The abortion rate and the number of abortions in the U.S. has fallen 13%, with 1.1 million abortions performed in 2011, according to a new study by the Guttmacher Institute.
Just 16.9 per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44 got an abortion in 2011, the report found.
It’s the lowest rate since 1973, the year the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide. Guttmacher has been periodically surveying abortion providers since the 1970s and surveyed four years for the current study, looking at abortion from 2008 to 2011.
The study’s authors say the number of restrictive abortion laws states have implemented in recent years did not lead to the drop in numbers.
“While most of the new laws were enacted in states in the Midwest and the South, abortion incidence declined in all regions,” the study said, adding that in states that are more supportive of legal abortion, the rate was also down—or even greater—than the national decline.
The new regulations also did not increase the number of abortions, the report noted.
“Some of the new regulations undoubtedly made it more difficult, and costly, for facilities to continue to provide services and for women to access them,” the study’s authors conceded.
Instead, the study authors posited, the poor state of the economy and the increased access to long-term, prescription contraceptives decreased the abortion rate.
Indeed, the recession and the slow recovery drove the birth rate down by 9%, indicating that more women may have been consciously avoiding pregnancy by using contraceptives.
And contraceptives themselves may be lowering the rate of abortion, due to the availability of highly effective long-term contraceptives like the IUD. During the four years of the study, long-term contraceptive use rose from 4 to 11%.
The study authors did posit that some women may be using off-label drugs to terminate early pregnancies outside of clinics, artificially driving the rate down.
Some anti-abortion activists aren’t cheering on the lowered rate.
Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, derided the report as “an abortion industry propaganda piece short on data and long on strained conclusions.” She particularly noted that the reporting of data is voluntary.