CDC Report: Abortions Down Again in 1998
By Randall K. O'Bannon, Ph.D.
NRL-ETF Director of Education and Research
The absence of four states from the government's national abortion statistics database means it is difficult to get a precise handle on the most recent annual number of abortions in the United States. However, the latest available data for 46 states and the city health departments of New York City and Washington, D.C., appear to clearly confirm one critically important finding: there were fewer abortions performed in 1998 than in 1997, continuing the downward trend in place since 1990.
According to a June 7, 2002, report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there were 884,273 abortions reported to the government in 1998. Missing was any data from Alaska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and California. California is one of the states typically reporting the highest numbers of abortions, guaranteeing the actual number was several hundred thousand abortions higher.
One way of trying to gauge the CDC figures for 1998 is to go back to 1997 numbers and subtract the total for the four states which did not appear in 1998.
With all 50 states reporting in 1997, the CDC reported 1,186,039 abortions. Were we to subtract the abortions reported by Alaska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and California (the four missing for 1998), the total for 1997 drops to 900,171.
But this figure is still almost 16,000 more than reported for the same 46 states in 1998. This would mean the number of abortions performed dropped nearly 2% from 1997 to 1998.
(There is one other complicating factor. The CDC figure will always be lower than the actual total, since the initiative to produce the data must come from the states themselves. By contrast, the Alan Guttmacher Institute actively surveys abortion clinics, producing a roughly 10%-12% higher number generally believed to be much more accurate. Both sets of figures, however, provide useful information about trends.)
Other indicators are positive as well. The abortion ratio, by which the CDC means the number of abortions per 1,000 live births, was 264 for reporting areas in 1998. For 1997, the figure was 274 abortions per thousand live births for those same reporting areas.
Again, referring only to the same 46 states and two city health departments for 1997 and 1998, the number of abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age (ages 15-44), which the CDC refers to as the abortion rate, remained at the same level: 17 per 1,000 women.
The figure reported for all states in 1997 was 20 abortions per thousand women of reproductive age, the lowest rate reported by the CDC since 1976, shortly after abortion's legalization.
By and large, statistics on the timing, methods, and locations of abortions are relatively the same from 1997 to 1998. Most abortions still are being done during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy (55.7% at eight weeks or less, 77.2% at 10 weeks or less for 1998), most using what the CDC calls the "suction curettage" method (96.8% in 1998), and more than nine out of 10 being done in a woman's home state (91.5% in 1998).
As in the past, about 4 out of every 5 abortions were performed on unmarried women (81.1% for 1998). Somewhere between 45.2% and 47.4% were repeat abortions.
Statistics from 1998 reflect an increasing number of "medical" abortions, that is abortions employing some chemical abortifacient. In its first year of recording such data, the CDC received data from 24 reporting areas totaling 4,733 "medical" abortions for 1998. This was less than 1% of the total abortion figure, but still some two years before the government gave permission for the abortion pill RU486 to be sold in the United States.
The CDC offers no single definitive reason for the ongoing downward trend in its latest report, but says the decline in the abortion rate "might reflect multiple factors," including population shifts, increased contraceptive use, the passage of parental involvement laws, and a decrease in the number of unintended pregnancies. One of the more obvious possible reasons, cited by the CDC in previous years, has been "attitude changes concerning the decision to have an abortion or to carry the pregnancy to term."
More pregnant women are choosing to give life to their babies, and pro-lifers are certainly due much of the credit. The work of local chapters in passing out educational literature, the efforts of concerned citizens supporting pro-life candidates and pro-life legislation, the work of volunteers at pregnancy care centers, have all paid off, and there are thousands and thousands of beautiful smiling chubby little faces to prove it.