A new report found that the U.S. abortion rate has dropped to its lowest point since Roe v. Wade first made abortion legal.
The study from The Guttmacher Institute, “Abortion Incidence and Service Availability in the United States,” reveals that for the first time since 1975, the number of abortions in the United States dropped below one million. The abortion rate also declined to the lowest rate ever recorded — 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44. That’s a 14 percent decline from 2011.
Abortion rates declined nationwide from 2011 to 2014, though select parts of the country experienced sharper declines than others. “Declines were steeper in the West and the South (16% each) than in the Midwest (9%) and the Northeast (11%),” according to the study. Notably, three states — Delaware, Hawaii, and Texas — experienced a decline in the abortion rate at least twice that of the national rate of decline.
As in previous years, the Northeast — which generally enjoys greater freedom to abortion access and was the only region that had more clinics providing abortion services in 2014 than in 2011 — maintained the highest abortion rate, followed by the West, the South, and the Midwest. The five highest abortion rates were in the District of Columbia (which actually experienced a 15 percent increase), New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Florida.
Although researchers did not directly examine reasons driving the abortion rate’s decline, the authors suggest potential factors, including improved contraceptive use — which led to a decline in the U.S. unintended pregnancy rate — as well as widespread clinic closures and other state-level attempts to otherwise restrict abortion access.
With regards to contraception, the study specifically refers to long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods, like the IUD and the implant. Reliance on these “increased 130 percent between 2007 and 2009, and this trend continued…through 2012.” What’s more, the proportion of women obtaining LARC methods at Title X-supported clinics — a patient population that tends to skew young and low-income, and accounts for the majority of unintended pregnancies — increased four percent between 2011 and 2014.
This increase in LARC use is noteworthy. Under the Affordable Care Act, plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace must cover contraceptives at no cost, including IUDs. Prior to the ACA, the financial burden of IUDs was prohibitive; they could cost up to $1,000. Obamacare, then, is partially responsible for helping to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies — and arguably the number of abortions — in recent years.
The study offers additional speculation as to why the abortion rate has dropped: punitive measures designed to obstruct abortion access. These efforts — like mandatory ultrasounds, waiting periods, and counseling, as well as targeted regulation of abortion providers (also known as TRAP laws) — exist to discourage women from seeking abortion care and directly impact the provision of services.
“Abortion restrictions and clinic closures mean that patients may need to travel greater distances to access services,” says Rachel Jones, the lead author of the study. “The majority of abortion patients — 75 percent — are poor or low-income, and nearly two-thirds are already parents. It can be very difficult for them to arrange for time off from work, transportation and childcare. While many find ways to access care despite these obstacles, some of the abortion rate decline is likely attributable to women who were prevented from accessing needed services.”
Attempts to outright ban and criminalize abortion are currently underway in states like Texas, Idaho, and Indiana. Under these extreme — and unconstitutional — pieces of legislation, abortion would be considered criminal homicide. In Idaho, patients and providers alike would be charged with first-degree murder. And in Iowa, legislators have introduced a bill allowing women to sue their abortion providers for emotional distress related to the procedure — despite the fact that the myth of abortion regret has been widely debunked.
But it’s not just state legislators trying to ban abortion. On January 13, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) introduced a federal “heartbeat bill” that would end legal abortion as early as six weeks, essentially amounting to a total ban on abortion nationwide.
Today, 90 percent of all U.S. counties lack clinics that provide abortion and 39 percent of women of reproductive age live in those areas. Eliminating access altogether would be disastrous.
“Restricting access to abortion may force women to delay the procedure or carry unwanted pregnancies to term,” says Megan Donovan, Guttmacher senior policy manager. “Instead, we should focus on increasing access to the full range of contraceptive methods, as well as to abortion services. Empowering women to prevent unintended pregnancies and plan their families is both a human rights priority and smart public health policy.”
Unfortunately, under a Trump presidency and a GOP-controlled Congress, the increased access seems unlikely. Last week, Republicans took a major step towards dismantling the Affordable Care Act, which could leave millions of women without access to affordable contraception. And while this won’t happen overnight, it does pave a path towards a future spike in unintended pregnancies and potentially abortions.
Trump has vowed to punish women who receive abortions and nominate Supreme Court justices who are against Roe v. Wade. The people he has nominated in his cabinet are similarly anti-choice.