The U.S. abortion rate has fallen to the lowest level since 1973, after peaking in 1981, a new report by the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute finds.
The study found that from 1990 to 2005, the abortion rate fell from 27.4 to 19.5 abortions per 1,000 women. The rate leveled off between 2005 and 2008, and then steadily declined again, reaching 16.9 per 1,000 women in 2011.
Opinions differ as to what caused the change.
The Guttmacher report itself points primarily to changes in contraception and sex education that it says reduced the number of unwanted pregnancies as possible explanations.
"With abortion rates falling in almost all states, our study did not find evidence that the national decline in abortions during this period was the result of new state abortion restrictions. We also found no evidence that the decline was linked to a drop in the number of abortion providers during this period," said the study's lead author, Rachel Jones, in a statement. "Rather, the decline in abortions coincided with a steep national drop in overall pregnancy and birth rates.
"Contraceptive use improved during this period, as more women and couples were using highly effective, long-acting, reversible contraceptive methods, such as the IUD. Moreover, the recent recession led many women and couples to want to avoid or delay pregnancy and childbearing."
The National Right to Life Committee released its own State of Abortion in the United States report in January, tracking much of the same information as Guttmacher in terms of behavior changes.
But the NRLC report points to public opinion shifts as well, singling out a Gallup poll last May that found 48 percent of Americans identifying as "pro-life" vs. 45 percent "pro-choice."
But that question only tells part of the story, the NRLC report noted. Another Gallup question asked respondents, "Do you think abortion should be 1) illegal in all circumstances; 2) legal in only a few circumstances; 3) legal under most circumstances; or 4) legal under any circumstances."
"This question comes closer to revealing American attitudes toward Roe and Doe’s regime of abortion," the NRLC report states, "revealing that only 26 percent agree with that position (legal under any circumstances), while 58 percent feel abortion should not be legal at all or legal in only a few circumstances."
“That abortion rates and numbers continue to decline is heartening because it shows that women are rejecting the idea of abortion as the answer to an unexpected pregnancy,” National Right to Life President Carol Tobias said in a statement.
“This latest report from Guttmacher shows the long-term efforts of the right-to-life movement to educate the country about the humanity of the unborn child and to enact laws that help children and their mothers are having a tremendous impact,” Tobias said.
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