The U.S. abortion rate fell in 2011 to its lowest level since the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing the procedure, Roe vs. Wade, according to a new study.
Research by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that supports abortion rights, found that in 2011 there were 16.9 abortions for every 1,000 women ages 15-44. In 1973, the rate was 16.3 abortions per 1,000 women.
In all, there were about 1.1 million abortions in 2011, down 13% from 2008, according to the report, which is to be published in March. A greater percentage were early abortions, often induced with medication.
Rachel Jones, lead author of the study, suggested that the decline in abortions "coincided with a steep national drop in overall pregnancy and birth rates."
"Contraceptive use improved during this period, as more women and couples were using highly effective long-acting reversible contraceptive methods, such as the IUD," she said in a statement. "Moreover, the recent recession led many women and couples to avoid or delay pregnancy and childbearing."
Jones noted that the period studied, 2008 to 2011, predates a surge of state laws restricting abortion access that have been passed by Republican-controlled legislatures. The number of abortion providers declined by 4% between 2008 and 2011, and the number of clinics by 1%, Jones said, but there is no evidence to suggest the lower abortion rate is a result of that drop.
The past three years have seen "an unparalleled attack on abortion rights at the state level, and these new restrictions are making it harder for women to access services and for providers to keep clinic doors open," said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at Guttmacher.
States enacted 205 abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2013, more than in the entire previous decade, the researchers said. The restrictions will affect the number of abortions going forward, Jones said.
The president of National Right to Life, which opposes abortion, called the Guttmacher study "heartening." Carol Tobias said in an email that the report "shows the long-term efforts of the right-to-life movement to educate the country about the humanity of the unborn child and to enact laws that help mothers and their children are having a tremendous impact."
The Guttmacher study found that more abortions came earlier in the pregnancy and medication abortions constituted a larger share of the total. "An estimated 239,400 early medication abortions were performed in 2011, representing 23% of all nonhospital abortions, an increase from 17% in 2008," the study said.
The report, titled "Abortion Incidence and Service Availability in the United States, 2011," will be published in the March issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a similar decline in a report published last year. According to the CDC study, the abortion rate in 2010 was 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age.
The CDC gets information from state health department reports, which can have incomplete data. In its abstract of the report, the CDC wrote that six of the 52 reporting areas, including California, Maryland and New Hampshire, did not provide the CDC data on a consistent annual basis.