New CDC Data Show Continued Decline in the U.S. Abortion Rate

Signs to the Supreme Court during the annual March for Life in Washington, DC on January 18, 2019. (Joshua Roberts / Reuters)

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published new data on the incidence of abortion in the United States, indicating that although there was a slight increase in the abortion rate between 2017 and 2018, the long-term decline in the abortion rate continued. Overall, the abortion rate in the United States has declined fairly steadily since 1980.

According to the new figures, the abortion rate fell by around 2.6% between 2016 and 2018. This decline was fairly consistent across all states, as 29 of the 46 states that reported abortion data in 2016 and 2018 reported reductions in the abortion rate. Overall, this is good news for pro-lifers.

Coverage of new abortion data often focuses on short-term trends. However, the long-term decline in the abortion rate in the United States is far more impressive. In states that routinely report data to the CDC, the abortion rate fell more than 24% between 2009 and 2018. In addition, CDC data indicates that the abortion rate has fallen by more than 50% since then. 1980. The abortion trends reported by the CDC are largely similar to those reported by the Guttmacher Institute, which released 2017 abortion data last fall (although Guttmacher’s estimates suggest that there are many more abortions each year in the United States than those reported by states to the CDC).

In addition, there are some abortion trends in specific states of interest to pro-lifers. In 2018, Illinois began funding elective abortion through the state Medicaid program. Not surprisingly, between 2016 and 2018, the abortion rate in Illinois increased 10.6%. In fact, Illinois is one of seven states that has seen its abortion rate rise by more than 10%.

Meanwhile, in 2018, Missouri became the sixth state to have only one abortion clinic. Between 2016 and 2018, the abortion rate in Missouri fell by 35%. In 2018, Missouri’s abortion rate was the second lowest in the country.

This new CDC report also reveals persistent weaknesses in abortion reporting requirements in the United States. The report does not include abortion data from California or New Hampshire; neither state has reported abortion data to the CDC since 1997. The report also does not include data from Maryland, which has not reported data to the CDC since 2006. This year, the report CDC does not include Wyoming data. National data for 2017 is not included in the report and can only be found in an additional online file. Finally, several states choose not to report abortion data organized by race, marital status and gestational age.

Even so, this CDC report – along with the recent Guttmacher reports – provides strong evidence of a long-term, sustainable decline in the abortion rate in the United States. Although many media reports attribute increased contraceptive use to this decline, Guttmacher data shows that since 1980, there has been a significant increase in the percentage of unintended pregnancies completed. This statistic provides strong evidence that the educational, service and legislative efforts of pro-lifers have likely been effective. Hopefully, this updated CDC data will provide pro-lifers with some encouragement as we continue our efforts to build a culture of life.

New CDC Data Show Continued Decline in the U.S. Abortion Rate

Michael J. New is Visiting Assistant Professor of Social Research and Political Science at the Catholic University of America and Associate Researcher at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, DC