During the Thanksgiving holiday week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control published its annual abortion surveillance report, revealing a historic decline in the incidence of abortion across the nation since 1973.
Lagging three years behind, this year’s report covers the national abortion data for 2012. The abortion data is analyzed from the 47 areas that voluntarily report abortion statistics to the CDC. States that do not report to the CDC include several large jurisdictions – California, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, and Maryland. According to the Guttmacher Institute in 2011, these four were among the jurisdictions with the highest abortion rates in the nation.
Among these 47 reporting areas a total of 699,202 abortions were reported to the CDC in 2012, a record low. This is around 31,000 fewer than the previous year’s 730,322 abortions reported to the CDC. The abortion ratio decreased four percent from 2011 to 2012, and the abortion rate fell five percent from 2011 to 2012. The abortion rate for 2012 stood at 13.2 abortions per 1,000 women age 15-44 years. The abortion ratio for 2012 was 210 abortions per 1,000 live births. Overall, the 2012 report looked at data from 2003 to 2012; the total number of abortions, rate and ratio decreased 17 percent, 18 percent, and 14 percent in that time period.
The vast majority of states saw decreases in the total number of abortions, rate, and ratio. The number of abortions fell in 36 of the 46 states that reported data to the CDC in 2011 and 2012. Illinois saw one of the steepest increases in abortion occurrence from 41,324 in 2011 to 43,203 abortions in 2012. However, the prevalence of decreases in abortion occurrence across states is hopeful.
While abortion ratios decreased for women in all age groups, and abortion rates decreased in the majority of age groups for women, this year’s CDC report showed another striking decrease in teens choosing abortion. The abortion ratio decreased 27 percent for adolescents aged 15-19 years, and the abortion rate decreased 40 percent for adolescents.
This report also examined the gestational ages at which abortions occur across the nation. Most notably, 68 percent of abortions were performed before or at eight weeks of gestation. Additionally, the vast majority, 91.4 percent, were performed before 13 weeks gestation. The CDC notes that very few abortions were performed later than 14 weeks. To elaborate, 7.2 percent were performed between 14 and 20 weeks, and 1.3 percent (more than 9,000) were performed later than 21 weeks of gestation. Earlier abortions increased and later abortions remained relatively low. Abortions performed at less than 8 weeks of gestation increased 7 percent, and abortions performed at more than 13 weeks gestation remained at or less than 9 percent.
As media outlets and contraceptive advocates scramble to identify the cause of long- and short-term abortion decline, it is important to understand the flaws with the U.S. abortion reporting system. Not only is the system voluntary, but it is state-based, causing variation in the statistics that are collected. In December of 2012, the Charlotte Lozier Institute explored this issue in a paper entitled Abortion Reporting Laws: Tears in the Fabric. Since the 2012 report some advances in state abortion reporting have occurred. However, too many state reporting systems leave taxpayers digging through Department of Health websites and years of vital statistics reports.
In his article, “What’s Behind the Decline in Abortions across the US,” CLI President Chuck Donovan explains the recent AP Report that found abortions in 45 states had fallen by 12 percent since 2010. While contraceptive advocates quickly claimed that birth control was the cause of decreasing abortion rates, Donovan explained that, “states with the most liberal policies in these areas – the Northeast and Far West—have much higher abortion rates to begin with and thus more room for significant decreases. And given the rate of unintended pregnancies has remained stable, it is unlikely changes in contraceptive use played much of a role in the decline.”
The 2012 CDC report revealed a historic low in abortions across the United States. Whether that low was caused by stricter abortion laws or a shift in attitudes toward responding to unexpected pregnancy, or a combination of factors, the nation must demand higher quality abortion statistics. The abortion reporting issue that our country faces today is one of public accessibility and health. These statistics could contribute to a better understanding of the reasons why women choose abortion and help illustrate the range of medical effects of abortion on women and the communities in which they live. Ultimately, a national policy or at least more uniform and comprehensive state reporting is needed to ensure the quality and accessibility of national abortion data.
Rebecca Gonzales is a research associate with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.