POLICY: Data on abortion

So the next Supreme Court justice has been announced and women’s right to choose about their own reproductive health will likely be substantially reduced, according to NARAL which really doesn’t like Roberts. Given that an interesting study was released today about the number of abortions in the US. The data shows that abortion rates fell dramatically over the 1990s.

In the year 2002, about 1.29 million women in the U.S. had abortions. In 1990, that number was 1.61 million…. for every 1,000 pregnancies that did not result in miscarriage in 2002, there were 242 abortions. This figure was 245 in 2000 and 280 in 1990.

In other words despite the rumor that abortions have gone up in number under Bush, they’ve stayed about the same overall (assuming a little population growth) and actually gone down per capita in the last few years — but not in a significant way. The really big change was from 1976 to 1990 when the numbers went up, then from 1990 to 2000 when the numbers went down.

I’m no expert on this issue and I tread very gingerly here, but doesn’t that at least somewhat imply that Clinton’s removal of the gag orders imposed by Reagan and Bush didn’t increase the number of abortions, but was some part of reducing them?

But the fact remains that some 20% of pregnancies end up in abortions. On a wider level that implies to me that we do a shitty job of helping women who don’t want to be pregnant from becoming pregnant. Given that we’re known how to do that since the 1960s, shouldn’t we be doing better?

Using these international data I found on this New Zealand government website, it seems that we are not doing as well as other countries in this aspect of our health care too.

Abortion ratios (abortions per 1,000 live births plus abortions) provide an alternative international comparison. The latest abortion ratio for New Zealand (223) is above that for Japan (217), and is lower than those for England and Wales (225), Australia (264), Canada (242), Sweden (258) and the United States (259). International comparisons are, however, affected by both coverage and laws relating to induced abortion. Consequently, the comparisons between New Zealand’s and other countries’ abortion experiences should be interpreted with caution.


The chart above (purloined from this article from the British Medical Association) suggests that some countries have done better, and of course it’s no surprise that the Dutch who have full reproductive rights along with comprehensive sex education, come out on top.  Apart from of course the Irish, where abortion is illegal — so their numbers are probably pretty dubious.

But overall, no one is doing too well. We are sadly a long way from "safe, legal and rare" and likely to be further from there after last night’s decision.

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4 replies »

  1. I believe the accessibilty to abortion procedures are too great. There should be some form of evaluation regarding the procedure. However when alternatives are avaible, it is more reason for a person to neglect responsibility because they know that abartions are easilty obtained.

  2. Providing teens with “Abstinence only” sex education in schools results in not only higher pregnancy rates but also STD rates. Oddly enough.

  3. Counterintuitive I agree, but I assume that a fuller discussion of all types of family planning resulted in better forms of birth control being used — then again there may be no connection, but the gag order under Reagan and Bush the Elder didn’t PREVENT abortions overall.

  4. I don’t see how Clinton’s removal of the gag orders “reduces” the number of abortions. I’m not seeing the connection.