According to a major new report from the Guttmacher Institute, abortion fell to their lowest levels in the US since 1973 in 2017.
Since 1980, the US abortion rate has been on a steady downward trend, with 13.5 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age, a 7% decrease from 2014. The number of US abortion providers also increased by 2%.
Guttmacher researchers revealed in a recent briefing with reporters revealed the declining fertility rates and fewer people getting pregnant is the driving decline in US abortion rates — not the state-level abortion restrictions.
Anti-abortion activists have successfully lobbied for state legislatures to enact about 400 restrictions on abortions from 2011 to 2017 — ranging from strict regulations on clinics to require mandatory waiting periods, pre-abortion counseling as well as ultrasounds for patients seeking to obtain the procedure.
But Elizabeth Nash, Guttmacher’s state policy director, pointed out that “there’s no clear pattern linking these declines to new restrictions,” given that 58% of the decline happened in 18 states that did not enact new restrictions and three of the six states that saw their abortion rates increase are categorized by Guttmacher as “hostile” towards abortion rights.
Nash also noted how US birth rates fell between 2014 and 2017, which meant that “fewer people became pregnant, not that individuals chose or were made to give birth rather than having an abortion.” She continued, saying: “The anti-abortion activists are going to try and take credit for this decline, but the facts don’t support their argument.”
Researches have credited this to increasing contraceptive use, especially the use of the long-term acting contraceptives like IUDs as the main factor in lowering fertility as well as abortion rates.
And while abortion opponents have attempted to make it more difficult for clinics to function with TRAP, or targeted restrictions on abortion providers, the Guttmacher report found that despite the new restrictions on clinics there was “no consistent relationship between increases or decreases in clinic numbers and changes in state abortion rates.”
The researchers did find that patients’ ability to access abortion is increasingly dependent on where they live.
Additional clinics are opening up in the Northeast and on the West Coast but closing down in the South and Midwest, which lost 9% and 6% of their clinics between 2014 and 2017 due to new state-level regulations.
The study also found that 89% of US counties have no abortion clinics, with 38% of US women aged 15-44 living in said areas.
Both Nash and senior researcher, Dr. Rachel Jones, emphasized that while the overall trend reveals no relationship between the changes in numbers of clinics and abortion rates, clinic closures disproportionately impact low-income patients in rural areas who have to travel farther and take more time off work to get an abortion.
“Abortion rates only look at the number of people who were actually able to obtain an abortion,” Nash shared. “These data do not measure how many people wanted an abortion, but were unable to navigate the personal and financial burdens that anti-abortion policymakers are creating.”