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NCHS Report Offers Revealing Statistics on Abortion, Pregnancy from 1990 to 2008

by | Jun 22, 2012

By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL-ETF Director of Education & Research

The June 12, 2012, report from National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) on “Estimated Pregnancy Rates and Rates of Pregnancy Outcomes for the United States, 1990-2008″ does not contain newer abortion numbers. But when it comes to unborn children, the report does provide valuable historical perspective that shows significant changes occurring over the past two decades in the lives of women of reproductive age and in the larger American culture 

We have known for some time that abortions reached their peak in the U.S. in 1990, topping out at 1.6 million, before dropping 25% to about 1.2 million in the mid 2000s. (The latest figure was 1,212,400 for 2008.)  This report republishes that data, but places it in the larger context of changing pregnancy and birth treads. The results are very interesting.

Overall, pregnancy rates have declined, going  in 1990 from 115.8 per thousand women of reproductive age (generally, women ages 15-44) to 105.5 in 2008.   Not surprisingly, this drop in pregnancy rates was seen in women of all age groups up to 29 years old. 

But during that same time frame, there were increases in both pregnancy rates and live birth rates for women between 30 and 44 years old.  The clear implication is that more women are waiting to begin their childbearing. 

Abortion statistics also show a similar pattern.  Abortion rates declined substantially for women under 30, but rates for older women were either up or only slightly down.  Multiple explanations are plausible, but two stand out.  

The longer a woman delays childbearing, the greater the possibility the child might have some genetic disability. Owing to both increased prenatal genetic testing and high rates of abortion for “undesired” results, both these factors would lead to increased numbers of abortions–or at least higher abortion rates for women in these upper age groups.

Another possible explanation is simply that this reflects an ongoing generational shift, that each new generation of women becomes less tolerant of abortion than the one before.

One significant new kind of data in this report is information on “fetal loss,” that is, estimates of the numbers of children lost to miscarriage and still birth. Though some very early miscarriages may go undetected, the NCHS has used data from the 1982, 1988, 1995, 2002, and 2006-10 National Surveys of Family Growth to calculate annual fetal loss figures.

By NCHS’s calculations, about 17% of all recognized pregnancies ended in a spontaneous fetal loss in 2008. By comparison 18.4%, or slightly less than 1 in 5, ended in abortion. 

Significantly, abortion rates have been decreasing –from a high in 1980 the NCHS calculates at 29.4 abortions for every 1,000 women aged 15-44 to 19.4 in 2008. Fetal loss rates have been increasing, from 13.4 in 1976 to 17.9 in 2008 (highest was 18.2 in 2007). 

While likely a function, again, of higher pregnancy rates in general among older women, in which, the data shows, fetal losses are higher, some could also be a residual effect of the damage caused by earlier abortions.

While abortion rates were generally down across the board for all demographic groups (excepting older women), they remained higher for Hispanic and particularly Non-Hispanic black women.

NCHS statistics have overall abortion rates dropping by 29% from 1990 to 2008, with drops occurring in every racial category.  But rates for Hispanics in 2008 were still more than twice that of Non-Hispanic whites and rates for Non-Hispanic blacks were nearly five times what they were for Non-Hispanic whites.  Some of this is a reflection of higher pregnancy rates among these groups, but those rates were only 1.6 higher for blacks and 1.5 higher for Hispanics.

It is clear from the report that significant progress has been made.  In 1990, NCHS says that 23.7% of all pregnancies ended in abortion.  By 2008, that figure had dropped to 18.4%.  A long way to go, but definitely progress.

Some progress has also been seen among blacks and Hispanics, as their abortion rates have declined.  But these are still much higher than they are for whites, indicating that the pro-life movement still has a lot further to go with these demographics. 

The abortion industry continues to market to these women, so there will be fierce competition—one to save life, the other to extinguish it.

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Categories: Abortion