NEW YORK – The long-term decline in the U.S. abortion rate stalled as the recession took hold, according to the latest comprehensive survey of America’s abortion providers.
The Guttmacher Institute, which periodically surveys U.S. abortion providers, reported Tuesday that there were 1.21 million abortions in 2008 and a rate of 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44.
Both figures were up slightly from the previous 2005 survey, ending a steady decline since 1990, when U.S. abortions peaked at 1.6 million and the abortion rate was 27.4.
One possible factor was the recession that hit in 2008, altering the financial prospects for many families.
“Abortion numbers go down when the economy is good and go up when the economy is bad, so the stalling may be a function of a weaker economy,” said University of Alabama political science professor Michael New. “If the economy does better, you’ll see numbers trending down again.”
The Guttmacher Institute supports abortion rights, but its surveys are widely considered to be the most comprehensive available because federal agencies rely on incomplete data from state governments.
The new report documented sharp variations by state – with abortion rates over 30 per 1,000 in Delaware, New York and New Jersey and at or below 6 per 1,000 in Wyoming, Mississippi, Kentucky, South Dakota and Idaho.
The report also documented a significant increase in early medication abortion, entailing use of RU-486, the so-called abortion pill. The number of such procedures performed in clinics – which provide 94 percent of all abortions – rose from 161,000 to 199,000 between 2005 and 2008, accounting for about 17 percent of abortions.
“U.S. government reports have shown that abortions are increasingly occurring earlier in pregnancy, when the procedure is safest,” said Rachel Jones, lead author of the Guttmacher study. “Increased access to medication abortion is helping to accelerate that trend.”