CDC Abortion Report Offers Valuable Demographic Data

By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., National Right to Life Director of Education & Research

Dr. Randall K. O’Bannon is director of Education and Research for the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund.

When the 2007 Abortion Surveillance report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) came out February 25, 2011, it was almost lost in the shuffle owing to the fact that the media-friendly Guttmacher Institute had published its figures in January (see www.nrlc.org/News_and_Views/Jan2011/nv011111part2.html). Both have strengths and weaknesses.

Guttmacher’s report covers the year 2008, and its total of 1.2 million abortions is more accurate, since it relies on direct surveys of abortion clinics and follow up. The CDC report relies on the voluntary reporting of state health departments.

The CDC abortion total for 2007 was 827,609. While obviously an undercount, CDC data offers something not provided by Guttmacher–valuable demographic data that throws light on recent conditions and trends. (Its totals are almost a third lower than Guttmacher’s because reporting to CDC is not only voluntary but also because states with previously heavy abortion totals–California, New Hampshire, Maryland– did not report.)

As did the Guttmacher analysis, CDC figures show a spike in the number of abortions in 2006 from 2005, but which came back down again for 2007.  No one is sure why, but local conditions (economic situation, state or local funding of abortion, the building of a new mega-clinic, etc.) or better reporting may play a role in some fluctuations.  (Guttmacher reported a tiny rise in 2008. See “Behind the Guttmacher Abortion Numbers,” which is Part Three.)

Word of caution: Both Guttmacher and the CDC use the terms “abortion rate” and “abortion ratio” to examine the prevalence of abortion and the likelihood pregnant women will abort. However each organization calculates and reports those numbers  differently.

Here we will be looking at the CDC definitions.  For the CDC the abortion rate is the number of abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age (14-45). The abortion ratio for the CDC is the number of abortions per 1,000 live births.

According to CDC, the abortion rate in 2007 was 16/1,000. Since 2001 that number has fluctuated between 16.2 and 15.8. This number tells us how prominent abortion is in the lives of young women in the United States.

The 2007 abortion ratio was 231—meaning there were 231 abortions for every 1,000 live births. This is the lowest figure the CDC has recorded since 1973, the year Roe legalized abortion on demand nationwide.

As we noted, because data from several states is missing, the real ratio could be somewhat higher. Nonetheless this does give us an idea that, in general, when they find out they are pregnant, more women are choosing life for their babies.

Abortions to teens continue to drop. From 1998 to 2007, the abortion rate for young women aged 15-19 dropped 25.3%.  Most abortions are still performed on women in their twenties, although abortion rates are down for this group as well during the same time frame: -15.7% for women ages 20-24; and -9.1% for women 25-29.

The abortion rate for women over 35 during that same ten year period was up 8.2%. This might be a response to the increased use of prenatal genetic testing.

Abortion ratios dropped in every group from 1998 to 2007 except for those age 15 and under. Generally, this means that today’s pregnant women are less likely to abort.

More abortions are being done at earlier gestations than before.  According to the CDC, 62.3% of all abortions in the states that sent such data were performed at eight weeks gestation or earlier in 2007.  As recently as 1998, that figure was 55.8%.

What explains this? The increased promotion and use of chemical abortifacients such as RU486, which was approved for sale in 2000 and is used earlier in the first trimester, certainly contributed to this trend.

About 13.7% of the abortions from states listing “medical” or chemical abortions on their form were performed using these methods.  It was just 3.5% in 2001, the first full year RU486 was available.

About 8.5% of the abortions reported to the CDC in 2007 were performed at 14 weeks gestation or more.

African-American women continued to have an inordinate proportion of the abortions performed in the U.S. Their abortion rate was 33.5 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age, nearly three times was it was for whites (10.9) in 2007. 

The abortion ratio for Black women was 455 abortions for every 1,000 live births. This, too, was almost three times what the ratio for whites (158 for 1,000 live births).

Abortion rates and ratios for Hispanics were also higher than what was reported for whites,  though not as high as they were for African Americans.

In 2007 their abortion rate was 20.5/1,000 women of reproductive age, and their abortion ratio was 193 abortions for every 1,000 live births. [Note: The CDC report lists at least three different abortion rates and three different abortion ratios for Hispanics for 2007, depending on the number of states calculated.  Listed here is the rate and ratio given for Hispanics in Table 15, which included the most states in its calculations]

Once again, women obtaining abortions are predominantly unmarried. In 2007, that was true of 83.7%, according to the CDC.  The statistics also tell us again that most women (58.6%) having abortions have already given birth to at least one child.  At least 44.1% of those having abortions in 2007 had had at least one previous abortion as well, with 7.9% having had at least three.

In one category, the CDC’s numbers only go up to 2006, but the data indicate that women are still dying from legal abortion.  The CDC identified six women who died from induced abortions in 2006, bringing the total number dying from legal abortions since 1972 to 407.  Though the CDC investigates any maternal death it thinks may be related to abortion, deaths that are coded otherwise by coroners, for whatever reason, could conceivably escape their attention.

The CDC has indicated that there are more maternal deaths from 2007 to 2010 that are currently under investigation.

I need your feedback on both Today’s News & Views and National Right to Life News Today. Please send your comments todaveandrusko@gmail.com