The country’s abortion rate has reached a new low since 1973, according to the results of a study released last week by the Guttmacher Institute. Peaking in 1981, abortions have dropped significantly in recent years, falling 13 percent from 2008 to 2011.
The number of abortions plateaued from 2005 to 2008, according to the study, and then began to drop. Researchers attribute the decline to better birth control methods, such as intrauterine devices, that don’t have the same risk of error as condoms or daily birth control pills.
"A 13 percent drop over a three-year time period is a pretty steep decline. It's unusual," the study’s lead author, Rachel Jones, told USA Today.
In 2011, there were 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women, compared to 29.3 per 1,000 in 1981.
Economist Ted Joyce, who studies reproductive health at Baruch College in New York, says that the country’s unstable economy is also a significant contributing factor.
"Births have been falling for a while, and the recession certainly accelerated the decrease in births," Joyce said. "When you consider the changes in contraception and the largest recession since the Great Depression, those two factors seem like compelling explanations for the decline.”
Guttmacher doesn’t cite stricter abortion laws as contributors, since most of those were put into place in 2011 or later.
“We didn't find any clear associations between abortion restrictions and declines in abortion rates," said Jones. "We saw drops in abortions in the states that had restrictions, but they were not substantially bigger than what we saw in other states."
If abortion restrictions are upheld in 22 states limiting access, that may increase the drop.
While the Guttmacher Institute supports a woman’s right to have an abortion, both pro-choice and pro-life advocates greeted the study as a victory. Pro-life groups see their work as having a hand in the reduced abortion rate.
“This is a post-sonogram generation,” Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, which supports many of the new state limits on abortions, told the Washington Post. “There is increased awareness throughout our culture of the moral weight of the unborn baby. And that’s a good thing.”
In addition to the significant decline in abortions, the study found an increased proportion of early medication abortions by means of the abortion pill. Nearly one in four abortions were induced using the drug in 2011.