(RNS) The abortion rate in the U.S. has dropped to its lowest level since the procedure became legal in 1973, according to a new data analysis that reflects a 13 percent decline in both the abortion rate and the number of abortions from 2008 to 2011.

Laura Meyer of Manchester, Ohio holds a sign during March for Life in Washington, D.C. on Friday Jan. 25, 2013.  RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks.

Laura Meyer of Manchester, Ohio holds a sign during March for Life in Washington, D.C. on Friday Jan. 25, 2013. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks.

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The report being issued Monday (Feb. 3) by the Guttmacher Institute in New York finds the 2011 rate declined to 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44, second only to 1973, when the rate was 16.3 per 1,000.

Declines were seen in all but six states — Alaska, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Wyoming — which saw either no change or an increase in abortion rates.

“A 13 percent drop over a three-year time period is a pretty steep decline. It’s unusual,” says Rachel Jones, the lead author of the study by Guttmacher, a research organization that supports the right to legal abortion and seeks to expand access to information on sexual and reproductive health.

Jones attributes the decline to more women using “highly effective contraceptive methods such as the IUD” and the fact that the study period was during the recession and sluggish recovery.

“Births have been falling for awhile, and the recession certainly accelerated the decrease in births,” says economist Ted Joyce of Baruch College in New York, who has studied reproductive health since 1985.

“When you consider the changes in contraception and the largest recession since the Great Depression, those two factors seem like compelling explanations for the decline,” he says.

Guttmacher’s analysis this year is the first to study state restrictions, many of which increased beginning in 2011. The report says states enacted 205 abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2013, more than in the entire previous decade combined. However, the 2008-2011 study period doesn’t include that surge because many restrictions didn’t take effect until late 2011 or later. During the study period, 106 new abortion restrictions were implemented.

“We didn’t find any clear associations between abortion restrictions and declines in abortion rates,” Jones said. “We saw drops in abortions in the states that had restrictions, but they were not substantially bigger than what we saw in other states.”

“No evidence was found that the overall drop in abortion incidence was related to the decrease in providers or to restrictions implemented between 2008 and 2011,” the report says.

Randall O’Bannon, of the National Right to Life Committee in Washington, D.C., which opposes abortion, views the new report as “significant progress.”

“We’re seeing some tangible results,” he says. “Obviously, we have had some impact.”

Whether the next report in three years will reflect continued declines depends on how the courts rule on state laws that would effectively restrict access to abortion providers, economist Joyce said.

“The courts haven’t ruled whether these are constitutional,” he said. “It really depends on whether those more serious restrictions go into effect. If they do, you’re likely to see an increased decline in abortion rates.”

The study, published online in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, also finds an increase in the proportion of abortions that were early medication abortion. The non-surgical procedure uses the drug mifepristone, often called the abortion pill or RU-486, or the drug misoprostol. An estimated 239,400 early medication abortions were performed in 2011, representing 23 percent of all non-hospital abortions, an increase from 17 percent in 2008, the report says.

(Sharon Jayson writes for USA Today)




    • Greater access to contraceptives is finally having a positive effect in reducing unwanted pregnancy. Too bad the religious folks are still obstructing these policies. Thank goodness we are throwing away the foolishness of forced marriages.

      But we must remain vigilant as the religious people try to roll it back and reduce access to the very contraceptives which made this decline possible.

  1. Abortion rates should constantly reduce as better means are discovered to avoid unwanted pregnancies and sane and safe practices are developed to abort pregnancies that threaten the life of the mother and the mother, in all these cases, makes the choice. It is the mother’s life.

    Abortion, if chosen, except in cases to save a mother’s life when problems are discovered late-term, should be chosen as early as possible. There is no need, except in the case of a threat to the life of the mother, where a pregnancy cannot be determined as wanted or unwanted very shortly after the pregnancy is discovered.

    All of these freedoms and precautions would greatly reduce the vile and even murderous confrontations caused by those who oppose abortion for others and presume they have the right to control their lives.

  2. Pro-lifers must never mistake the meaning of these reduced levels. They have not been caused by their ugly behavior that has attempted to force their ignorant and prejudiced beliefs on others. The lower levels of pregnancies and abortions are due to better science and saner attitudes in society at large about contraception and abortion. We must enhance that science, make the methods more readily available, and never stop working to change illiterate attitudes with knowledge.

    It is a horrible and mean contradiction that pro-life people almost always base their position on their religious beliefs. Sadly, they also support reducing and/or eliminating all assistance strategies for the over-abundance of unwanted children, whether it’s medical care, food, clothing, housing, schooling, or jobs. You name it, from cradle to grave, the religious right opposes everything its scriptures proclaim.

  3. Whether because of ease of access to contraceptives, or shaming by believers, it matters less than the result. Although I believe it is a woman’s right to make the choice, I’m very glad less are.

    I think the believers should see this as an opportunity to reassess what is more important, preventing situation where women may have to make the choice for abortion, or abortion itself.

    If they would instead support contraceptives, as well as adoption, I may start to think their beliefs are less poisonous to society; but that’s not likely, so.

    Religion is still poison!!

  4. The affects of 3D ultrasound technology and growing awareness of fetal extraction procedures and partial birth abortions should be considered as well. Much has changed that has exposed and educated the populace about the realities of abortion and allowed them to consider the issue more fully.

    • Highly doubtful, ultrasound and scare tactics in describing abortion have been around for a while.

      Forcing unnecessary ultrasounds by legislation on women seeking abortion has had the effect of placing undue burdens on women who lack means (forcing additional visits to a clinic). Of course if the goal is to create such burdens, then such laws are illegal. (See Casey v. Planned Parenthood 1992)

      • If you read Casey vs Planned Parenthood you would know that these requirements were upheld and given to the states to regulate. One provision was struck due to the undue burden clause, but 4 others including the ultrasound requirement were upheld as reasonable. So apparently the Supreme Court does not agree that these constitute scare tactics, but fall within the public interest for states to oversee.

        • You should get yourself up to speed on how it is interpreted.

          Federal court recently rejected such laws where it was seen as an undue burden. SCOTUS did not bother to upset the Appellate court decision.

          Either way, at least nobody is pretending it is based on medical necessity. The measures are constantly opposed by medical professional organizations as a blatant political misuse of medical services. Proponents make no bones about it being a deliberate burden on having an abortion.

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