June 17, 2015
Although recent AP reports that abortion is on the decline shocked many, past studies have well documented this trend. For instance, last June the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) released its Family and Social Trendlines to consolidate federal data on family issues. A series of charts from this report will help contextualize the AP’s findings.
As Chart 1 shows, abortion procurement peaked in the early 90’s and has declined since. In fact, the number of abortions in 2008 was lower than the number of abortions in 1977.
A closer look at abortion demographics in the past two decades reveals the nature of this decline. Chart 2 breaks down the abortion rate by the age of the mother. Between 1990 and 2008:
- 15- to 17-year-olds: Abortions decreased from 26.5 to 10.4 abortions per 1,000 women
- 18- to 19-year-olds: Abortions decreased from 57.9 to 28.6 abortions per 1,000 women
- 20- to 24-year-olds: Abortions decreased from 56.7 to 38.4 abortions per 1,000 women
- 25- to 29-year-olds: Abortions decreased from 33.9 to 28.6 abortions per 1,000 women
- 30- to 34-year-olds: Abortions decreased from 19.7 to 18.4 abortions per 1,000 women
- 35- to 39-year-olds: Abortions decreased from 10.8 to 10.2 abortions per 1,000 women
- 40- to 44-year-olds: Abortions increased from 3.2 to 3.4 abortions per 1,000 women
Especially noteworthy is the sharp decline in abortions for teens. For both 15- to 17-year-olds and 18- to 19-year-olds, abortion procurement was cut by more than half. Abortions to 20- to 24-year-olds, the age group obtaining the most abortions, also significantly dropped.
Likewise, the U.S. abortion rate declined for every race/ ethnicity, especially for Blacks and Hispanics (see Chart 3 below). Between 1993 and 2008:
- The abortion rate among Black unmarried women decreased from 81.2 to 60.9 abortions per 1,000 women.
- The abortion rate among Hispanic unmarried women decreased from 60.6 to 39.3 abortions per 1,000 women.
- The total abortion rate among unmarried women decreased from 43.1 to 30.7 abortions per 1,000 women.
- The abortion rate among White unmarried women decreased from 33.9 to 22.7 abortions per 1,000 women.
A comparison of Charts 4 and 5 provide a core insight into abortion trends. Between 1990 and 2008, the rate of pregnancies, live births, abortions, and miscarriages to married women remained relatively stable. In other words, married women have not significantly affected abortion rates.
However, that is not the case for unmarried women. In fact, in the early 90’s—around the same time abortion numbers began declining—the ratio of women who gave birth to women who had an abortion swapped. By 1993, more women chose to have their baby than women who chose to abort him/ her. This gap has progressively widened since the early 90’s.
Although the surge of unmarried women who decide to carry their pregnancy to term may not be the only factor affecting abortion numbers, it is certainly a vital demographic trend that cannot be ignored. This trend is not entirely surprising. As FRC expert, Arina Grossu, points out, increased technology, medical knowledge, and social support allows traditionally marginalized women—teenagers, minorities, and those with unintended pregnancies—the choice to give birth. This is, indeed, a profound and momentous advancement for women in America.