Study: U.S. Abortion Rate Declining; Blacks, Hispanics Overrepresented

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The abortion rate among women in the United States fell to its lowest point in more than three decades in 2011, the New York Times says, citing a new report that is considered to be the nation’s leading examination of abortion trends.

In 2011, the 1.1 million abortions performed in the United States represented a rate of 16.9 per thousand women of childbearing age, a drop from 2008, when a similar study found that 1.21 million abortions were performed at a rate of 19.4 per thousand women, the Times reports.

Continuing a downward trend that stalled in the middle of the last decade, the 2011 rate dropped below the peak, in 1981, of 29.3 per thousand, according to the report from the Guttmacher Institute, a private research group that supports abortion rights.

The overall decline in abortions between 2008 to 2011 reflects a reduction in pregnancy rates, which have fallen over the last 20 years. The report, however, did not include a detailed analysis of the reasons for these trends, which present a complex set of research issues.

The news about the declining abortion rate could have a major impact in the African-American community. Black women account for 30 percent of abortions performed in the nation, compared to 36 percent of Whites and 25 percent of Hispanics, Guttmacher reports. While no one group made up the majority of abortion patients, Black and Hispanic women were overrepresented, the group said.

But the falling abortion rate may be reflective of the growing use of long-term contraceptives, like intrauterine devices, especially among younger women, the researchers said. It may also underscore the impact of the recession and economic uncertainty, which can lead to fewer pregnancies, births, and abortions, according to the authors, Rachel K. Jones and Jenna Jerman.

The Times reports the authors concluded that anti-abortion laws had only a minimal impact on the number of women obtaining abortions during the study period:

For one thing, many of the state laws most likely to curb abortions were passed in 2011 or later. In addition, the report notes, large declines were recorded in states with relatively liberal abortion laws, like California, New Jersey, and New York.

Some of the new regulations undoubtedly made it more difficult, and costly, for facilities to continue to provide services and for women to access them. The researchers said that future studies would need to monitor the effects of laws that restrict abortions.

Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group, told the Times that the findings were “long on strained conclusions” and understated the impact of anti-abortion education and laws.

Carole Joffe, a sociologist at the University of California, San Francisco, and a historian of abortion, told the Times that while the effects were difficult to quantify, the anti-abortion movement had “been very successful at stigmatizing abortion” and that this had most likely influenced the long-term downward trend.

But she also told the Times that she agreed with researchers that the wider use of contraceptives appears to be an important factor in the reported recent decline.

Slated to be published in the March issue of “Perspective on Sexual and Reproductive Health,” the Guttmacher Institute conducted the study by contacting every known clinic, hospital, and independent physician performing abortions with questionnaires and follow-up calls.

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