The Story: The rate of abortion in America continues its decade-long decline. How low can the abortion rate go?
The Background: The abortion rate is calculated by taking the number of pregnancies terminated by an abortion, multiplying by 1,000, and dividing by the female population between the ages of 15 and 44 years. According to a recent report by the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate in the United States dropped in 2017 to 13.5, the lowest rate recorded since abortion was legalized in 1973. Abortion rates fell in most states and in all four regions of the country.
Unfortunately, the data from the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute is less than completely reliable. Guttmacher obtains its data from surveys of “2,277 facilities in our universe of potential abortion-providing facilities.” They only received responses from 59 percent of the facilities, used health department data for 19 percent of the others, and had to estimate the abortion rate for the remaining 20 percent of facilities. Despite these flaws, this rate is likely to be the best estimate of the abortion rate we have available.
According to the Guttmacher data, the abortion rate climbed rapidly from 1973, peaked in 1982, and declined almost steadily until reaching a new low in 2017 (the last year for which data is available).
Overall, in 2017, 862,320 abortions were provided in clinical settings, a 7 percent decline from 2014. A little less than one in five pregnancies (births and abortions), 18.4 percent, ended in abortion in 2017.
What It Means: While we should be thankful the abortion rate has continued to decline, this latest news should remind us of the horrific scale of abortion in America.
Currently, abortion is far and away the leading cause of death in the United States. In 2017 there were 862,320 reported abortions. In comparison, 647,457 Americans died of heart disease, and 599,108 died of cancer. Abortion leads to more deaths each year than eight prevalent causes of death, more than accidents (unintentional injuries), chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke (cerebrovascular diseases), Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, nephritis, and intentional self-harm (suicide) combined.
Because of the scope of the problem, making a significant reduction in the number of abortions is a monumental task without any easy solutions. For example, if abortions were banned in hospitals and physicians offices, the total number of abortions would decrease by 40,270, a reduction of 4.7 percent.
If abortions were banned in every state in the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin) the total number of abortions would decrease by 133,120, a reduction of 15.4 percent.
Similarly, if abortions were banned in every state in the West (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming) the total number of abortions would decrease by 209,600, a reduction of 24 percent.
While these figures make such large-scale reductions seem all but impossible in theory, the actual rate fell almost 29 percent during the six-year period from 2011 to 2017. What accounted for this decrease in the rate? If we had to hazard a guess, we could say that it’s likely a combination of fewer teens having sex, increased contraceptive use, lower rates of unintended pregnancies, increased opposition to abortion by the young, and a greater willingness to have a child after an unintended pregnancy. Yet social scientists have been unable to establish how any of those factors could account for the dramatic decline.
The more likely explanation is that over the past decade God has changed people’s hearts. This seems to be the only explanation for reductions in abortion occurring across the nation. (For example, the abortion rate has dropped even in states where the number of abortion clinics has increased.)
Pro-life Christians should continue to take direct action—from lobbying for anti-abortion laws to volunteering at crisis pregnancy centers—to push the abortion rate even lower. Yet while our efforts are likely having a positive influence, the most we can expect to do on our own is to shave a few percentage points from the current rate. That is why we should never forget that the most important action we can take is to intercede with the Lord on behalf of the unborn. Prayer is our most powerful tool, for despite all our human efforts, only a miraculous and mighty work of God will drive the abortion rate to zero.