Abortion rate falls to lowest since 1973, says Guttmacher study

2011 numbers are in, and a Guttmacher Institute report ("Abortion Incidence and Service Availability in the United States, 2011," by Rachel Jones and Jenna Jerman) released today claims a decreased abortion rate of 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44. This is significantly lower than the peak at 29.3 per 1,000 in 1981 and the lowest since a rate of 16.3 per 1,000 when Roe v. Wade passed in 1973.

The study also reported a 13 percent decrease in the number of abortions between 2008 and 2011. The 1.1 million abortions performed in 2011 is the lowest number of abortions since 1973.

While the study did not specifically look at reasons for the declining abortion rate, it does suggest two possibilities: economics and contraception.

“Contraceptive use improved during this period, as more women and couples were using highly effective long-acting reversible contraceptive methods, such as the IUD,” 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."

Many dispute the claim that better access to contraception lowers abortion rates, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. A fact sheet on usccb.org cites many statistics, including high failure rates and studies that link higher contraceptive use to an increase in abortion rates.

Also, though 24 states passed laws restricting abortion in both 2010 and 2011, “our study did not find evidence that the national decline in abortions during this period was the result of new state abortion restrictions,” said Jones. “We also found no evidence that the decline was linked to a drop in the number of abortion providers during this period."

Pro-life leaders, however, believe their legislative and lobbying efforts have made a difference.

“The legislative efforts of the right-to-life movement, and significantly, the resulting national debate and educational campaigns surrounding pro-life legislation should not be minimized when discussing the decline in abortion numbers,” said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, in a statement Feb. 3. “The more Americans learn about the development of the unborn child and the tragedy of abortion, the more they reject abortion as a legitimate answer to an unexpected pregnancy."

In a statement Jan. 31, Americans United for Life President and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest also cautioned against taking the study at face value, labeling it “an abortion industry propaganda piece short on data and long on strained conclusions.”

“It is impossible really to know the true abortion rate, given that abortionists are not required to report on the chemical and surgical abortions that they do,” said Yoest. “Their reporting is totally voluntary, and in fact California does not report at all."

This is the 16th time the Guttmacher Institute has surveyed abortion providers. A section in this new report does concede that all abortions may not have been reported.

Jennifer Rey is the web editor of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing.