The number of abortions in the United States has fallen to the lowest level since the procedure became legal in 1973 but appears linked to a decrease in births and pregnancies rather than tighter restrictions on abortion, according to a new study.
The report from the Guttmacher Institute, which attempts to track all abortions in the U.S., counted 862,000 abortions in 2017 — a 7% decline since 2014 — in what it called “the continuation of a long-term trend.” The study reported just over 1 million abortions in 2011.
The study said the 13.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 is the lowest since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
Following that ruling, the number of abortions in the U.S. rose to a high of 1.6 million in 1990 before dropping steadily. The rate is now less than half of what it was in 1990.
The institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, gathers its data through inquiries of individual providers. Federal data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention excludes California, Maryland and New Hampshire.
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Areas with the highest abortion rates in 2017 were the District of Columbia, New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Florida. Rates were lowest in Wyoming, South Dakota, Kentucky, Idaho and Missouri.
The Guttmacher report said the increase of state abortion restrictions in the Midwest and South between 2014 and 2017 does not appear to have been the primary driver of declining abortion rates.
Between 2011 and 2017, the number of clinics providing abortion in the United States fell by less than 4%, from 839 to 808, with 86% of new abortion restrictions during the period occurring in the South and the Midwest.
Between 2011 and 2017, the South had a net decline of 50 clinics — with 25 in Texas alone — and the Midwest had a net decline of 33 clinics, including nine each in Iowa, Michigan and Ohio.The West lost a net of seven clinics. By contrast, the Northeast added a net 59 clinics, mostly in New Jersey and New York.
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The study found, however, that 57% of the decline in the number of abortions nationwide happened in the 18 states and the District of Columbia that did not adopt any new abortion restrictions.
“There was also no consistent relationship between increases or decreases in clinic numbers and changes in state abortion rates,” the report found.
Guttmacher president, Dr. Herminia Palacio, said abortion restrictions, regardless of whether they lead to fewer abortions, “are coercive and cruel by design,” with disproportionate impact on low-income women, the Associated Press reports.
The study also noted that fertility rates declined in almost all states between 2014 and 2017 “and it is unlikely that the decline in abortion was due to an increase in unintended births.”
Factors that may have contributed to the decline in abortion were improvements in contraceptive use and access to them, a decline in pregnancy rates and increases in the number of individuals relying on self-managed abortions outside of a clinical setting, the study said.
The study also noted that women who have abortions are increasingly relying on medication rather than surgery. Medication abortion, using the so-called abortion pill, accounted for 39% of all abortions in 2017, up from 29% in 2014.
Support for legal abortion is at its highest level in more than two decades, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that found a 60% majority who say abortion should be legal in most or all cases.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Abortion rate decline due to fewer pregnancies, not new laws: Study