The number of abortions in the United States dropped to 1.2 million in 2005, the lowest level since 1974 and down 25 percent from the all-time high of 1.6 million in 1990, according to report issued Thursday.
The Guttmacher Institute, which surveyed abortion providers nationwide, said there likely were several reasons for the decline, including more effective use of contraceptives, lower levels of unintended pregnancy and greater difficulty obtaining abortions in some parts of the country.
The institute’s president, Sharon Camp, noted that despite the decline, more than one in five pregnancies ended in abortion in 2005.
“Our policymakers at the state and federal levels need to understand that behind virtually every abortion is an unintended pregnancy, so we must redouble our efforts towards prevention, through better access to contraception,” Camp said.
The Guttmacher Institute supports abortion rights, yet both sides in the debate on the issue consider its abortion surveys the most comprehensive in the United States because they encompass California, the most populous state. California state agencies do not collect abortion data to contribute to federal surveys.
According to the Guttmacher data, the number of abortions declined by 8 percent between 2000 and 2005, from 1.31 million to 1.21 million. Similarly, the 2005 abortion rate of 19.4 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 was down 9 percent from 2000.
Abortion rates were highest in Washington, D.C., New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Florida, Maryland and California. Rates were lowest in largely rural states: Wyoming, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Dakota, Idaho and Utah.
However, the report noted that the rates reflected the state in which the abortion occurred, thus including nonresident women who crossed state lines to get an abortion.
By region, the Northeast had the highest abortion rate, followed by the West, the South and the Midwest.
One pronounced trend in recent years is an increase in early medication abortion — notably through use of the RU-486 abortion pill. These types of procedures accounted for 13 percent of all abortions in 2005, more than double the level in 2001.
The report said 57 percent of abortion providers now offer medication abortion services, compared with 33 percent in 2001.
“Currently, more than six in 10 abortions occur within the first eight weeks of pregnancy,” said Rachel Jones, lead researcher for the survey. “Medication abortion, which provides women with an additional option early in pregnancy, clearly reinforces this very positive trend.”