WASHINGTON The number of abortions in the United States has reached its lowest level in three decades, according to a report released Jan. 17.
The study found there were 1.21 million abortions in 2005, down from 1.31 million in 2000 and the smallest annual total since 1.18 million were performed in 1976, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The 2005 total was nearly 25 percent less than the 1990 figure of 1.6 million abortions, the annual record since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in its 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion.
Additionally, the abortion rate fell in 2005 to its lowest level since 1974, Guttmacher reported. In 2005, there were 19.4 abortions for every 1,000 women 15 to 44 years of age. The rate fell from 21.1 in 2001, according to the report. The all-time high rate was 29.3 in 1981.
Guttmacher's statistics on abortion in the United States are widely considered as reliable, even though it was formerly an affiliate of Planned Parenthood.
Southern Baptist pro-life leader Richard Land expressed thankfulness for the reduction in abortions but was not celebratory.
"Perhaps we can offer one cheer and a prayer of gratitude to God that the tide is turning," said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "It would be unseemly to do more than that until we see a far more drastic reduction in abortions in the United States. We'll reserve three cheers for when we have succeeded in making most abortions illegal. Sadly, America is still one of the most abortive societies in the world."
Guttmacher offered no explanation for the decline in abortions, and various theories were offered by both abortion rights and pro-life advocates, according to The Washington Post.
The National Right to Life Committee pointed to the educational efforts of pro-life organizations and increased legal restrictions as reasons for the decrease.
"Falling abortion rates are a sure sign that, given truthful information about abortion, about its impact on their lives, about the child growing inside them and given even the slightest help and encouragement, many women will choose life," said Randall O'Bannon, NRLC's director of education and research, in a written release. "Women's Right to Know laws, parental involvement laws, bans on partial-birth abortionall of which continue to be enacted by the statesnot only help women facing crisis pregnancies, they also raise the public's awareness about abortion and the humanity of the unborn child."
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, cited contraceptive use as a reason for the decline, saying the report "shows that prevention works, and that's what we provide in our health centers every day," The Post reported.
Planned Parenthood also is the country's largest provider of abortions, performing more than 260,000 abortions in the most recent year for which there are records.
Suzanne Poppema of Physicians for Reproductive Health and Choice suggested greater access to the "morning-after" pill, or Plan B, could partly explain the lower figures.
"I would like to say that it's at least partially due to increased availability" of the pill, she said, according to The Post.
Plan B, also known as emergency contraception, is basically a heavier dose of birth control pills, but it can cause what are known as chemical abortions. Under the regimen, a woman takes two pills within 72 hours of sexual intercourse and another dose 12 hours later. The drug works to restrict ovulation in a woman, but it also can act after conception, thereby causing an abortion, pro-lifers point out. This mechanism of the drug blocks implantation of a tiny embryo in the uterine wall.
The Guttmacher study also showed, as of 2005:
• 22 percent of all pregnancies, not counting miscarriages, resulted in abortions.
• 47 percent of women who had abortions had undergone at least one previously.
• About 33 percent of all U.S. women will have an abortion by age 45.
• 50 percent of women undergoing abortions were less than 25 years old.
• About 60 percent of abortions are to women who have at least one child.
• Black women are 4.8 times more likely than non-Hispanic white women to have abortions, and Hispanics are 2.7 times more likely.
The study found the decline in the number of abortion providers continued but at a slower pace. The number fell from 1,819 in 2000 to 1,787 in 2005, a decrease of 2 percent.