The Abortion Rate in the United States

About a year ago, the Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York published data that indicate legal abortions in the United States dropped to 1.2 million in 2005, the lowest level since 1974. This came as good news to mainstream Americans, most of whom believe that abortions should be safe and legal, but rare.

The Institute cited a number of reasons for the decline, including more effective use of contraceptives, increased use of Plan B and an overall lower rate of unintended pregnancies. Some observers added that improved sex education classes at the high school level and federally funded abstinence programs may also have contributed to the decline.

The story about the Guttmacher report was issued by the Associated Press, which focused on the rate of decline in abortions. In doing so, however, the reporters missed other useful and important data, including:

• Of 6.4 million pregnancies in the United States each year, 51 per cent are intended and 49 per cent are unintended.

• Approximately 52 per cent of unintended pregnancies result in childbirth. The remaining 48 per cent result in abortions.

• Abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States, and also one of the safest.

• The number of physicians who are providing patients with medical (primarily RU-486) rather than surgical abortions has increased from 6 percent in 2001 to 13 percent today. Also, 22 percent of all abortions under 9 weeks are now medical, not surgical.

• The percentage of females age 15 and younger who receive abortions is less than one percent of the total. In contrast, women between the ages of 20 and 29 account for 56 percent of all abortions.

• Approximately 80 percent of all abortions involve embryos at a gestational age of 10 weeks or less. Only one percent are so-called “late-term” abortions (21 or more weeks).

• Of women seeking abortions, 14 per cent are married.

• When women seeking abortions were asked about religious identification, 43 percent stated they were Protestant, 27 percent said they were Catholic, and 30 percent reported none or “other.”

• The United States, which greatly restricts sex education in high school, had one of the highest abortion rates among industrialized countries at 21 per 1,000 women. The Netherlands, in contrast, had a rate of only 9 per 1,000–a low rate often attributed to comprehensive sex education at the secondary level.

The Guttmacher report, prepared in conjunction with Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, dispels some misconceptions about abortions while illuminating areas of importance. When the entire report is considered, we see that the number of females under age 15 seeking abortions and also the number of late-term abortions are both statistically insignificant. That is surprising, considering how much time and effort some politicians devote to these two areas.

We see also that most women who seek abortions are in their twenties and that some are married. They represent all racial, ethnic and economic levels.

Finally, we see that the rate of non-surgical abortions involving RU-486 (“Mifepristone”) is rising and that more health professionals are offering this option to patients.