Abortion Rate Continues to Decline

ABORTION RATE CONTINUES TO DECLINE….The Guttmacher Institute (full study here) reports that the abortion rate in the United States has continued to go down. At its peak in 1990 it stood at about 27 per thousand women of childbearing age; today it’s down to about 19 per thousand.

But why? Is it because there are fewer unwanted pregnancies in the first place, or is it because pregnant women are becoming less likely to get abortions? The study itself doesn’t try to draw any conclusions, but the LA Times suggests it’s the former:

Abortion rights advocates suggested women may be avoiding unwanted pregnancies, thanks in part to the morning-after pill, emergency contraception that is sold without a prescription to women 18 and older.

Conservatives, by contrast, [focus on] laws in more than 30 states mandating counseling before an abortion.

….Some of the biggest drops in the abortion rate, however, have come in states that do not impose tight restrictions. Oregon, for instance, was rated this week by Americans United for Life as the nation’s “least pro-life state,” yet its abortion rate dropped 25% from 2000 to 2005 — more than any state except Wyoming.

California also was ranked hostile territory by Americans United for Life, but its abortion rate fell 13%, significantly more than the national average. “Abortion rate” refers to the number of abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age.

Here are the basic numbers: excluding miscarriages, the pregnancy rate among women aged 15-44 has dropped by 13 per thousand since 1990. At the same time, the abortion rate has dropped by 8 per thousand. By itself this isn’t conclusive, but it strongly suggests that the reduced abortion rate is mostly due to fewer unwanted pregnancies in the first place. If increased regulation were the prime driver, you’d be more likely to see the pregancy rate staying about the same while abortions drop, and you’d be more likely to see bigger drops in states with more regulation. But that hasn’t been the case. So yes: better access to contraception, better education, and better access to the morning after pill seem to have made a difference over time. For anyone who’s pro-life but not anti-sex, that ought to be good news.

UPDATE: Megan McArdle suggests that maybe the pregnancy rate has gone down because people are having less sex thanks to fears of AIDS. Maybe. Teen sexual activity decreased during the 90s, and that might account for part of the drop, though not all of it. Increased use of condoms and increased availability of contraception seem like the most likely explanation for the bulk of the drop.