Abortion Facts and Statistics in the U.S. and Globally

Contributor: Julie Kirk
Charts and graphs with abortion statistics

Researchers and health agencies track important abortion statistics in the United States and other countries. These stats give a perspective on the state of abortions by such measures as the number of pregnancy terminations provided, the characteristics of women who must choose to have them, and the availability of abortion services for these women.

Number of Abortions in the United States

According to Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health's January 2018 Fact Sheet, 19 percent of all pregnancies in the United States in 2014 ended in abortion, and about 24 percent of women will have an abortion by age 45.

Woman researching abortion facts and stats online

This report also notes the annual total number and rate of abortions in the U. S. has been decreasing since 1980. This decrease came after the initial rise during the seven years after the Roe v Wade U. S. Supreme Court decision in 1973.

  • Total number of abortions: There were 638,169 legal abortions in the United States in 2015. This is a 2% decline from 652,639 in 2014.
  • The abortion rate: The U. S. abortion rate has steadily decreased to 12.1 per 1,000 women of reproductive age (15-44) in 2015, from its peak of 29 per 1,000 women age 15-44 in 1980.
  • The percent of medical abortions: Since approved in the U. S. in 2000, use of medical abortions for termination of early pregnancies up to nine weeks have increased:
    • As a percent of all abortions: Of the total non-hospital based abortions, medical abortions increased from 22.6 percent in 2014 to 24.6 percent in 2015.
    • As a percent of early abortions: In 2015, medical abortions made up 65.4 percent of the early termination up to nine weeks of pregnancy. Compared with 67 percent in 2014.

Note that statistics from research studies and investigations by the Guttmacher Institute often provide a more accurate picture than that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose voluntary data reported by abortion clinics are incomplete in many years.

Unintended Pregnancies and the U.S. Abortion Rate

Many women seek an abortion because of an unintended pregnancy. There has been a decline in unplanned pregnancies which is partly responsible for the drop in the abortion rate :

Global Statistics Compared to the United States

About 56 million abortions are done worldwide each year. The most recent global statistics show that the U. S. abortion rate was lower than the global rate in 2014:

  • The global rate was 35 per 1,000 women age 15 to 44 in 2014. Compare this to the 2014 U. S. abortion rate of 17 per 1,000 women age 15-44 - as extracted from a graph in a March 2018 Guttmacher Institute review.
  • Worldwide in 2014, the abortion rate in developed countries was 27 per 1,000 in reproductive aged women, compared to 36 per 1,000 women in developing countries.

The following table compares the 2014 U. S. abortion rate per 1,000 women age 15-44 with the global and selected regional rates and the abortion rates for a few selected countries from an article in International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

COUNTRY ABORTION RATE
United States 17
Global 35
Africa 34
Latin America 44
The Caribbean 44
Asia 36

Global Unsafe Abortions

According to the World Health Organization nearly one third of pregnancy terminations in the world in 2014 were done under unsafe, illegal conditions.

Characteristics of U.S. Abortions Patients

Women who get abortions in the U. S. are more likely to be poor, unmarried, African American, or Hispanic, and younger than 30. However, abortions are not limited to these, but affect other women of all groups. The following stats on the characteristics of U. S. abortion patients, 2014, is from a survey conducted by the Guttmacher Institute and reported in May 2016.

Upset young woman being comforted by friends

Age

By 2015 stats, 10 percent of all women in the U. S. had an abortion by age 20, 60 percent by age 30, and 30 percent by age 45. Of the women who had an abortion in 2015, those in their 20s made up the majority of abortions, with women in their 30s being the second largest group:

  • Teens up to age 19 made up about 10 percent of the abortions in the U. S.
    • Age less than 15: 0.3 percent
    • Age 15 to 19: 9.8 percent
  • Women in their 20s had about 60 percent of all U. S. abortions.
    • Age 20 to 24 = 31.1 percent
    • Age 25 to 29 = 27.6 percent
  • Women in their 30s had around 27 percent of the abortions.
    • Age 30 to 35: 17.7 percent
    • Age 35 to 39: 10 percent
  • Women ages 40 and over had about 3.5 percent of all abortions.

Race and Ethnicity

Non-Hispanic, white women accounted for the biggest percentage of women having an abortion.

  • Non-Hispanic, white: 36.9 percent
  • Non-Hispanic, black: 36 percent
  • Hispanic: 18.5 percent
  • Other, non-Hispanic: 8.7 percent

However, non-Hispanic black and Hispanic accounted for a greater proportion of abortion patients compared to the1r proportion in the U. S. population.

Marital Status

Most women who aborted their pregnancies were unmarried.

  • Unmarried: 85.7 percent
  • Married: 14.3 percent

United States Born

The majority of the women obtaining abortions were born in the United States:

  • Yes: 84 percent
  • No: 16 percent

Religious Affiliation

In 2014, their religious affiliations included:

  • Catholic: 24 percent
  • Mainline Protestent: 17 percent
  • Evangelical Protestent: 13 percent
  • No religious affiliation: 38 percent
  • Other religious affiliation: 8 percent

Level of Education

Eighty-eight percent of abortion patients 20 years or older had graduated from high school, and 20 percent were college graduates:

  • Not high school graduate: 12 percent
  • High school graduate or GED: 28 percent
  • Some college study/or associates degree: 40 percent
  • College degree: 20 percent

Income Level

The majority of women who have abortions are poor or low-income status, as defined by the U. S. federal poverty level for a single woman with no children. The distribution for abortion patients was:

  • Below 100 percent of federal poverty level: 42 percent (poor income status)
  • Between 100 percent and 199 percent of poverty level: 27 percent (low-income status)
  • 200 percent or more of the poverty level: 31 percent (better off status)

Medical Insurance

One third of the women who had an abortion had no insurance.

  • No insurance: 33 percent
  • Insured: 66 percent
    • Private insurance: 30 percent
    • Medicaid: 31 percent
    • Other: 5 percent

Fifty-eight percent of the women with insurance still chose to pay out of pocket.

Previous Births

Nearly sixty percent of women who had an abortion in 2015 had at least one previous birth:

  • No previous births: 40.7 percent
  • Had one or two: 45.1 percent
  • Had three or more: 14.2 percent

Failed Contraception

Fifty-one percent of the women in the survey used birth control in the month they got pregnant:

  • Most common failed method was condoms: 27 percent
  • Second most common was a hormonal method: 17 percent

Reasons for Having Abortion in the U.S.

Women with unplanned pregnancies give a variety of reasons for seeking an abortion. Most of them resort to this difficult decision because of challenges in their lives.

A 2013 BioMedical Central Women's Health study analyzed 2008 to 2010 data drawn from a five-year survey of a group of women from 30 U. S. abortion clinics. Most women gave multiple reasons, with the following being the most common reasons given:

  • Financial situation/can't afford a child: 40 percent
  • Poor timing/not ready to have a baby: 36 percent
  • Have difficulty with partner: 31 percent
  • Need to focus on other children: 29 percent
  • Interference with future/work/school: 20 percent
  • Worry about caring for the child: 12 percent
  • Health problem concerns: 12 percent

Other reasons include pregnancy by rape or incest, too young and immature for a baby, and women's life would change too much.

Medically Necessary Abortions

An abortion may be medically necessary if the baby has severe medical conditions or because the pregnancy is life-threatening to the mother's health. Medically necessary abortions are rare and make up a very small percentage of later abortions at about 1.3 percent according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Abortions Safety Statistics

The risks of abortion complications and death increase with the age of the pregnancy but overall, legal abortion is safe and the risks are minimal.

Risk of Complications

One source of information on complications is the National Abortion Foundation large database of abortions of all gestational ages. They show that overall 2.5 percent of women experience minor complications and .5 percent experience serious complications.

More recent stats come from a study of 11,487 first trimester abortions by vacuum aspiration. It was published in 2013 in the American Journal of Public Health and reported:

  • A major complication rate of 0.05 percent, which included three uterine perforations, three uterine infections, and one uterine hemorrhage.
  • A minor complication of 1.3 percent, which included incomplete abortion, failed abortion, heavy bleeding, and injury to the cervix.

This study found the complication rates were similar whether experienced physicians or non-physician mid-level medical practitioners performed the procedure.

Risk of Death

The overall risk of death from an abortion is 0.6 in 100,000 procedures, based on a report in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2004. Compare this to the risk of death from giving birth of 8.8 per 100,000.

The more advanced the pregnancy, the greater the risk:

  • At eight weeks or sooner, the rate is one in a million
  • At 16-20 weeks, the rate is one in 29,000
  • At 21 weeks or later, the rate is one in 11,000

According to the 2014 review article in the Global Library of Women's Health (GLOWM), the risk of death from abortions in the U. S. is similar to that in other developed countries.

Effect on Future Pregnancies and Health Conditions

From a 2008 GLOWM review, studies show:

  • There is no significant increased risk for infertility, ectopic pregnancy, miscarriages, preterm birth, or low birth weight.
  • There is no risk for breast cancer.

In addition, a 2011 Social Sciences and Medicine study found no increased risk of mental health issues.

Timing of Abortions and Access to Services

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 91.1 percent of abortions in the U. S. are done during the first trimester (through 12 weeks gestational age), and only a small percentage are performed after 21 weeks. The percentages of abortions by weeks of pregnancy are:

  • Eight weeks or less: 65.4 percent
  • Eight to twelve weeks: 25.7 percent
  • Thirteen to twenty weeks: 7.6 percent
  • Twenty-one weeks and later: 1.3 percent

The increase in the number of medical abortions, which can be done up to nine weeks, helped to shift more procedures to the first trimester.

Young woman consulting with her doctor

Access to Abortion Services

Easy access to abortion services makes it more likely that a woman can have an abortion in the early weeks of pregnancy. The following stats from the Guttmacher fact sheet are measures of access to abortion services:

  • Number of abortion providers: Decreased from 1,720 in 2011 to 1,671 in 2014
  • Number of abortion clinics: Went from 851 in 2011 to 788 in 2011. There are no abortion services in 90 percent of all U. S. counties.
  • Number of of clinics that provide medical abortions: 1,023 (59 percent)
  • Access to abortion services by weeks of pregnancy:
    • Before missed period: 46 percent
    • Eight weeks or after from the last period: 99 percent
    • Thirteen weeks or later: 72 percent
    • At 20 weeks: 25 percent
    • At 24 weeks: 10 percent
  • Percent of women who wished for an earlier abortion: 58 percent
  • Cost 2014: Non-hospital clinic surgical abortion at 10 weeks $508; medication abortion before 10 weeks $535
  • Percent who delayed an abortion because of difficulty paying for the procedure: 60 percent
  • Anti-abortion harassment: 84 percent of clinics
  • Form of harassment: 80 percent of clinics were picketed and 47 percent harassed through phone calls

State-Imposed Restrictions

The Guttmacher Institute also extracts information from various studies to track state laws, policies, and insurance coverage, some of which might restrict abortion clinics and women's access to abortion services in the U. S. In 2014, at least 30 states had severe regulations and restrictions that make it harder for women to get an abortion (compared to 13 states in 2000). These state regulations include the following:

  • Limits on when in pregnancy an abortion is allowed: 43 states restrict how far in pregnancy a woman can have an abortion unless it is to protect her life.
  • Use of Medicaid funds: 33 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of state Medicaid funds for abortions except for incest, rape, or to protect a woman's life.
  • Use of private insurance coverage: 11 states restrict private medical insurance plans from covering abortions except when a woman's life is in danger.
  • Mandated counseling: 18 states require mandated counseling of a woman before an abortion, such as discussing an unproven association between abortion and breast cancer.
  • Waiting period: 27 states require a woman to wait at least 24 hours between abortion counseling and an abortion.
  • Parental involvement: 37 states require the parent or both parents of a teenager to be involved at some level of the abortion decision.

The Institute writes, "57 percent of women (age) 15-44 live in a state that is hostile or extremely hostile to abortion rights," and 30 percent live in a state supportive of abortion rights.

The State of Abortions in the U.S.

A large amount of data is gathered from reports and surveys from abortion clinics and patient survey on the state of legal abortions in the United States. These statistics ensure that facts are available on this controversial health service, and that abortions are meeting the reproductive needs of women in a legal, safe, and effective way.

Abortion Facts and Statistics in the U.S. and Globally