The Demographics behind the CDC’s 5% decline in abortions in 2013

CDC Report on 2013 Part 2

By Randall K. O’Bannon, NRL Director of Education & Research

Editor’s note. On Tuesday Dr. O’Bannon looked at the latest decline in the number of abortions, abortion rates, and abortion ratios from the CDC. The overall 5% national decline showed up in dropping state figures all across the country. Today, in Part Two, we’ll examine demographic details from the 2013 report and see what they can tell us about how abortion has changed in the last 15 years.

When looking at abortion statistics in the aggregate, it is easy to miss the trees for the forest. We know from the CDC’s reporting that there was a 5% drop in the total number of abortions, abortion rates, and abortion ratios from 2012. But other data released by CDC breaks out those numbers, telling us about the age, race, ethnicity, marital status of aborting women, as well as the timing of their abortions and the method they used.

This yields an illuminating profile. The contrast between these demographics and the CDC’s abortion demographics from 15 years ago gives us not just a sense of how that profile has been changing, but also some idea of where pro-lifers have had their most effective impact and where there is more work to be done.

Age: from younger to older women

More than half of the abortions recorded by the CDC by age in 2013 were to women in their 20s. Almost exactly a third (32.7%) were performed on women 20-24, while another quarter (25.9%) went to women 25-29.

In 1998 the CDC reported more abortions (884,273) than in 2013 (664,435). But the distribution percentages for this group of women in 1998 is about the same as in this more recent report – 31.4% for women 20-24, 23.2% for those 25-29.

It is a different story with other age groups. When looked at over the long term, there is strong evidence abortion is shifting from younger women to older age groups.

For example, in 1973, Roe’s first year, the CDC found teens (those 19 and under) responsible for 32.7% of all abortions. Twenty-five years later, in 1998, the CDC figure for teens 15-19 was 18.9%.

By 2013, teen abortions (ages 15-19) had fallen to 11.4%. These drops are even more significant when one considers how the overall number of abortions has dropped from about 1.5-1.6 million a year in the 1980s to just over a million as recently as 2011(Guttmacher).

At the same time, however, the share of abortions procured by women aged 30 and older has increased. Responsible for 16.5% of abortions in 1975, their percentage had increased to 24.6% in 1998 and approached a third (29.6%) in 2013. [1]

Marital Status

The vast majority of abortions in the U.S. are performed on single women as they always have been. In 2013, 85.2% of aborting women were unmarried. This figure for unmarried women is only a little higher than it was fifteen years earlier in the CDC’s 1998 study, when 78.9% were unmarried, 18.4% married, and 2.7% unknown. That was similar to what the CDC found in 1984, when 78% were unmarried. Even as far back as 1975, more than seven in 10 (72.7%) were unmarried.

These figures show us that while the abortion demographic is increasingly older (but smaller – numbers shrink for all groups when there are huge overall drops), unmarried women still overwhelmingly have most of the abortions.

Gestational Age and Abortion Method

Increasingly, abortions are occurring on babies earlier in gestation. According to the CDC’s 2013 report, 66% were performed at 8 weeks gestation or earlier. This is specified in many states as being calculated from the woman’s last menstrual period (LMP), though in some states it is based on the clinician’s estimate.

An additional 25.6% of the abortions occurred between weeks 9 and 13, meaning about nine in 10 were performed in the first trimester.

8.4% of abortions were performed at 14 weeks or more, and 1.3% were at 21 weeks or more.

However 1.3% means 5,770.

Average gestational ages were considerably higher in 1998, and there were also more late abortions. In1998, 54.6% of abortions were performed at 8 weeks, or earlier, with another 31.7% performed at weeks 9-12 (the breakdowns were different, but comparable).

In 1998, 21% of the abortions were performed at 13 weeks or later. Abortions performed at week 21 and beyond accounted for 4.1% that year.

Leading the trend towards earlier abortions has been the growth of chemical abortions (or “medical abortions,” as abortionists like to call them). There were not many chemical abortions in 1998; RU-486 did not receive U.S. marketing approval until September of 2000.

So called “medical” abortions accounted for just 0.7% of all abortions in 1998, with almost all of the rest (96%) being “suction curettage” and “dilation and evacuation.”

The latest CDC figures for 2013 now show curettage representing 76.5% of abortions. However “medical” abortions now account for 23.4% of the total, with about 95% of these chemical abortions performed at 8 weeks gestation or less.

Race and Ethnicity

Race and ethnicity are tricky elements for the CDC. This is so, not simply because of the political implications, but because racial and ethnic makeup varies greatly from state to state and not every state counts these, counts them the same way, or reports them at all to the CDC.

This makes calculating and tracking the trends of abortion rates and ratios for these groups challenging. So it is not surprising to see race and ethnicity addressed in three different tables in the 2013 study. Each uses slightly different criteria, each presents data from a different number of states, and so each reports slightly different totals, rates, and ratios. [2]

Tables that look at race may not fully synchronize with those that look at ethnicity. Tables sorted by race may include significant numbers of Hispanics mixed in with white, black, and “other” populations, and vice versa with those that look at ethnic heritage but do not account for race. What we can say is that women in minority communities continue to have a disproportionate number of abortions.

Table 12 from 2013 helpfully breaks down figures for both race and ethnicity, but is missing data from nearly half the states. Using data from just 27 states, New York City, and the District of Columbia, the CDC reports 37.3% of abortions going to non-Hispanic whites, 35.6% to non-Hispanic blacks, 8.1% to non-Hispanic “other,” and finally 19% to Hispanics.

In terms of abortion rates, we see the following:

Non-Hispanic whites: 7.2/1,000 women of reproductive age

Hispanics: 13.8/1,000

Non-Hispanic “others”: 15/1,000 (presumably Asian, Native American, Hawaiian islanders, etc.)

Non-Hispanic Blacks: 27/1,000

Abortion ratios break down this way:

121 abortions for every thousand live births for non-Hispanic whites; 242 per thousand for non-Hispanic others;

178 per thousand for Hispanics;

420 per thousand for blacks.

Though their numbers have decreased greatly, blacks continue to have the highest abortion rates and ratios and to account for the most abortions as a minority group.

Hispanics now account for a greater percentage of the nation’s abortions that they did 15 years ago, but this is likely a function of their growing population rather than increased rates. Comparing data from 1998 with 2013 is difficult because of the shifting number of states and different ways of recording race and ethnicity. That said, abortion rates and ratios were down more than 30% for Hispanics even while the overall number of abortions stayed about even.

This sort of odd statistical aberration can happen when your ethnic group’s population increases by nearly 50% in just 16 years – Hispanics were 11.4% of the population in 1998, but were estimated to be 17% as of 2014.

The take home message is that pro-life work has been generally effective, but there is a greater need for it in minority areas, that is, where years of abortion have devastated the black community, and among the rapidly growing Hispanic community. The abortion industry has recognized this and aimed its marketing campaigns at these communities, and pro-lifers need to be prepared to provide counter programming.

Previous Abortions

As has been the case for many years, close to half (45%) of all women having abortions in 2013 reported having at least one prior abortion. More than 20% reported at least two. Nearly one in every 11 (8.8%) reported having three previous abortions or more.

Tragically, this is hardly a new development. The percentage repeat abortions had already climbed to around 37.6% in 1984 and hit 45% by 1998.

Previous Births

Six in 10 (59.7%) women in the CDC’s survey reported having already given birth to at least one child. Already at 42.9% by 1984, the percentage of aborting women who had already given birth rose to 57.2% by 1998. The figure has hovered around 60% from 2000 forward.

Given what we know about declining teen abortions, this information tells us that the dominant image of the young, frightened teen turning to abortion to conceal her first pregnancy may be somewhat dated. While not married, many of these women are older and already have children. And many have aborted before.

Maternal Mortality

Women in America still die from legal abortion–something you are not likely to hear from the mainstream media and surely not information you’re likely to hear advertised at your local Planned Parenthood clinic.

Though the CDC’s data on abortion mortality (maternal mortality, strictly speaking, since the mortality rate for abortion is nearly 100% for the unborn child) is always an extra year behind, the latest report shows four women dying from legal abortions in 2012.

It is interesting to note that while the abortion industry continually defends the safety of abortion, case fatality rates have actually gone up and the number of maternal deaths have now gone over a hundred since RU486 went on the market in the U.S. in 2000.

Given the many reasons an abortion may not show up on a woman’s death certificate (there may be no place to note it, the immediate cause may be an infection brought on by the abortion, families may not wish such information to be public, etc.), that even this many have been noted is both surprising and concerning.

If anything, it may be an indication that the “new” methods of abortion are even more dangerous than the old ones.

Conclusion: An Emerging Portrait

The latest CDC demographic data tell us that the woman who aborts today is more likely to be an unmarried minority, a twenty-something who already has at least one child. Chances are she will have her abortion at 8 weeks gestation or less and she is increasingly likely to turn to a chemical method.

These are critical factors to keep in mind when developing a legislative, educational, or outreach strategy. Other surveys have told us that women often turn to abortion because they simply don’t see any other options. Measures that not only make women aware of but help create and provide realistic alternatives to abortion may be one very effective means of saving lives.

It is not just individuals, but whole families and entire communities that have been corrupted and destroyed by abortion. We have made a dent in the juggernaut by years of standing for life, but there is still a long ways to go.

[1] The 24.6% share of 1998’s abortions to women comes from 13.7% going to women 30-34, 8.2 % to women 35-39, and 2.7% to those 40 and up. The 29.6% figure for 2013 adds the 16.8% of abortions to women 30-34, the 9.2% to women 35-39, and the 3.6% to women 40 and older.

[2] The absence of a large number of states, or large states in particular, presents a problem with any data set, whether it involves the age of aborting women, their marital status, the method of abortion they use, etc. But with race and ethnicity, the particular states included and excluded matter greatly, as these populations vary greatly from state to state.

The absence of Florida or Illinois or Arizona from a data set (missing from all three tables) doesn’t simply reduce the amount of data available, but can throw things off simply because of their sizes and their unique racial and ethnic compositions.

This is without even considering the case of California, already problematic for the CDC because it does not report any abortion data to the agency. Here that matters enormously as California has a Hispanic population itself larger than the entire population of 90% of the individual states, seriously threatening to distort calculations of race and ethnicity by its absence.