Peter J. Smith


U.S. abortion decline ended in 2008 with economic recession

Peter J. Smith

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 11, 2011 ( – The two-decade steep decline in national abortion rate in the United States came to an end in 2008, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

According to the abortion statistics firm, the rate of abortion stopped declining between 2005 and 2008, the year that marked the start of the greatest U.S. economic recession since the Great Depression.

The 2008 rate was 19.6 abortions per 1000 women between the ages of 15 – 44. The total number of abortions was 1,212,400. This marks an increase of 6,000 abortions from 2005, when the rate was 19.4 abortions per 1000 women.

The U.S. abortion rate peaked in 1981, at 29.3 abortions per 1000 women, just eight years after the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton made abortion legal with virtually no restrictions.

The total number of abortions peaked in the U.S. in 1990 at 1.6 million, when the rate was estimated at 27.4 abortions per 1000 women. It began a two decade decline after that.

The Guttmacher Institute also noted that the decline in abortion providers (including clinics, hospitals, and doctors offices) also stopped. In 2005 there were 1787 abortion providers, and in 2008 there were 1793. Specialized abortion clinics account for 21 percent of abortion providers, and perform 70 percent of all abortions.

Rachel Jones, author of the GI study, told the New York Times the recession likely contributed to the end of the abortion rate decline, especially since much of their abortion data comes from poor and low-income women.

“So there are more poor women in the survey, women who in better economic times might have decided to carry to term, but since they or their partner lost their job, decided they couldn’t,” said Jones.

The increase in medical abortion may also help account for the increase. RU-486 abortions now account for 17 percent (199,000) of all non-hospital abortions, up from 161,000 such medical abortions in 2005. Guttmacher noted that medical abortion has now become “an integral part of abortion care,” with 59 percent of known abortion providers providing medical abortions.

However, they also noted a “disturbing increase” in the numbers of abortion clinics reporting pro-life demonstrating outside their facilities, from 82 percent in 2000 to 89 percent in 2008.

Jeanne Monahan, Family Research Council’s Director for the Center of Human Dignity, credited the hard work of the pro-life movement over the past decades for the overall decline of abortion, but said there was now much more to do.

“The nation’s abortion rate has declined for many years because of the tireless work of and growth of pregnancy resource centers, pro-life educational campaigns, and the enactment of state laws such as parental notification and informed consent,” said Monahan.

She also pointed out that for the first time ever, a majority of Americans now describe themselves in polls as pro-life.

“However, this report indicates that much work remains to be done in Congress and in state legislatures to protect mothers and their unborn children.”

The FRC analyst said Congress should enact the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, a bipartisan pro-life measure sponsored by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Dan Lipinksi (D-Ill.). Both men are co-chairs of the congressional Pro-Life Caucus.

Monahan said it was imperative that lawmakers work to defund Planned Parenthood, which received federal subsidies totaling $363.2 million for 2008-2009 at the same time it was performing a record number of abortions: 324,800 within the same period.

Read the Guttmacher Institute report in full here.

A helpful state-by-state breakdown of the abortion rate is here.

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