On November 29, the day after Thanksgiving, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released their 2010 Abortion Surveillance report to the public. The annual report is composed of statistical data and analysis documenting induced abortions in the States. The report revealed that there was a total of 765,651 abortions in 2010 – a 3% decrease from the figure CDC reported in 2009. This number also represents the lowest abortion total reported by the CDC since 2001.
The CDC compiled data supplied by health departments from 47 reporting areas. As abortion reporting is generally done on a voluntary basis, states such as California, Maryland, and New Hampshire once again did not contribute their abortion numbers to the total. These states do not compile abortion statistics outside of those paid for via their Medicaid programs. These states together make up 15% of the U.S. population and California and Maryland both have considerable abortion rates. In California, for example, the Guttmacher Institute’s most recent report (2008) showed just over 200,000 abortions performed statewide. More than 40 percent of those abortions, according to the California Department of Health Care Services – that is 85,843 abortions, were paid for by California taxpayers. That number rose by nearly 8,000 in 2010.
With the caveat of the missing data for states where nearly a third of all U.S. abortions are done, the 3% decrease in abortions represents the continuation of a trend as abortion rates have been gradually falling since record high rates in 1990, when 1.6 million abortions were performed on women in the United States. If this 3% decrease is applied to the Guttmacher Institute’s more reliable reported abortion number of 1.2 million from the year 2008 (the last available year as Guttmacher does not release on a regular basis), this would translate to roughly 90,000 fewer abortions.
The number of reported late-term abortions may have also dropped slightly – from 1.3% of total induced abortions to 1.2%, though it should be noted that neither Maryland nor California has a significant legal limit on late-term procedures. While this percentage may seem small, it still represents the lives of almost 9,200 late-term babies, with an additional 3,000 unreported to the CDC by non-participating states.
The CDC report also revealed several other points of interest. The number of reporting areas grew from 45 to 46 with the addition of abortion data from Delaware in 2010. The abortion rate for 2010 was 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 14-44, while the abortion ratio was 228 abortions per 1,000 live births. This represents a slight decrease from the abortion rate noted in the 2009 report which was 15.1 per 1,000 women. The abortion ratio went up very slightly by .4%.
In 2010 (among the 28 areas that reported race/ethnicity data), non-Hispanic white women and non-Hispanic black women accounted for the largest percentages of abortions (36.8% and 35.7%, respectively). Hispanic women and non-Hispanic women in the other races category accounted for smaller percentages (21.0% and 6.5%, respectively). Among the 22 reporting areas that have consistently reported by race/ethnicity every year between 2007 and 2010, abortion rates decreased for all groups.
Among the 38 areas that reported by marital status for 2010, 14.7% of all women who obtained abortions were married and 85.3% were unmarried, which is fairly level with the previous year. Over the past decade, the abortion ratios for married women and unmarried women have decreased by 19% and 21%, respectively.
According to the report, in 2010, women 20 to 29 years old accounted for 57.4% of abortions, while women aged 30 and above accounted for 27.6% of abortions. Adolescents from the ages of 15 to 19 accounted for 14.6% of abortions. The percentage of abortion for women 40 and over increased from 2001 to 2010 by .5%, whereas abortions performed on teenagers decreased by 2.8%.
While any decrease in the number of abortion is positive, it is important to remember that abortion reporting in the United States has serious flaws that must be addressed if the American people are to have an accurate understanding of the state of abortion nationally. The fact that national abortion reporting is done on a voluntary basis is a serious challenge and the age of the data collected and published remains unacceptable in an advanced country. This information is collected and published in the public interest and its fragmentary and delayed release is unnecessary.
Data from the CDC for total abortions is consistently 31-32% lower than that released by the Guttmacher Institute. This is due to the fact that the CDC develops its Abortion Surveillance report based on data supplied by state health agencies while the Guttmacher Institute gets its data directly from abortion providers.
Congressional attention to this problem remains essential if policy makers and the public are to have timely and useful reports on an urgent and controversial subject.
Nora Sullivan is Research Assistant for Charlotte Lozier Institute.