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Pew study shows dramatic decline in US abortion rate since 1980s


Di fizkes|Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 01/28/23

While abortion rates haven't changed much in the last few years, there is a large downward trend over the last few decades.

A new study from Pew Research Center is measuring the prevalence of abortion in the United States. The data was sourced from the Guttmacher Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which each have tracked abortion matters for decades. The report was compiled from data collected up to 2020, so it should be noted that it does not account for changes since the US Supreme Court decision to overturn Dobbs last June

It should also be noted that the Guttmacher data is a bit more complete, as it includes data from all 50 states and the District of Colombia. The CDC, however, only takes data from states that voluntarily report to the central health agencies. CDC’s figures are missing data from California, New Hampshire, and Maryland. Pew states that while the Guttmacher Institute supports abortion rights, its data is considered reliable.

Number of US abortions

When seeking to measure the prevalence of abortion in the US, the first indicator was the total number of abortions performed in the country. There was relatively little difference between the rates of abortion in 2019 and 2020. The CDC recorded a 1.5% decrease in the total number of abortions, from 629,898 in 2019 to 620,327 in 2020. Guttmacher, however, claimed the exact opposite of the CDC, showing a 1.5% increase – from 916,460 in 2019 to 930,160 in 2020. 

While the rates have not changed enough to draw a conclusion of significant change between 2019 and 2020, it should be noted that the rates of abortion have fallen significantly since the 1990s. In 1991, Guttmacher reported an estimated 1.5 million abortions, a number that has fallen by roughly two-thirds in 2020. Meanwhile the CDC found just over 1 million abortions in 1991, which according to their data had fallen just over one-third by 2020. 

Abortion rates

Both agencies found that rates of women aged 15-44 seeking abortions have steadily fallen since 1981. Guttmacher reported 14.4 abortions per 1,000 women in the US, which is significantly fewer than 1981’s high of 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women. The CDC’s data, which included all 50 states in the 1980s, reported 25 abortions per 1,000 women. In 2020, the CDC found only 11.2 abortions per 1,000 women. 

Abortion types

The CDC divides abortions into two categories: surgical abortions and medical abortions – the latter referring to abortion pills. The FDA first approved abortion pills in 2000, and the use of the pills has grown at steady rates ever since. In 2020, for the first time, the abortion pill was the most used form of abortion, accounting for 53% of abortions in the US. This figure was the same in both reports, but it is assumed this number will have fluctuated since the FDA expanded the availability of abortion pills in January 2023.

As far as how many facilities perform abortion, Guttmacher found 1,603 facilities that offer the procedure, a number that has remained practically unchanged in the last few years. However, the number of facilities has dramatically dwindled since 1981, when Guttmacher recorded 2,908 facilities. The CDC does not track abortion providers. 

Read the full report at Pew Research Center. 

AbortionHistoryUnited States
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