ABORTION IN AMERICA
By Lisa Desjardins
The reality and law surrounding one of the most polarizing issues in modern U.S. politics appears poised to shift dramatically. We are still less than one day out from news of a leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court, now verified by Chief Justice John Roberts, that suggests a majority of justices are ready to overturn Roe v. Wade. In its wake, Americans are facing a very different landscape ahead for abortion.
We thought it might be helpful to lay out what we know about abortion in the U.S. right now.
The number of abortions
- Nearly 630,000 legal abortions were reported to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in 2019. That’s the most recent year for which the CDC has provided data.
- That represented 18 percent fewer abortions than a decade before. It was a slight increase – 2 percent – over the number of abortions since 2018, though experts say the causes for that may be many and not only due to abortion law.
- Note: There are limitations to this data. The CDC notes that its most current statistics are incomplete. For one, three states – California, Maryland and New Hampshire – did not submit abortion data for the agency’s latest data collection.
Who obtains abortions?
- Mostly younger women. Women in their 20s, account for the majority of abortions (56.9 percent), per the CDC data.
- Race, by the numbers. In overall numbers, Black, non-Hispanic women had 38 percent of all abortions in 2019, and white, non-Hispanic women accounted for 33 percent. They were followed by Hispanic women, who accounted for 21 percent of all abortions.
- Race, proportionally. But looking at the data relatively, Black women rely on abortions at a far greater rate than those who are white. According to the CDC, Black, non-Hispanic women had the highest rate of abortion in the country – about 23 abortions per 1,000 women each year. For non-Hispanic, white women, the figure is a quarter of that: 6.6 abortions per 1,000 women. But, the CDC also notes that it only included measures of race and ethnicity from 30 states that met the agency’s reporting standards.
- First-time. The majority of women having abortions – 58 percent – were doing so for the first time.
- Mothers. Nearly 60 percent had given birth in the past.
- Mostly unmarried. 85.5 percent of abortions were performed for unmarried women. The other 14.5 were married.
- Note here, too: Women are not the only people who get abortions.This is an issue that also impacts transgender, intersex and gender-nonconforming people who can become pregnant. However, their experiences aren’t necessarily reflected in national data collections.
When and how?
- First three months. The vast majority of abortions, 92.7 percent, were done before 13 weeks of pregnancy. A large majority – 72 percent – happened at 9 weeks or sooner of pregnancy. (That could prove significant in terms of varying state laws ahead.)
- Medication-induced. A large amount – 42.3 percent – of all abortions in 2019 were conducted by medication during early pregnancy, according to the CDC. More recent surveys of abortion providers from the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization supporting abortion rights, suggests that medication abortion accounted for 54 percent of all U.S. abortions in 2020.
Reasons for having an abortion
There is not overwhelming data on this question, but we found a 2018 NIH paper that looked at data collected from 30 abortion facilities from 2008-2010 in the United States. Here is what it found. Notes: This is not necessarily nationally representative, but may give a sense of the universe involved here. Also, women could select multiple answers, so these do not add up to 100.
Here are the most frequently chosen answers.
- Money. 40 percent said they had an abortion because they weren’t financially prepared to have a child.
- Timing. 36 percent said it was not the right time for a baby.
- The father or partner. 31 percent said it was related to their partner.
- Other children. 29 percent said they wanted to focus on their other children.
- Their own future. 20 percent said that having a child would interfere with their future.
- Not prepared. 19 percent said they were not emotionally or mentally prepared.
- Risk to maternal or fetal health. 12 percent listed the health risks to the mother or the baby as a reason.