Newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the U.S. abortion rate increased in 2019 for the second consecutive year, marking an apparent statistical reversal of a long-term decline.
The CDC’s most recent Abortion Surveillance report indicated that the U.S. abortion rate among reporting states increased by 0.9%, from 11.2 to 11.3 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 from 2017 to 2018, and also by 0.9%, from 11.3 to 11.4 abortions per 1,000 women from 2018 to 2019.
Actual figures are likely higher because the CDC’s abortion data is not comprehensive or complete. Several states haven’t consistently reported their annual numbers to the agency, and California, the nation’s most populous state, hasn’t reported its data to the CDC since 1997.
“The data CDC compiles are limited and do not include information on the reasons for abortion or availability of abortion services, and the completeness of abortion data in reporting areas can vary from year to year,” the agency said in an email to The Washington Times.
The CDC said “it is not clear if this represents an upward trend” after two years of slight increases, and “continued surveillance is needed” to determine the reason for the shift because the data is “difficult to interpret.”
The abortion rate declined steadily in the CDC report from 2010 to 2018.
The pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, which compiles more comprehensive abortion data directly from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, reported that the overall U.S. abortion rate declined by 53% from 1980 to 2017 — right up to the point that the CDC’s report shows a rise.
The CDC said the overall number of abortions among reporting states increased by 1.7%, from 614,820 in 2018 to 624,326 in 2019.
And it said the percentage of all abortions performed by chemical abortion, the so-called abortion pill, increased by 10% in 2019. More than 4 in 10 of all abortions that year were performed with a pill rather than surgically.
The CDC defines “early medical abortion,” the technical name for chemical abortions, as “the administration of medications — typically mifepristone followed by misoprostol — to induce an abortion at nine or fewer completed weeks of pregnancy.”
“It is unknown what, if any, effect the increase in early medical abortions had on the overall abortion rate,” the CDC said in its email. “The development of early medical abortion regimens has allowed for an increasing proportion of abortions to be performed early in gestation.”
Among those states reporting consistently to the CDC, the percentage of all abortions performed by chemical abortion increased by 123% from 2010 to 2019.
Michael New, a political scientist who teaches at The Catholic University of America, credited the two-year rise in the U.S. abortion rate to a 2016 change in the availability of the abortion pill, which the Food and Drug Administration first approved in 2000.
“An important reason behind this increase in the abortion rate was a rise in chemical abortions,” Mr. New said.
The CDC email refers to a two-dose regimen in which women take the first pill in the presence of a doctor and the second at home to end a pregnancy. In 2016, the FDA changed the labeling for the abortion drug Mifeprex (mifepristone) to allow chemical abortions to be obtained later in pregnancy with fewer doctor visits required.
“I argue that this played a role in the recent increase in the number of chemical abortions,” Mr. New said.
Since the FDA has permanently lifted the requirement for an in-person medical exam during the pandemic, women can now take both pills at home in most states, making it possible that abortion numbers will continue to rise.
Tessa Longbons, a senior research associate at the nonprofit Charlotte Lozier Institute, which promotes pro-life public health policies, said the 20 states that so far have released their 2020 abortion data have given early signs that “chemical abortions rose dramatically from 2019” yet again.
“The use of the abortion pill continues to increase,” said Ms. Longbons, who analyzes abortion statistics nationally.