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, 2014 (page 6), 21 percent of all pregnancies in the United States in 2011 ended in abortion, and 30 percent of women will have an abortion by age 45.
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 1.06 million legal abortions in the Untied States in 2011. This is a decline from 1.21 million in 2008.
- The abortion rate: The U. S. abortion rate has steadily decreased to 17 per 1,000 women of reproductive age (15-44) in 2011, 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 17 percent in 2008 to 23 percent in 2011.
- As a percent of early abortions: In 2011, medical abortions made up 36% percent of the early termination up to nine weeks of pregnancy. Compare this to 26 percent in 2008 and 6 percent in 2001.
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. The decline in unplanned pregnancies is partly responsible for the drop in the abortion rate in the U. S. Statistics reported in March, 2016 in the New England Journal of Medicine noted:
- In 2011, 45 percent of U. S. pregnancies were unintended, and 42 percent ended in elective abortions.
- In 2008, 51 percent of pregnancies were unplanned, with 40 percent ending in abortions.
The percentage of unplanned pregnancies that ended in abortion increased from 40 percent in 2008 to 42 percent in 2011. However, the big decline in the number of unintended pregnancies between the two years helped decrease the actual numbers of abortions in 2011.
Global Statistics Compared to the United States
About 46 million abortions are done worldwide each year. The most recent global statistics published in the Lancet in 2012 noted the U. S. abortion rate was lower than the global rate in 2008:
- The global rate was 28 per 1,000 women age 15 to 44 in 2008. Compare this to the 2008 U. S. abortion rate of 19 per 1,000 women age 15-44 - as extracted from a graph in a March 2016 Guttmacher Institute review.
- Worldwide in 2008, the abortion rate in developed countries was 24 per 1,000 in reproductive aged women, compared to 28 per 1,000 women in developing countries.
The following table compares the 2008 U. S. abortion rate per 1,000 women age 15-44 with the global and selected regional rates based on the 2012 Lancet reference, and the abortion rates for a few selected countries from an article in International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.
Global Unsafe Abortions
The Lancet study reported 49 percent of pregnancy terminations in the world in 2008 were done under unsafe, illegal conditions in 2008, compared to 44 percent in 1995. Ninety-eight percent of the unsafe abortions occurred in developing countries, which might be due to restrictive abortion laws in those countries.
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, 2008, is from a survey conducted by the Guttmacher Institute and reported in May 2010.
By 2008 stats, 10 percent of all women in the U. S. had an abortion by age 20, 25 percent by age 30, and 33 percent by age 45. Of the women who had an abortion in 2008, 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 almost 18 percent of the abortions in the U. S.
- Age less than 15: 0.4 percent
- Age 15 to 17: 6.2 percent
- Age 18 to 19: 11 percent
- Women in their 20s had about 58 percent of all U. S. abortions.
- Age 20 to 24 = 33.4 percent
- Age 25 to 29 = 24.4 percent
- Women in their 30s had around 22 percent of the abortions.
- Age 30 to 35: 13.5 percent
- Age 35 to 39: 8.2 percent
- Women ages 40 and over had 2.9 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 percent
- Non-Hispanic, black: 30 percent
- Hispanic: 25 percent
- Other, non-Hispanic: 9 percent
However, non-Hispanic black and Hispanic accounted for a greater proportion of abortion patients compared to the1r proportion in the U. S. population.
Most women who aborted their pregnancies were unmarried.
- Unmarried: 75 percent
- Married: 15 percent
Twenty-nine percent of the unmarried women were living with a partner.
Twenty-eight percent of the women had no religious affiliation. Of those who followed a religion, they were:
- Protestant: 37 percent; the abortion rate among Protestant women is about 18 per 1,000 women of reproductive age
- Catholic: 28 percent; the abortion rate is 22 per 1,000 women
- Other: 7 percent
United States Born
The majority of the women obtaining abortions were born in the United States:
- Yes: 84 percent
- No: 16 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
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 2008 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)
In 2008, 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.
Sixty-one percent of women who had an abortion in 2008 had at least one previous birth:
- No previous births: 39 percent
- Had at least one: 27 percent
- Had two or more: 34 percent
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
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. Their 2005 analysis showed a 0.06 percent overall major complication rate.
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 andreported:
- 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
Based on the Guttmacher Institute fact sheet cited above, "Global Abortion Stats Compared to the United States," about 89 percent of abortions in the U. S. are done during the first trimester (up to 12 weeks from the last period), and only a small percentage are performed after 21 weeks. The percentages of abortions by weeks of pregnancy are:
- Less than seven weeks: 33 percent
- Eight weeks or less: 60 percent
- Seven to twelve weeks: 56 percent
- Thirteen to twenty weeks: 9.8 percent
- Twenty-one weeks and later: 1.2 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.
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 1,793 in 2008 to 1,720 in 2011
- Number of abortion clinics: Went from 839 in 2008 to 851 in 2011. There are no abortion services in 89 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: 95 percent
- Thirteen weeks or later: 61 percent
- At 20 weeks: 34 percent
- At 24 weeks: 16 percent
- Percent of women who wished for an earlier abortion: 58 percent
- Cost 2011-2012: Non-hospital clinic surgical abortion at 10 weeks $480; medication abortion before 10 weeks $504
- 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
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: 32 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: 17 states require mandated counseling of a woman before an abortion, such as discussing an unproven association between abortion and breast cancer.
- Waiting period: 28 states require a woman to wait at least 24 hours between abortion counseling and an abortion.
- Parental involvement: 38 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.