Numbers indicate challenges remain in some demographic groups

NRLC Analysis of New Abortion Reports, Part Five

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

Despite persistent undercounts and missing state abortion data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), we have seen over the past few days that the CDC and the Guttmacher Institute, which surveys clinics directly, basically tell the same story: That large percentage drops that characterized much of the last three decades may have begun tapering off or even reversing as the 2010s came to a close.

The overturn of Roe in June of 2022 will likely affect that vector once again. But until the dust settles and we see which states try to protect human life and which states become havens for the abortion industry, it behooves us to see where abortion advocates have been concentrating their energies and which groups the industry has been most successful at reaching.

Guttmacher told us something about where clinics are closing and where new ones are being built (Part Three) and both Guttmacher and the CDC told us which states have seen the largest declines or increases (Part Four). But the CDC is the only one (so far) that has given us information on abortions by race, ethnicity, gestational age, marital status, etc.

Today, we’ll deal with basics like gestation, method, age, and marital status. Tomorrow, in the conclusion to this six-part series, we’ll discuss the CDC’s findings including racial and ethnic data and previous abortions and births. 

This data can help us see where our pro-life efforts have been most effective and with whom we still have a ways to go.

Gestation and method

Though we covered much of this in Part Two of our series, information from the CDC’s 2020 abortion surveillance confirms that there has been a significant shift in the way abortions are performed and their timing.

In 2000, the year in which mifepristone (or RU-486) was first approved for sale in the U.S., just 23.3% of abortions were performed at six weeks gestation or less. The CDC generally measures from the time of a woman’s last menstrual period, or LMP.

By 2020, that number had almost doubled: 45.3% of abortions occurred at six weeks gestation or earlier.

The number of abortions at 13 weeks gestation or less – essentially the first trimester – reached 92.5% in 2020, the CDC says.  1.1% occurred at 21 weeks or more.

For reference, the CDC says that 10.5% of all abortions were performed at 13-20 weeks in 2020, and that 1.4% of abortions that year were done at 21 weeks gestation or later.

Earlier chemical abortions are clearly the major factor here. Chemical, or “medication” abortion didn’t even merit its own category in 2000, but “other” abortions accounted for just 1.7% of abortions that year. 

In 2020, “medical” abortions at 9 weeks gestation or less accounted for 51% of all abortions. Those abortions that took place at greater than 9 weeks constituted an additional 2.4%. *

Surgical and later abortions are still being performed, though the CDC data clearly confirms that more women are having chemical abortions and are having them earlier. 

Abortions by age, marital status for

Teenagers continue to account for a smaller and smaller proportion of the abortions performed in the U.S., CDC figures show. In the earliest days of Roe, teens were responsible for about a third of all abortions. By contrast in 2020, females 19 and under represented only 8.5% of the abortions reported to the CDC.

Women in their twenties once again constituted the bulk of abortions, accounting for 57.4% of the CDC’s U.S. total. This is not surprising as it occurs during a woman’s peak years of fertility. But there was some shift over the decade from the younger women (ages 20-24) having abortions to women in their later twenties (25-29) having abortions.

Women 20-24 represented 32.9% of all abortions in 2011, but dropped to 28.1% in 2020. Women 25-29 had 24.9% of abortions in 2011, but that figure jumped to 29.3% of the total by 2020.

The percentage of abortions to women in their thirties increased over this time too, by more than 20%. 

Because the number of abortions has fallen significantly over the past thirty years in every age group, these latest shifts are an indication that the drops have been uneven, falling more for some age groups than others.

A closer look at changing abortion rates and ratios for these groups confirms the uneven progress.

The CDC says, overall, that abortion rates –for the CDC, the number of abortions per thousand women of the reference age group–fell for women of all ages between 2011 and 2020. It also shows they dropped less for older women during that time frame.

Abortion ratios–the number of abortions for every thousand live births for the CDC–fell in all age groups but two. Women ages 15-19 saw a 5.5% increase from 2011 to 2020, and women ages 25-29 saw theirs jump by 7.3%.  This means women in those age groups who became pregnant were somewhat more likely to choose abortion in 2020 than they were in 2011. 

While still lower than rates and ratios from twenty or thirty years ago, the way these numbers are going today is still concerning.

Nearly every woman the CDC recorded as having an abortion in 2020 was not married: 86.3% . That figure has been higher than 80% every year since 1994.

Overall drops in abortion, abortion rates and ratios are an indication that pro-life policies and legislation are working, and that fewer women are seeing abortion as the solution to their problems.  The particular and significant drop among teenagers is clearly an indication that parental involvement legislation has been effective.

Increased abortions and abortion ratios among young unmarried and college-aged women are evidence that the abortion industry is still having some success targeting this group.

On Wednesday we will finish up our analysis.

* The CDC set its categories for chemical abortions before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration extended the mifepristone protocol from 7 weeks to 10 weeks LMP.