January 11th, 2011
12:01 AM ET
The steady decline in the number of abortions performed annually in the United States has plateaued, new data from the Guttmacher Institute suggest.
In its fifteenth survey of abortion providers since 1973, the institute found a 0.5 percent increase in the number of abortions performed in 2005 versus 2008. The data essentially end the downward trend in abortion incidence that had been observed since 1990.
"[The data] suggest we're not doing enough to help women avoid unintended pregnancies," says Rachel K. Jones, a senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute who wrote the report.
To collect the data, Jones and her team mailed questionnaires to all potential abortion providers, including hospitals and doctors' offices. They defined "provider" as any site where abortions are performed, not as any individual who performs them.
The team also sought information on gestational limits (how late in the pregnancy the provider would perform an abortion), the type of abortive services offered to patients, and what, if any, harassment the provider experienced. In total, more than 2,300 surveys were sent out.
"The abortion rate remained unchanged between 2005 and 2008," said Jones. "19.6 abortions for every 1,000 women in 2008 is virtually the same as 19.4 abortions for every 1,000 women in 2005. It's a nominal increase."
There were notable changes as well: Of the 1.21 million abortions performed in 2008, 17 percent were early medication abortions. Jones found a 24 percent increase in the number of these procedures being conducted at nonhospital facilities. The majority of those involved Mifepristone, commonly known as RU-486. Indeed, the number of providers offering this service also increased.
"Heavy promotion of RU-486 and chemical abortions has really had an impact," said Randall K. O'Bannon, Ph.D., director of Education and Research with the National Right to Life Committee. "[Women] would consider abortion when they might not consider it before, and they would take this pill."
The rate of unintended pregnancies in the United States was a major contributing factor to the stalled decline of the abortion rate Planned Parenthood Federation of America said in a statement to CNN. "The first step we can take as a nation is to increase access to affordable contraception," reads the statement. "The most effective way to prevent unintended pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion, is to improve access to affordable birth control."
For her part, Jones speculates that the lack of improvement in contraceptive use among women may play a role in why the abortion rate has stopped declining. But she also hypothesizes there may be a correlation with teen pregnancy; as the rate of teen pregnancy declined, so did the national rate of abortion, yet both have recently stalled.
And the economy may also be responsible. The data Jones collected were from 2008, when the economic downturn had just begun.
"These may be women who lost access to health care, who had a harder time accessing contraception," said Jones. "Or they may be poor women who under different circumstances would have carried their pregnancy to term but in poor economic times, with a lower income, were more likely to get abortions."
The full report will be published in the March issue of the Guttmacher Institute's journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.
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