guttmacher report was “short on data and long on strained conclusions.”
“The truth is that these common-sense limits on abortion protect women and their unborn children from abortion industry abuses,” she said, referring to the dozens of measures that state lawmakers have passed in recent years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reports abortion data in an annual surveillance report. Its latest report was issued in November with data from 2010 from 47 states, the District of Columbia and New York City. It, too, found overall declines in abortion rates and numbers, with greater declines in the 2006-10 period than during the 2001-05 years.
Other highlights of the Guttmacher report, “Abortion Incidence and Service Availability in the United States, 2011”:
• Abortion numbers and rates declined steadily, about 4 percent each year, from 2008 to 2011.