America's Abortion Rates Drop to Near 20-Year Low in 1997

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - The number of legal abortions performed in the United States declined in 1997 to the lowest level in about two decades, federal health officials said on Thursday.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said 1,184,758 legal induced abortions were reported in 1997, the latest year for which figures were available.

Wire service reports say that the 1997 total represented a 3 percent decrease from the 1,221,585 abortions reported in 1996 and the lowest annual total since 1978, said the CDC, which based its findings on figures received from the 50 states, New York City and the District of Columbia.

"Since 1990, the year in which the number of abortions was highest, the annual number of legal induced abortions in the United States has steadily declined,'' said Lisa Koonin, the CDC's chief of surveillance for reproductive health.

There were 1,429,577 legal abortions reported in 1990.

When compared with the number of live births or the number of women of reproductive age, abortions in 1997 tumbled to their lowest level since 1975.

The CDC said the national abortion ratio, or the number of legal abortions per 1,000 live births, decreased in 1997 to 305 abortions per 1,000 live births, the lowest for any year since 1975.

In 1996, the ratio was 314 abortions per 1,000 live births while the number of live births declined 0.3 percent from 1996 to 1997, the CDC said.

The national abortion rate, or the rate at which women aged 15 to 44 underwent the procedure, remained at 20 abortions per 1,000 women, which was also the lowest level since 1975. "This rate has remained stable since the mid-1990s,'' Koonin said.

The CDC said 20 percent of the women who obtained legal abortions in 1997 were 19 years of age or younger and 32 percent were aged 20 to 24. Most of the women who obtained legal abortions were white and unmarried.

Researchers said 55 percent of legal abortions were performed during the first eight weeks of pregnancy and about 88 percent were performed during the first 12 weeks.

The CDC did not try to determine why abortions declined, but Koonin said factors could include a reduction in unintended pregnancies, increased use of condoms, reduced access to abortion services and changes in attitude to the procedure.

The CDC did not attempt to estimate the number of illegal abortions that may have occurred during the same period.