New York Times 2 February 2014
The abortion rate among American women declined to its lowest level in more than three decades in 2011, according to a new report released Monday that is widely considered the country’s most definitive examination of abortion trends.
The 1.1 million abortions reported in 2011 represented a rate of 16.9 per thousand women of childbearing age, down from 2008, when a similar study estimated that 1.21 million abortions were performed at a rate of 19.4 per thousand women.
Resuming a long-term downward trend that stalled in the middle of the last decade, the 2011 rate was far below the peak, in 1981, of 29.3 per thousand, according to the report from the Guttmacher Institute, a private research group that supports abortion rights.
The decline in abortions from 2008 to 2011 was mirrored by a decline in pregnancy rates. The report did not include a detailed analysis of the reasons for these trends, which pose complicated research issues.
But the decline in abortions, the researchers said, appears in part to reflect the growing use, especially among younger women, of nearly foolproof long-term contraceptives like intrauterine devices. It may also reflect the impact of the recession and economic uncertainty, which can lead to fewer pregnancies, births and abortions, according to the authors, Rachel K. Jones and Jenna Jerman.
The authors concluded that anti-abortion laws had only a minimal impact on the number of women obtaining abortions during the study period. For one thing, many of the state laws most likely to curb abortions were passed in 2011 or later. In addition, the report notes, large declines were recorded in states with relatively liberal abortion laws, like California, New Jersey and New York.
But they added: “Some of the new regulations undoubtedly made it more difficult, and costly, for facilities to continue to provide services and for women to access them.” The researchers said that future studies would need to monitor the effects of laws that restrict abortions.
Responding to an advance copy of the report, Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group, called it “long on strained conclusions” and said it understated the impact of anti-abortion education and laws.
Carole Joffe, a sociologist at the University of California, San Francisco, and a historian of abortion, said that while the effects were difficult to quantify, the anti-abortion movement had “been very successful at stigmatizing abortion” and that this had most likely influenced the long-term downward trend.