Abortion Rates in the US Reach a Historic Low

Supermajority Education Fund

December 5, 2019

On November 29, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data that shows abortion rates in the United States reached a historic low in 2016. This is true for all statistics measuring abortion, including the rate of abortions per woman, the ratio to live births, and the absolute number. 

In 2016, the CDC reported a total of 623,471 abortions from 48 reporting areas that included 47 states plus New York City. Notably, California, Washington, D.C., Maryland, and New Hampshire did not report data. Overall, the abortion rate declined from 188 abortions per 1,000 live births in 2015 to 186 abortions in 2016.

Along with tracking rates, the CDC’s study looked into the demographics of those seeking abortions. The majority of people who received an abortion in 2016 were in their 20s, had never had an abortion before, and already had at least one child. 

The Guttmacher Institute’s principal research scientist, Rachel Jones, told Supermajority News that the CDC’s report supports what the Guttmacher Institute has been tracking for decades. In September, the Guttmacher Institute released a report showing that the abortion rate for women aged 15-44 fell 20 percent from 2011 to 2017. The Guttmacher’s data, the Guardian reports, is considered more comprehensive than government data because it individually contacts abortion providers.

As for why these numbers are declining, the Guttmacher Institute highlighted that overall declining pregnancy rates could be a contributing factor. In 2018, the U.S. fertility rate, which was already in decline for four years, hit a historic low

It’s also possible that there was an increase in self-managed abortions. Because self-managed abortions happen outside of medical facilities, neither the Guttmacher nor the CDC could fully capture how often they occur. Still, the Guttmacher Institute’s abortion census providing data for 2017 found that 18 percent of non-hospital facilities saw at least one patient who had attempted to end a pregnancy on their own, marking an increase from 12 percent in 2014. 

“Abortion is under attack like never before. At the same time, people are increasingly using the internet to manage their health and access a wide range of services,” Megan Donovan, the Guttmacher Institute’s senior policy manager, told Supermajority News. “Given these trends, it makes sense that self-managed abortions may be on the rise.”

The CDC’s study notes that multiple factors influence the decision to get an abortion, including an individual’s access to health care services and contraceptives, or to abortion providers themselves. The conversation about abortion rates, therefore, cannot be separated from the conversation about reproductive justice, according to Dr. Herminia Palacio, the president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute. 

“When we talk about the abortion rate, we are really talking about reproductive autonomy,” Dr. Palacio said, according to the Guardian. “It’s the right for people to make their own choices about when to get pregnant, when not to get pregnant, and what to do if they are pregnant and don’t want to be.”