CDC: 18 percent of US pregnancies end in abortion

Nov. 21, 2012, 3:23 p.m.

A pregnancy test. CDC officials said "unintended pregnancy precedes nearly all abortions." (Ernesto Andrade/Flickr Creative Commons)

The U.S. saw a significant trend of decline in abortions in the first decade of the millennium, according to a new federal report, which also indicated that almost one in five U.S. pregnancies end in abortion.

The data appeared in the Nov. 23 edition of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although California wasn't among the 45 areas that provided data to the CDC, the report points to important trends in the nation's abortion rate.

Researchers looked at data between 2000 and 2009, and found that more than 784,500 abortions were reported to the agency in 2009. That translates to about 15 abortions for every 1,000 women between 15 and 44 years old, or 227 abortions for every 1,000 live births.

That represented a 5-percent drop in abortions between 2008 and 2009, the largest of single-year drop of the decade.

The CDC noted a few other trends:

– Abortion rates decreased among women in their twenties, and increased among women 40 or older.

– Girls between 15 and 19 accounted for nearly 16 percent of abortions in 2009, which marks a nearly-14 percent decrease since 2000.

– The abortion ratio – the number of abortions per 1,000 live births – increased between 2000 and 2009 for girls younger than 15: There were 838 abortions for every 1,000 live births to girls in that age group.

– Most abortions occurred early: 64 percent happened at or before eight weeks passed in the pregnancy, and about 92 percent happened at or before the 13-week mark.

– About 1.3 percent of abortions happened at or later than 21 weeks into the pregnancy.

– In 2008, the most recent year for which data was available, the CDC reports that 12 women died as a result of complications from legal abortions.

– White and black women accounted for the largest percentages of all abortions: about 38 and 35 percent, respectively.

– 85 percent of women who receive abortions are unmarried.

– A little more than 8 percent of women who received an abortion in 2009 had received three or more of the procedures already; about 37 percent had already had one or two.

The report's authors wrote that "the persistent increase in abortion rates and high abortion ratios among women [who are 40 or older] suggest that unintended pregnancy is a problem that women continue to face throughout their reproductive years."

Pointing to the fact that an estimated 18 percent of all U.S. pregnancies end in abortion – and that "unintended pregnancy precedes nearly all abortions" – CDC officials wrote that any efforts to decrease abortion have to be efforts to reduce unwanted pregnancies.

That means, in part, education and access to contraception, wrote the authors. As of August, the Affordable Care Act extended free FDA-approved contraception and contraceptive counseling to millions of women, and on Tuesday, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said birth control pills should be available over-the-counter.

But as the CDC wrote, that's proven "challenging" – not to mention that contraceptive use among women at-risk for unintended pregnancy has decreased in recent years. Making no-cost birth control available would reduce abortion rates, the agency contends – and with about one in three U.S. births being unintended, the implications are more than considerable.

In 2009, South Los Angeles had the highest teen birth rate in the county: about 74 for every 1,000 live births.

Photo by Ernesto Andrade via Flickr Creative Commons.

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