SALT LAKE CITY — U.S. abortions plummeted 5 percent between 2008 and 2009, the biggest one-year decrease in the past decade and the latest year for which data is available, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The recent decline in abortions, coupled with the trend of reduced teen births, suggest America may be seeing a decrease in unintended pregnancies, possibly due to some combination of a growing pro-life movement, improved contraception and abstinence education.
“Despite these multiple influences, given that unintended pregnancy precedes nearly all abortions, efforts to reduce the incidence of abortion need to focus on helping women avoid pregnancies that they do not desire,” the survey reported. “Providing women and men with the knowledge and resources necessary to make decisions about their sexual behavior and use of contraception can help them avoid unintended pregnancies.”
The report did not provide clear cause-and-effect data to support why the number of abortions dropped so precipitously, to what a Washington Post blog called an all-time low.
However, the CDC also reported a decline in the abortion ratio, or the number of pregnancies terminated for every 1,000 live births. The number fell to 227 per 1,000 live births from 232 in 2008. The Post blog suggested this meant the story of the dropping number of abortions isn't just about fewer pregnancies but about the decisions women and girls are making after becoming pregnant, "with more deciding to continue with the pregnancy rather than terminate."
The vice president of the Pro-life Action League said improved education of teens about the ramifications of pregnancy and about the decision to abort also could be a major factor in the drop in abortions.
There are so many pressures that pregnant teens face from society and parents, Ann Scheidler said. "Abortion can seem to be such a simple solution to avoiding the expense and emotional trauma that comes with having a child, and helping teens understand that before they make these decisions is crucial."
The CDC report found that 85 percent of women who got abortions were unmarried. It also identified 12 abortion-related deaths in 2009.
Beginning in 2008, Gallup found a growing trend of pro-life support in America. In 2009, 51 percent of Americans considered themselves pro-life. In May, that number was 50 percent.
In contrast, the percentage of Americans who are pro-choice fell to 42 percent in 2009 from 51 percent three years earlier. This year, pro-choice support had dropped to 41 percent.
Since the CDC report's release, some experts have pointed to the growing use of contraceptive methods to explain the drop in the number of abortions. Increasingly effective methods such as the intrauterine device (IUD) — a T-shaped, plastic sperm-killer that a doctor inserts into a woman's uterus — and implants are becoming more widespread, said Jeff Peipert, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Washington University School of Medicine.
Peipert advocated the removal of cost barriers to contraception and making it accessible to all women, predicting the trend of reduced abortions would then continue downward.
Among sexually active women on birth control, IUD use rose from less than 3 percent in 2002 to more than 8 percent in 2009, a Guttmacher Institute study found earlier this year.
Essentially, IUDs prevent "user error," Rachel Jones, a Guttmacher researcher, told CBS News. Another factor, Jones said, may be the growing use of the morning-after pill, a type of emergency contraception that is becoming increasingly accessible.
Some academics point to the economic recession as a significant factor, as Americans are more careful with how they spend their money and can't afford to get pregnant.
“They stick to straight and narrow and they are more careful about birth control,” Elizabeth Ananat, a Duke University assistant professor of public policy and economics who has researched abortions, told the Associated Press.
The study found that white women had the lowest abortion rate — 8.5 per 1,000 women of childbearing age. The rate for black women was four times that, while the rate for Hispanic women was about 19 per 1,000.
Mississippi had the lowest abortion rate at four per 1,000 women of childbearing age. New York had the highest abortion rate, roughly eight times Mississippi's.