Abortion demographics

Although abortion remains a major human rights scandal and political issue in the United States, the rate of abortion has been falling, overall, for more than two decades. At the same time the demographic picture of women having abortions has changed significantly, a 30-year analysis by the Guttmacher Institute shows. Abortions have declined more among white women and teenagers than among black and Hispanic women.

In 1974, in the early days after the Supreme Court’s legislation of induced abortion, the overall rate was 19.5 abortions per 1000 women aged 15 to 44. In 1980 it peaked at 29 per 1000, and by 2004 it was back to the 1974 level, at 19.7 per 1000.

There were big shifts between the age groups. During the three decades, the proportion of abortions performed on women under 20 dropped steadily, from 33 per cent in 1974 to 17 per cent in 2004. For those younger than 18, it fell from 15 per cent of all abortions to 6 per cent. At the same time, however, the proportion of abortions on women in their 20s rose from 50 per cent to 57 per cent, and for women 30 and over, from 18 per cent to 27 per cent.

Racial characteristics of the women also changed. Although abortion rates have declined among all racial and ethnic groups, large disparities exist. In 2004, there were 10.5 abortions per 1000 white women (15-44), compared with 28 per 1000 Hispanic women and 50 per 1000 black women. That is equivalent to 1 per cent of white women compared with 3 per cent of Hispanics and 5 per cent of black women. Since 1994, the proportion of abortions for white women has fallen, while black women increased their share a little and Hispanic women significantly more.

Guttmacher, which advocates for abortion as a means of birth control, blames a lot of the increases on poverty. It points out that the proportion of all abortions on women who already had a child increased from 46 per cent in 1974 to 60 per cent in 2004, and says this reflects “the trend of women who cannot afford to have another child turning to abortion”. Planned Parenthood says the poor can’t even afford contraception. Maybe. But there could be other factors at work here, such as the targeting of abortion services to certain racial groups, just as it was targeted to young women 30 years ago.

As for the relative success of the campaign against “teenage pregnancy”, birth control providers are claiming most, if not all the credit for the decline in teenage abortions. The promotion of sexual abstinence over the past two decades has probably played a greater part, along with state laws requiring parental consent to abortion. ~ Washington Post, Sep 23



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