By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL-ETF Director of Education & Research
Abortion numbers, rates, and ratios for 2009 have been released by the government’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC), indicating significantly fewer abortions than found in the previous year’s report.
And while the decrease is most welcomed, the abortion industry likes to act as if women no longer died from abortion once it became legal. In fact, CDC reports that twelve more women died in 2008, the most recent year for which the CDC had data, and more than 400 women have died from legal abortion since 1973.
The number of abortions reported for 2009 (784,507) is 41,057 fewer than it was for 2008 (825,564) and the abortion rate (15.1 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44) and ratio (241.6 abortions for every 1,000 live births) are the lowest reported by the CDC since the advent of legal abortion in 1973.
While it is clear that there have been real declines in recent years, absolute numbers from the CDC should be taken with several shakers of salt. Since 1998, the CDC has not included any data from California, the nation’s most populated state, or New Hampshire, in its totals. And at least one other state has usually been missing from the data set (this year it’s two–Delaware, where there were 4,603 abortions performed in 2008, and Maryland, which has not reported since 2007.)
While the CDC relies on reports from state health departments, surveys done by the Guttmacher Institute found about 400,000 more abortions per year by contacting abortionists directly. Most recent figures from Guttmacher have estimated that there are just over 1.2 million abortions a year.
While missing several hundred thousand abortions, numbers from the CDC still roughly track those from Guttmacher, so trends and demographics are still very much worth considering.
In 1980, for example, the CDC reported that 29.2% of all abortions were to young women aged 19 or younger. By stark contrast in 2009, the CDC puts that percentage at 16%, indicating that older women are having many more of the abortions and illustrating the impact of parental involvement laws.
The introduction of the chemical abortifacient RU-486 (mifepristone) in 2000 has also clearly had an impact. Among those states listing “medical” abortion on their reporting forms, 17.4% of all abortions were performed by chemical means in 2009.
The percentage of abortions performed at less than 8 weeks gestation (the official limit for RU-486 abortions is 7 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period, though this is often ignored) has risen from 58.3% in 2000 to 65.5% in 2009. The percentage has increased every year, with those performed at six weeks or less climbing 47.2% during that same period.
Conversely, second and third trimester abortions were down. Among states reporting gestational age to the CDC, 8.1% of all abortions were performed after 13 weeks in 2009, and just 1.3% at 21 weeks or more.
But bear in mind while the percentage may be low, the absolute number may not be. For example, 8.1% of 784,507 would be 63,545. If projected of the larger 1,212,400 figure reported by Guttmacher for 2008, that would be 98,204 babies aborted after 13 weeks!
Because states define and report race and ethnicity in different ways, it is difficult to get a precise handle on such figures from the CDC, which reports different numbers for different data sets for the same year. Though they vary from table to table, Hispanics account for about 20% of abortions in the CDC’s 2009 report, while blacks account for somewhere between 35.4% and 39.8%.
To get another idea of abortion’s disproportionate impact on minorities, consider the disparity in abortion rates. While the abortion rate was 8.4 per 1,000 for white women, it was 20.2 for Hispanic women, more than double.
For black women, it was 29 per thousand, more than three times what it was for white women.
Unmarried women, not surprisingly, continue to account for most abortions, though the percentage reported by the CDC for 2009 (85%) is the highest seen in some time.
Though it surprises some people, CDC figures continue to show what previous CDC reports and surveys from Guttmacher show: that most women having abortions have already given birth to at least one child.
According to the CDC, 59.9% of those having an abortion have already had at least one previous live birth. About a quarter (26.6%) had previously born one child, while a third (33.3%) had given birth to two children or more before having their abortions.
Among states reporting such data, 44.6% of women had at least one previous abortion in the CDC’s 2009 report. Two previous abortions were reported by 11.4%, with 8.1% reporting three or more.
While the absence of California and other states somewhat skews the data, affecting not only totals but things like minority and ethnic distribution, numbers from the CDC do give us a useful sketch of the state of abortion in America.
We’ll contrast that portrait with the picture painted by previous reports in our next installment to see what this latest data tells us about the possible meaning and causes of such trends.