Abortion rates in America have reached their lowest level since 1973, the year that the Supreme Court legalized the procedure. According to a new report by the Guttmacher Institute, there are just 17 abortions for every 1,000 women in the nation, a historic low.
The report states that a third of all abortions are obtained by women aged 20-24, with another 11% obtained by women between 18 and 19 years of age. Nearly 90% of all abortions occur within the first 12 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy, the safest time to receive the procedure and avoid the risk of serious medical complications.
Contraception is proposed as one possible reason for the low figure, which is down from the 29.3 abortions for every 1,000 women in 1981. New forms of birth control, such as intra-uterine devices (IUDs), last for years and are not as susceptible to human error, as they do not require any daily action in the same way as pills or condoms.
With contraception becoming cheaper, more effective and more widely available, pro-choice advocates have long claimed that increased access to birth control would result in decreased abortion rates. This projection was supported by a 2012 medical study entitled the Contraceptive Choice. In outlining the report’s conclusions, journalist William Saletan remarked, “What happens when you provide condoms and contraceptive services? Women who don’t want to get pregnant don’t get pregnant.”
The recent uptick in anti-abortion legislation at the state level did not contribute to the report's findings, as the majority of data is pulled form 2011, a full year before most of the laws took effect. Among these new laws is the requirement that women undergo invasive ultrasounds prior to obtaining an abortion and the banning of all abortion procedures after twenty weeks of a pregnancy.
Other states have made it harder or even impossible for abortion providers to practice in their state, reforming licensing and inspection requirements. In Mississippi, the state legislature passed a law requiring every OB-GYN at the state’s lone clinic to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, privileges that have been denied to the clinic’s out of state physicians.
Additionally, pro-choice proponents hold that sexual education has a role to play in the low rate. California saw its teen birth rates drop nearly 60% after it revamped and expanded its sexual education course taught in its public schools. Meanwhile, teen pregnancy rates have remained high in Southern states, a reality that supporters of increased access to contraception and accurate sexual education say could be changed if the region took steps already made in other states.
Despite the decrease in the number of abortions nationwide, this regional dilemma highlights the contentious role that contraceptives and abortion continue to play across the country. With recent statistics touting decreased abortion rates, however, the argument for contraceptives may be stronger than ever.