Americans might never agree on the abortion issue. But one thing is clear: Fewer women are having them, a trend that has persisted through...
Americans might never agree on the abortion issue. But one thing is clear: Fewer women are having them, a trend that has persisted through Democratic and Republican administrations, divisive election campaigns and the underlying culture wars.
A report this month from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the trend in stark numbers: Between 1990 and 2004, the estimated abortion rate declined by 24 percent. In no single year did the rate even inch upward.
“It’s been dropping since the late ’80s, especially for teenagers but for all age groups, too,” said Stephanie Ventura, head of the reproductive-statistics branch at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.
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The rate fell 55 percent among girls 15 to 17; 44 percent among those 18 and 19; 30 percent among women 20 to 24 and 12 percent among women 25 to 29. Abortions among women in their 30s and 40s fell by smaller percentages.
Meanwhile, the number of abortions declined 390,000 over the time period to 1.22 million in 2004.
With abortions on the wane, it’s logical to think there’s a corresponding increase in live births across America. But the birth rate fell 6 percent across the same span of time, leading experts and adversaries to search for other explanations.
The answers are probably many: more contraceptive choices, state laws requiring parental notification where minors are concerned, fewer unintended pregnancies and some surprising trends among teenagers.
Rates of teen pregnancy, births and abortions declined steadily. Preliminary data show a slight uptick in teen births in 2006, although experts say it’s too early to know if that represents a true reversal.
The teen birth rate fell by 35 percent from its 1991 peak through 2005 before rebounding 3 percent in 2006. At the same time, the pregnancy rate declined by 38 percent through 2004 and the abortion rate by half.
Much has been written about a teen “hookup culture” in which casual sex has become more commonplace than ever. Demographer Joyce Abma of the National Center for Health Statistics said that might be true for oral sex but not for intercourse.
In a 2002 study of sexual behavior, the federal agency found that 47 percent of teenagers 15 to 19 years of age identified themselves as “sexually experienced” — down from 51 percent in 1995. Over that period, the pregnancy rate among sexually experienced teenagers declined 17 percent.
“The other important piece is contraceptive use,” Abma said. “Even in the more recent period, from the mid-90s through the early 2000s, we saw significant improvements in contraceptive use among teens.
“That involves the barrier methods — the condom in particular — as well as the pill and the newer injectables,” she said.
The 2002 study also found that the rate of both unintended and intended pregnancies declined for more than a decade.
“So what that means,” said Abma, “is that one didn’t go up at the expense of the other. Teenagers want fewer pregnancies than they did in the past.”