A new report shows that the rate of abortions performed in the United States has hit its lowest level since 1973.
In 2011, there were an estimated 1.1. million abortions in the U.S. and 16.9 abortions performed for every 1,000 15- to 44-year-old women living in the country, according to the study from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that promotes abortion rights. That's a 13 percent decrease both in the number and rate of abortions since 2008, when 1.21 million abortions were performed.
The abortion rate in 2011 – the latest year studied for the report – also was dramatically lower than the all-time high in 1981, when there were 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44. In 1973, the abortion rate was 16.3 per 1,000 women.
The report says accessibility to contraception and improved use of birth control methods were contributing factors that helped reduce the number of women seeking abortions.
"The decline in abortions coincided with a steep national drop in overall pregnancy and birth rates," said Rachel Jones, an author of the study. "Contraceptive use improved during this period, as more women and couples were using highly effective long-acting reversible contraceptive methods, such as the IUD.
"Moreover, the recent recession led many women and couples to want to avoid or delay pregnancy and childbearing."
The abortion debate has remained a hot topic heading into the 2014 midterm congressional elections, with Democrats accusing Republicans of waging a "war on women" and GOP-controlled state legislatures pushing for more restrictions on abortions. States from Texas to North Dakota enacted more than 205 abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2013, the institute says, and the report notes that 106 new abortion restrictions were implemented during the study period.
But the authors maintain that those laws were not responsible for the reduction in abortions, and note the study occurred before many of the state laws restricting abortion took effect.
"With abortion rates falling in almost all states, our study did not find evidence that the national decline in abortions during this period was the result of new state abortion restrictions," Jones said. "We also found no evidence that the decline was linked to a drop in the number of abortion providers during this period."
The number of abortion providers, however, did decrease by 4 percent between 2008 and 2011, and the number of clinics offering the procedure decreased by 1 percent, the report says. The report also shows that 38 percent of women in the U.S. have no abortion clinic in their county.
Jones additionally pointed out that the trend is moving toward women seeking abortions earlier in pregnancy. This, the analysts conclude, likely contributed to an uptick in the proportion of early medication-induced abortions. In 2011, an estimated 23 percent of all nonhospital abortions included the use of early medication, while only 17 percent did in 2008.
Jones warned, however, that having "the availability of medication abortion does not lead women to have more abortions."
Geographically, the number of abortions decreased the most in the Midwest and West between 2008 and 2011, the report says. There were six states where the abortion rates did not decrease: Alaska, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Anti-abortion groups drew a series of their own conclusions from the report.
National Right to Life says the study shows that more and more Americans are opposed to abortion.
"That abortion rates and numbers continue to decline is heartening because it shows that women are rejecting the idea of abortion as the answer to an unexpected pregnancy. We've long known that Americans oppose the Roe doctrine of abortion on demand," says Carol Tobias, the group's president.
Another anti-abortion group dismissed the study as flawed.
"It is impossible really to know the true abortion rate, given that abortionists are not required to report on the chemical and surgical abortions that they do. Their reporting is totally voluntary," says Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life. "And no matter how many abortions there are, abortion carries serious risks for both mother and unborn child, which should be of great concern to us all."