Abortions in the US: numbers and traits

The quantitative assessment of abortion in the United States is generally based on two different sources. The first source is public: it is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, a federal agency under the Department (Ministry) of Health and based near Atlanta (Georgia). The second regular source is private: it is the Guttmacher Institute, an institute founded in 1968 by Alan Guttmacher and based in New York. Alan Guttmacher was an American obstetrician-gynecologist, who chaired the PPFA (Planned Parenthood Federation of America), American family planning from 1962 to 1974. He also founded the ASA (Association for the Study of Abortion) in 1965 and was vice president of the American Eugenics Society.

Data provided by the CDC for 2019.

The CDC website provides abortion numbers and information about collecting this data. As a federal agency, the CDC generally has 52 “notification areas” which are in fact the Health Agencies of each US state, as well as the Capital (Washington District of Columbia) and New York City. It is important to note that there is no obligation to report numbers. The CDC collection is done on a voluntary basis. Thus, California and New Hampshire have not provided data to the CDC for several years. The CDC started this collection, under the name “CDC Abortion Surveillance System” since 1969, in a more global report called the MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report). The most recent report published in 2021 covers 2019. Between 2010 and 2019, 48 regions reported numbers to the CDC each year. In 2019, the CDC reports about 630,000 miscarriages in 49 regions (California, Maryland, and New Hampshire did not). The abortion rate, set for 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, is 11.4 per thousand in regions reporting figures. In comparison, the rate in France is 15.7 in 2019. Women aged 20 to 24 and 25 to 29 represent, respectively, 27.6% and 29.3% of women who have abortions in the United States. About 18% of pregnancies end in induced abortion. From the point of view of advancing pregnancy, 79.3% of miscarriages occur during the first 9 weeks of pregnancy and 92.7% occur before the fourteenth week. The ethnic origin of women who have abortions has been the subject of much media comment recently. Of the 29 regions that provide data, African American women account for 38.4% of abortions, with an abortion rate of 23.8 per thousand. The American population of African origin representing 12.7% of the American population, the disproportion is therefore very significant. The median income of American households in 2019 is estimated by the Census Bureau, the US equivalent of the INSEE, at $67,000 against an average of $45,870 for the African-American population. These indications show a situation similar to that in France, where abortion can be a marker of social injustice. On the one hand, the abortion rate is clearly higher than the French average in some overseas departments and, on the other hand, women in a precarious situation resort to it more.

One final fact of note: the abortion rate varies greatly between “notification areas”. It is highest in New York City at 27.2 per thousand and lowest in Missouri at 1.2. Texas is at 9.5 and the state of Colorado, the first to decriminalize abortion in 1967, is at 7.6. Alliance VITA published a note analyzing the possible link between the legislation and the number of abortions, following the WHO report on this issue.

The trend observed over the years.

Despite the incomplete data, the numbers reported by the CDC show a national trend of falling abortion rates since a peak of 25 per thousand in 1979. That rate was about 14 in 1973, the year of the Roe trial. vs Wade (see our FA on this). The rate rose to around 16 in 2000 and has continued to slowly decline over the past two decades. This decline is taking place against a background of falling birth rates and an aging population. If the American population went from 249 M in 1990 to 330 M in 2020, the date of the last census, the birth rate dropped in the same period from 16.7 to 11.4 (number of births per 1000 inhabitants).

Data published by the Guttmacher Institute.

The Guttmacher Institute produces data based on feedback from institutions. Surveys are not conducted every year. The data available on the website dates back to 2017 and shows an abortion rate of 13.5 per thousand, with a total abortion rate in the United States of 862,320. The institute’s figures show the same long-term trend. Falling abortion rate in recent decades.

In short, in terms of public health, these data highlight the need for States to study the nature of social, economic and cultural factors, as well as the pressures that influence the use of abortion. This could help implement policies to prevent these situations and provide adequate assistance.

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