CDC Report Indicates U.S. Abortions Increasing, But Large Swath of National Data Missing

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday that abortions in the United States appear to be inching upward; however, officials warned that the data is incomplete.

The Associated Press reported that while in 2017 abortion rates reached their lowest level since 1973, there were small increases in the numbers over the past two years, despite several states' efforts to stop them.

The CDC report shows the latest available abortion data. In 2018, the numbers rose by 1 percent, then rose another 2 percent in 2019. That year, the rate of abortions per 1,000 women of child-bearing age rose another 1 percent.

However, the CDC said this data must be interpreted cautiously, as it is based on voluntary reporting. Also, it does not include data from three states, including California, the country's most populous state.

The Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based nonprofit research organization that supports abortion rights, told the AP this means that as much as 30 percent of U.S. abortions might not have been reflected in the data. The CDC also worries that some states might have significant undercounts.

The Guttmacher Institute conducts a survey of all U.S. abortion providers every three years. Rachel Jones, the project's lead researcher, told the AP the CDC and the institute's reports have historically shown similar trends, despite the CDC's data gaps. The institute's next survey is due to come out next year.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

abortion, pro-choice
U.S. abortions appear to be inching up after a long decline, though officials are cautious about calling it an upward trend because a government report issued November 24 is incomplete. Above, Emily Halvorson, center, of Washington, with Planned Parenthood, joins groups of abortion-rights and anti-abortion activists as they rally outside the Supreme Court on November 1 as arguments are set to begin about abortion by the court on Capitol Hill in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin, File/AP Photo

U.S. births have been declining for more than a decade, meaning for years both births and abortions have been falling.

The idea that abortions may be increasing lately may be surprising, especially given recent efforts in many states to restrict abortions.

"If it means more people are getting access to care when they need it, than this is a positive development," Jones said.

An increase could be related to access and use of birth control, and it may even be tied to whether more people are having sex, she said.

Overall, there were about 630,000 abortions reported to CDC in 2019. The abortion rate was 11.4 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years. That year, 56 percent of the reported abortions were surgical and about 44 percent were through use of the so-called abortion pill.

The report also showed about 18 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. ended in abortion.

Jones noted that it is hard to make general statements about U.S. abortion trends because there can be dramatic differences from one state to the next. And numbers in one state can increase if women are traveling there from other states.

It's not yet clear what abortion trends will look like for 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some states—including Indiana, Iowa and Kansas—have reported increases. But it's possible that abortions declined in many places during lockdowns, Jones said.

"Whatever happened in 2020 wasn't just a matter of a long-term trend. It also was impacted by COVID," she said.

abortion, pro-choice, pro-life, protest
Though 2017 marked the lowest rate of abortions since 1973, CDC data is showing it inching back upward, though the data is incomplete. Above, pro-choice activists (L) argue with pro-life activists (R) on abortion issues in front of the U.S. Supreme Court January 23, 2006, in Washington, DC. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images