The XX Factor

The U.S. Abortion Rate Fell to Its Lowest Point Since Roe v. Wade

Increased access to affordable contraception is contributing to a declining rate of unintended pregnancies.

The U.S. abortion rate has fallen to the lowest it’s been since Roe v. Wade prohibited states from outlawing abortion, according to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute. In 2014, the year of the most recent data set available, there were 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age (15 to 44 years old). That’s less than half the peak U.S. abortion rate, 29.3 per 1,000 women, reached in 1980 and 1981.

When Roe was handed down in 1973, the national abortion rate was 16.3 abortions per 1,000 women. The rate rose sharply until 1980; since then, it has dropped at a relatively steady rate. The total number of abortions in the U.S. peaked in 1990 at just over 1.6 million and decreased to 958,700 in 2013, the first time since the ’70s it was less than 1 million.

In 2014, there were 926,200 abortions performed in the country, according to the Guttmacher report’s data from abortion care providers. The 2014 numbers also mark a 14 percent drop from the 2011 abortion rate. During that time period, the abortion rate dropped in all but six states and Washington, D.C.

Guttmacher credits an increase in contraception accessibility with some of the rate’s decrease. Birth control has never been as affordable or accessible as it is now, with cost-free insurance coverage mandated by the Affordable Care Act. That’s made it possible for a fast-growing proportion of women to choose more effective methods of contraception, like intrauterine devices and implants, over methods with lower upfront costs but higher failure rates, like pills.

Some of the abortion rate’s drop has likely come from the falling U.S. teen birth rate, which hit a new all-time low in 2015, the most recent year with available data. States that have launched programs to give teens free IUDs have seen their teen birth rates cut in half. The country’s unintended pregnancy rate is falling, too, so there’s a smaller proportion of women in need of abortion care for that reason.

Anti-abortion activist Kristi Hamrick of Americans United for Life told NPR she believes the U.S. abortion rate is decreasing because legislation passed to block women’s access to abortion is working. Targeted regulations that force clinics to close and laws that make abortion care more costly and time-consuming “have been game-changers, and we see the abortion rate dropping in response,” Hamrick said. This is a rare case of an anti-abortion leader admitting that unnecessary regulations on abortion providers are a method of keeping women from exercising their constitutional right to legal abortion and not a way of “protecting” women’s safety.

The authors of the Guttmacher study write that states that passed abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2014 were more likely to see a decrease in the number of abortion clinics, but that “fluctuations in clinic numbers—whether decreases or increases—were not clearly associated with abortion rates.”