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Numbers of U.S. abortions at lowest level since 1973 legalization, study shows

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The pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute said there was no evidence restrictions on abortion caused the dip, but conceded that that biggest declines occurred in states where clinics were forced to close.

The number and rate of abortions in the United States are at their lowest levels since the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, according to a study by the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute.

The report found the number of abortions to have fallen by 196,000— a 19% decline from 1,058,000 abortions in 2011 to 862,000 abortions in 2017.  The abortion rate (the number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44) also fell by 20%, from 16.9 per 1,000 in 2011 to 13.5 in 2017. In 1973, the year the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law banning abortion with their historic Roe v. Wade decision, the abortion rate was 16.3 per 1,000.

With the release of the report the Guttmacher Institute cautioned that recent restrictions on abortion did not necessarily cause the decline in the number and rate of abortions. 

“While there appears to be a clear link in many states between abortion restrictions—and TRAP laws [what Guttmacher calls “targeted regulation of abortion providers”] in particular—and clinic closures, there is no clear pattern linking abortion restrictions to changes in the abortion rate,” the report said.

As evidence of a lack of correlation, the report noted that even in states where there were no additional restrictions on abortion, the abortion rates declined.

In states that had seen reductions in the number of abortion clinics, however, the report noted that it saw the country’s largest declines in abortion rates.

“Four of the states hit hardest by the consequences of TRAP laws over this time period in terms of clinic closures also saw declines in the abortion rate that were larger than the national average of 20%: Arizona (27%), Ohio (27%), Texas (30%) and Virginia (42%),” the report conceded.

The decline in abortion rates and numbers was hailed by pro-life advocates, such as Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United For Life, as a victory. Forsythe, however, cautioned that the figures in the Guttmacher study were voluntarily provided and that the country needs a more accurate tally of the numbers of abortions performed.

“While all Americans can be proud of the historic decline in abortion, it is stunning that 46 years after Roe v. Wade, America has no reliable national system of abortion data collection, analysis, or reporting,” said Forsythe in a statement.

“Ours is a dysfunctional system because basic abortion data reporting is voluntary. We call upon Congress and the White House to unite in authorizing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track abortion data in every state—and especially states like California and Maryland, who have refused to cooperate in monitoring and regulating abortion,” he said.

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