By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL Director of Education & Research
We’ve known since January that abortion rates are down to levels not seen since before Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. The total number of abortions for 2014 had thankfully shrunk to 926,190.
But who is getting these abortions, and were the decreases the same across all racial and demographic groups? With the recent release of additional data from the Guttmacher Institute, we have some answers: declines were seen across the board, but not evenly among all demographic groups.
We will first offer an overview of “Abortion is a Common Experience for U.S. Women, Despite Dramatic Declines in Rates” before going behind the numbers.
The number of abortions and the abortion rate [the number of abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age] are falling across the board. National abortions finally dipped below a million in 2013 for the first time since 1974 and the abortion rate is lower than it was when the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade.
While very broad, declines have still been uneven, with rates falling faster and farther for teens and whites than they have for older women and minorities. Abortion rates are still high for women at or near the poverty level, for black women, for college aged, cohabiting women.
The marketing of abortion to these women is certainly a part of that and the policies supported by Guttmacher and its industry allies are unlikely to improve things in that regard.
On Guttmacher’s on-site news release, the authors express concern about pro-life laws that have been enacted since 2011 (pro-lifers have been passing legislation for years, but abortion advocates have been especially concerned about laws that began to be passed in 2011 after the horrors of Gosnell’s clinic were exposed). They says these “could have made abortion more difficult to access, especially for poor women, women of color, and those who live in states with particularly restrictive abortion laws.”
Interestingly, Guttmacher admits that the policies it supports could take things in a different direction. Heather Boonstra, a policy expert for Guttmacher, says in the release “Supportive policies like Medicaid coverage can make it easier for women to access needed abortions, while restrictive policies do exactly the opposite.” She argues that “All women, regardless of age, income, or race, should be able to obtain reproductive health services, including abortion, free from political and economic barriers.”
This sounds like the sort of “help” that led these poor and minority women to have high abortion rates in the first place. These statistics show that these women do need help, but not the sort that Guttmacher and its allies offer.
What they need is help that affirms both the value of their lives and the lives of their unborn children. That is the sort of help that will reduce abortion rates further.
Concentrated among Low Income
According to Guttmacher, abortion has long been concentrated among women on the lower end of the economic scale. On a chart accompanying their latest report, 56% of abortions in 1987 were to women making below or up to two times the official federal poverty level. Those numbers had swelled to 75% by 2014.
In general, a greater concentration of abortion among lower income women is understandable. Women of childbearing age are in the younger part of the workforce, some still in high school, or college, likely in the first decade or so of their participation in the workforce. Their earnings will be lower than what might be expected of the broader spectrum of older working women.
According to the journal article in which Guttmacher researchers published their broader findings , women earning at or below the poverty level saw their abortion rates decrease 26% from 2008 to 2014, a good thing, but still ended with the highest abortion rate (36.6 abortions per 1,000 women of that group) of any demographic studied. This is against an overall 14.6 abortion rate for the population of women as a whole.
What all this data points to is an increased concentration of abortion among women of lesser means. Women of greater means (making greater than 200% of the poverty level) had an abortion rate of just 6 per 1,000 for 2014, one-sixth that of the poorest group.
This is in line with previous findings that put economic factors as one of the biggest reasons women give for abortion (One 2013 study had 40% citing some financial reason as a factor in their abortion, NRL News Today 10/13, an earlier study from 2004 had 23% giving inability to afford the child as a primary reason, NRL News Today 10/5).
How much an improved economy will help these women is yet to be seen. But policies favored by Guttmacher, such as having state funds or state insurance subsidies cover abortion will only incentivize abortion without doing anything to improve these women’s economic situation.
Racial and Ethnic Disparities
Greater declines in abortion rates were seen among minorities in recent years than whites, but their overall rates are still considerably higher than the population of women as whole.
The abortion rate for black, non-Hispanic women, which was above 60 /1,000 in 1991, fell to 27.1 in 2014. A huge portion of that drop came in recent years.
Rates for black, non-Hispanics were 39.8/1,000 as recently as 2008.
That rate is still nearly three times what it is for whites, whose abortion rate as of 2014 was just 10 per/1,000.
Hispanic abortion rates were somewhere in-between, ending up at 18.1 /1,000 in 2014, down from 28.4 /1,000 in 2008, a 36% drop.
Guttmacher attributes these high rates to minorities as “likely due to a combination of factors that stem from a long history of racism and discrimination, as well as lack of access to high-quality, affordable health insurance and care.”
How racism and discrimination are supposed to factor in is not explained and is hard to understand. Are racism and discrimination supposed to be pushing these women to abort their babies? Who is it that is marketing and selling abortion to women in these communities? Isn’t that Guttmacher’s allies in the abortion industry?
It certainly isn’t pro-lifers, who want to see the abortion profiteers close their clinics and demand for abortion to dry up, pro-lifers who have been working for years to provide life-affirming alternatives to women of all races and ethnicities.
Furthermore, it is hard to see how pushing for abortion coverage as part of “affordable health insurance and care,” as Guttmacher does, would do anything to reduce the pressure to abort among these women.
Age and Other demographics
Most abortions were to women under thirty, no statistical surprise. These are generally the most fertile category. But this group saw their abortion rates drop more than did the over thirty group.
About 110,000 of the 926,190 abortions performed in 2014 were to teenagers. Most (about 69%) were to young women aged 18-19.
Women between the ages of 20 and 24, and those 25-29, a time of peak fertility, accounted for over 60% (556,240 of 926,190) of the abortions in 2014.
Older women (between 30 and 44) had 259,810. This represented 28% of the abortions in 2014.
Abortion rates were higher for women in their twenties, but comparisons of 2014 rates to earlier ones from 2008 show interesting changes.
Abortion rates for teens 15-17 fell 56% from 2008 to 2014, the highest drop for any demographic studied. This makes clearer than ever the impact of parental involvement laws.
Women between the ages of 20 and 24, and those 25-29 saw abortion rates fell 30% and 21%, respectively.
Rates for older women did not drop as much from the previous 2008 count. They were down 20% for women between 30-34. For women, 35-39, the decline was 11% . Finally there was a 16R% drop for women 40-44..
It stuns people, but statistics consistently show, and demonstrate again here, that most women having abortions have already given birth to at least one child. In 2014, a total of 59.3% of women who were having abortions had one (26.2%) or more (33.1%) previous births. Abortion rates were down for women who had given birth and those that hadn’t from 2008.
Those who were foreign born accounted for about 16.1% of abortions in America (149,390 out of 926,190). About half (73,910) of the abortions to foreign born women were to women who were Hispanic. Abortion rates for that group fell only 12% from 2008 to 2014.
The role of education, given a general corollary to age, is hard to pin down. Generally lower abortion rates were associated with higher educational attainment.
High school grads or those with a GED had a 2014 abortion rate of 20/1000. Those with some college, 17.6/1000, and college grads just 10.3/1000.
The outlier in this group, because they were so low, were women who had not finished high school. Their abortion rate (14.8/1000) was almost identical to the national average of 14.6/1000. But their lower rates may be due to the impact of parental involvement laws which would not have affected the others.
 Rachel K. Jones, Jenna Jerman, “Population Group Abortion Rates and Lifetime Incidence of Abortion: United States, 2008-2014,” American Journal of Public Health, published online 10/19/17.