Healthy Choices

Recession led to U.S. abortion rates approaching all-time low, CDC reports

Abortion rates in the U.S. have declined by 13.9 percent in recent years, resulting in near-historic low levels, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC published the report on the controversial, politically loaded topic late last week, while much of the the public and media were absorbed by Black Friday’s frenzy over deep discounts and early-holiday shopping.

Analysts attributed the drop in legal abortions provided by medical professionals to economic concerns spurred by the recession.

From 2008 to 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, U.S. legal abortions occurred at the rate of 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women age 15 to 44.

That rate approaches the all-time low recorded in 1973, when the nation saw 16.3 abortions reported per 1,000 women.

Since 2008, as the recession took hold, women revealed to researchers they were determined to avoid unwanted pregnancies because of worries over the cost of raising children. The ensuing collapse in the housing and job markets persuaded many women to be extra vigilant about using safe and reliable birth control methods, analysts said.

As the federal government’s clearinghouse of health information, the CDC has kept track of abortion statistics since 1969, also documenting accidental deaths of women. In 2010, the most recent year for data on fatalities, 10 American women died as a result of complications from legal induced abortions.

As for the extended decline in the abortion rate, the CDC concluded the trend began in the 1980s after a peak of 29.3 women per 1,000 had the procedure in 1980.

The only departure from that largely sustained drop in abortion rates came during an uptick from 2005 to 2008, a time of relative prosperity for many families settling into new homes and neighborhoods.

In California and other Western states, researchers estimate a 15 percent decrease in abortion procedures by 2011. Midwestern states had the steepest declines, at 17 percent. Southern states experienced a 12 percent drop and the Northeast region recorded 9 percent fewer abortions.

Rachel Jones is the lead author of a study for the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, a policy group that supplies the CDC with providers’ data, which is more detailed than what states voluntarily report. The institute released its report about abortion in the U.S. this spring.

From 2011 to 2013, Jones said, abortion opponents in state legislatures enacted 205 restrictions to limit access to abortions. They include forbidding the use of telemedicine to oversee administering of medication, despite an overall trend to expand telemedicine as a new technology to cut costs and reach more patients.

However, Jones said laws restricting access played less of a role in the decline than “a steep national drop in overall pregnancy and birthrates” due to financial worries.

Overall, Guttmacher’s research found that 29 percent of surveyed women agreed with the statement, “With the economy the way it is, I am more careful than I used to be about using contraception.”

“More women and couples were using highly effective, long-acting, reversible methods such as IUDs,” Jones said. “They wanted to avoid or delay pregnancy and childbearing.”

Against that backdrop, early-pregnancy abortions through medication – referred to by some as “the abortion pill” – are steadily increasing, the Guttmacher report said.

Overall, a total in 2011 of 730,322 abortions were reported to the CDC. Of that number, the abortion rate (number of abortions per 1,000 women) was 13.9 per 1,000 women age 15-44. The abortion ratio (number of abortions per 1,000 live births) was 219.

From 2002 to 2011, the percentage of all abortions performed at eight weeks or less gestation increased by 6 percent, indicating that women are catching unwanted pregnancies earlier.

In California, 802,400 of the 7.9 million women of reproductive age became pregnant in 2011. The pregnancies ended in live births 63 percent of the time, and 23 percent involved induced abortions.

Also in 2011, 181,730 women obtained abortions in California, producing a rate of 23 abortions per 1,000 women. The rate decreased by 16 percent since 2008.

Unlike many other states, California does not impose major restrictions on abortions, such as waiting periods, getting parents involved or placing limitations on publicly funded procedures.

As for the public health impact of the CDC’s report, researchers said policymakers should identify groups of women at greatest risk for unintended pregnancies and provide education and contraception as preventive measures.

Call The Bee’s Cynthia H. Craft, (916) 321-1270.

California abortion statistics (for 2011)

Number of abortions: 181,730

Abortion rate: 23 per 1,000 women

Number of abortion providers: 512

Number of abortion clinics: 160

Percent of counties without an abortion clinic: 45

Percent of women living in counties without a clinic: 5

Source: The Guttmacher Institute