Drop in Abortion Numbers Could Reflect Changing Attitudes

Centers for Disease Control report estimates U.S. abortions dropped 5% in 2009, part of a continuing decline that has occurred since 1990.

Michael New
Michael New (photo: Courtesy of Michael New)

WASHINGTON — A new government report estimates the number of U.S. abortions dropped 5% in 2009, drawing praise from pro-life advocates and researchers who say the drop could be due in part to an increase in the numbers of pro-life Americans.

“Overall, I’m pleased to see the abortion numbers are coming down,” Michael New, a political science professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, told Catholic News Agency Nov. 26. “We’ve seen a pretty consistent downward trend in abortion since 1990. The numbers have declined almost every year. The numbers are down almost 25% overall since the early '90s. Overall, that’s a good thing.”

New said it is “very hard to say” what caused the short-term decline. He suggested a combination of more pro-life laws, the lack of abortion facilities in many parts of the country and the change of “hearts and minds” on abortion.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Nov. 21 released a report based on figures from 43 states and two cities. Although there are an estimated 1 million abortions in the U.S. each year, the report counted about 785,000 in 2009. The figures do not include statistics from California, which has the most abortion providers in the country.

Using the available figures, researchers found that abortions fell from 16 per 1,000 women of child-bearing age in 2008 to about 15 per 1,000 women in 2009, about 38,000 fewer abortions.

New noted that 2009 was the first year a majority of respondents to the Gallup Survey questions on abortion said they were pro-life.

“Now, in fairness, we don’t have a lot of research which correlates public opinion towards abortion with abortion rates, but I think that’s something that ought to be considered,” he said.

 

‘Abortion Harms Women’

Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, said the drop in abortions is “a real cause for giving thanks.”

However, she questioned why the abortion-related deaths of 12 women are “buried in the very last table of the report and unremarked on in the news.”

“The news from this report is that abortion harms women, as well as their babies,” she said Nov. 23.

New, whose work has examined the possible effects of state policy on the abortion rate, said the decline was “pretty broad-based” and not confined to states that vote mainly Republican or Democratic.

Among reporting states, Mississippi had the lowest abortion rate of 4 per 1,000 women of child-bearing age. New York state, which has the second-most abortion providers in the U.S., had the highest abortion rate of 29.8 per 1,000 women of child-bearing age. New York also reported 466 abortions per 1,000 live births.

Most abortions are performed by the eighth week of pregnancy, the government report said. About 85% of women who seek abortions are not married. White women had the lowest abortion rate of 8.5 abortions per 1,000 women of child-bearing age. The rate among Hispanic women was 19.3 per 1,000, while among black women the rate was 34.2 per 1,000.

There are few records that measure how many women choose to carry their babies to term after engagement with pro-life advocates.

The 40 Days for Life organization, which leads national campaigns of prayer and outreach outside abortion clinics, reported that its participants helped save over 430 babies from abortion in its spring 2009 campaign and over 600 babies in its fall 2009 campaign.

Several researchers told The Associated Press that the drop in the numbers of abortions could be due to more widespread and more effective use of contraception.

However, New was skeptical.

“Quite honestly, there is no evidence to back that up,” he told CNA. “I haven’t seen any data which suggests that starting in 2009 women started to use contraception more often or they started to use more effective contraception. I think that’s just purely conjecture.”

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