The rate at which American women received abortions dropped significantly in 1995, continuing a steady decline over the 1990s and putting the figure at its lowest level in two decades.
The figures, released Thursday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, show that the proportion of women of child-bearing age who obtained abortions dropped 5 percent over the previous year and 20 percent since 1980.
But the study, as well as other research, suggests that the decline is not primarily driven by women choosing to proceed with unintended pregnancies.
Instead, Americans, particularly teenagers, are using contraceptives more effectively and as a result avoiding pregnancy in the first place, experts said. “Since the 1980s, there has been a reduction in unintended pregnancies,” said Lisa Koonin, author of the report and chief of surveillance for the CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health.
But Koonin also pointed to other factors that have reduced abortions, including the aging of the baby boom generation into a less fertile age bracket, a decrease in access to abortion services and a likely change in attitudes toward abortion.
The number of abortions performed in this country climbed rapidly after the Supreme Court legalized the practice in 1973, then remained level over the 1980s and peaked at more than 1.4 million in 1990. Since then, the number has dropped to 1.21 million in 1995, the most recent year available.
The abortion rate - the number of abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 - was 25 per 1000 women aged 15 to 44 in 1980. In 1995, that figure had fallen to 20, down from 21 the previous year.
Stanley Henshaw, deputy director of research at the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a New York research group which also collects abortion data, attributed the decline primarily to better contraceptive use, particularly among teens.
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