Abortion Rate Is Lowest in 3 Decades

Survey Shows 1.2 Million Abortions Performed in U.S. in 2005

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on January 17, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 17, 2008 -- The abortion rate in the U.S. continues to decline, falling to the lowest level in more than three decades in 2005, it was reported Thursday.

About 1.2 million abortions were performed in the U.S. in 2005, which was 25% less than the all-time high of 1.6 million abortions performed in 1990.

In 2005, 19 abortions were performed for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44, compared with 26 abortions per 1,000 women in 1991.

The figures come from a nationwide survey of abortion providers conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research group.

Guttmacher Senior Research Associate Rachel Jones, PhD, tells WebMD that the reasons for the decline are not clear.

It could be because women are having a harder time accessing abortion services, or because more women are using contraception and having fewer unintended pregnancies, Jones says

She adds that it is likely that both factors have played a role in the downward trend.

Drop in Number of Abortion Providers Slowing

It appears from the report that a decade-long decline in the number of abortion providers in the U.S. is slowing, but this may be largely driven by an increase in clinics that only provide abortion drugs such as mifepristone (also known as Mifeprex or RU-486) and not surgical abortions.

Mifepristone has been available in the U.S. since its approval by the FDA in 2000. It is used for the termination of early pregnancies.

In all, 1,787 facilities provided abortions in 2005, down just 2% from 2000. That compares to a 14% drop in providers between 1992 and 1996 and a further 11% drop between 1996 and 2000.

But when only clinics providing surgical abortions were included in the analysis, the decline in providers between 2000 and 2005 was 8%.

Other major highlights from the report include:

  • 57% of abortion providers now offer mifepristone or other drugs for the termination of early pregnancy, compared with 33% in 2001. 
  • 13% of all abortions between 2000 and 2005 (161,000) involved drugs and not surgery. Roughly 20% of abortions performed prior to 9 weeks' gestation were nonsurgical. 
  • Overall, the number of abortion providers declined in 26 states and the District of Columbia, increased in 15 states, and remained stable in nine. 
  • 87% of counties in the U.S. had no abortion provider, meaning that 35% of women had to travel outside the county they lived in to find such services. Women in the Northeast and West were least likely to live in a county with no provider, and women in the South and Midwest were most likely. 
  • More than six in 10 abortions took place within the first eight weeks of pregnancy, and almost three in 10 were performed at six weeks or earlier.

Teen Birth Rate Up in 2006

Despite the continued downward trend in abortions, slightly more than one in five pregnancies ended in abortion in 2005.

In a news release, Guttmacher Institute President and CEO Sharon L. Camp says the figure highlights the need to increase access to contraception to reduce unwanted pregnancies.

"Our policymakers at the state and federal levels need to understand that behind virtually every abortion is an unintended pregnancy," she says.

WebMD Health News


SOURCES: Jones, R.K. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, March 2008; vol 40: pp 6-16.

Rachel K. Jones, senior research associate, Guttmacher Institute, New York City.

Sharon L. Camp, president and CEO, Guttmacher Institute, New York City.

© 2008 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.