U.S. abortion rates are continuing to decline on average and have hit a historic low, according to a new report. But North Carolina saw a small increase in from 2011 to 2014, despite a declining number of facilities that perform abortions.
Abortions in the United States are occurring at the lowest rate since the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports legalized abortion. The numbers in the report come from surveys of abortion providers.
The institute put the abortion rate in the U.S. at 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age (15-44) in 2014, the most recent data available. That’s down from 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women in 2011, a 13.6 percent decline.
During that same time the abortion rate in North Carolina rose from 14.6 to 15.1.
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National abortion rates have been on the decline since the peak years of 1980-81, when the rates neared 30 abortions per 1,000 women.
The report also found that the number of abortions performed in the United States fell below 1 million in 2013 for the first time since the mid-1970s.
While the number of abortions fell about 14 percent across the country between 2011 and 2014, they rose about 3 percent in North Carolina, from 28,600 to 29,960, despite the fact that the number of abortion providers declined.
The number of dedicated abortion clinics in the state fell from 21 in 2011 to 16 in 2014. During that same period, 90 of the state’s 100 counties were without a clinic that provided abortion services. In 2014, 53 percent of North Carolina women lived in counties that did not have clinics that performed abortions.
The Guttmacher Institute report elicited varying interpretations.
Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards told NPR that the report shows that efforts to help women get better access to contraception are paying off, particularly improvements in the rates of unintended pregnancies and the historically low teen pregnancy rate.
“It shows that we’re finally doing a better job of helping women get access to birth control that’s affordable and that’s high-quality,” Richards said.
But anti-abortion groups argue that the report shows the impact of abortion restrictions enacted by states. Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for Americans United for Life, told NPR that the effect of new regulations on clinics and laws requiring women interested in abortion to receive an ultrasound were having an effect.
“These have been game-changers, and we see the abortion rate dropping in response,” Hamrick said.
The report does note that abortion restrictions correlate with declining abortion numbers in some states but that, as with North Carolina, fewer clinics didn’t always translate into fewer abortions.
Guttmacher researcher Rachel Jones, the lead author of the report, told NPR that the more significant contributor to a declining abortion rate likely is improved access to contraception, particularly long-acting birth control such as IUDs. Jones told NPR that women in the U.S. have been using the highly effective devices in growing numbers for more than a decade, and declining birth rates suggest more and more women are preventing unwanted pregnancies.
“Abortion is going down, and births aren’t going up,” Jones said.
Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett