Abortion by the Numbers
Tens of millions of Americans were just stripped of their constitutional right to a safe and legal abortion. Here are some important abortion statistics to help keep things in perspective.
By Ashley Ziegler
On Friday, June 24, the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) voted to overturn nearly 50 years of precedent that was set by the case Roe vs. Wade. Up until then, the court’s 1973 ruling in Roe vs. Wade entitled women in the U.S. to the right to a safe, legal abortion in every state across the country. Because of the recent SCOTUS decision, that right is no longer protected on a federal level, and it’s now up to each state to determine whether or not they want abortions to be legally available to their citizens.
Abortion has long been a divisive issue in the U.S., but as states have enacted “trigger laws” in the days following the SCOTUS decision, we’re all beginning to see the reality of what a post-Roe America looks like–and it’s not exactly pretty. Health care facilities and providers are scrambling because the specifics of some of these new laws are unclear, stories of ectopic pregnancies and near-death experiences are going viral on social media, and millions of women have lost their right to medical care in one sweeping motion.
Needless to say, emotions are high right now. And when that happens, facts tend to get buried (or blatantly ignored). So, to help you keep things in perspective as this situation continues to evolve, here are some important statistics on abortion in the U.S.
How Americans Feel About Abortion Laws
Right now, it may seem like this is a pretty black-and-white issue. You’re either for abortion rights, or you’re not. But when you start looking at the facts, that’s not actually how Americans feel about it.
In March of 2022, Pew Research surveyed more than 10,000 people to ask them how they felt about the legality of abortion and reproductive rights, and it turned out only 8 percent of people polled believe abortion should be completely illegal with no exceptions, and only 19 percent believe it should be legal without exceptions. The vast majority, 71 percent, felt there should be some combination (either mostly legal with some exceptions, or mostly illegal with some exceptions).
Here’s a detailed breakdown:
- 73 percent believe abortion should be legal when the woman’s health or life is in danger; 11 percent believe it should still be illegal in this case
- 70 percent believe abortion should be legal if the pregnancy is the result of rape; 15 percent believe it should be illegal in this situation
- 61 percent believe abortion should be legal more often than not
- 53 percent think abortion should be legal if the baby is likely to be born with severe disabilities or health problems; 19 percent think it should still be illegal and 25 percent say “it depends” in this situation
When asked about what they think would help reduce the number of abortions in the U.S.,
- 65 percent said increased support for pregnant women
- 60 percent said expanded sex education
- 58 percent said increased support for parents
- 57 percent said stricter abortion laws
Abortion Rates and Demographics in the U.S.
Now that we have a better idea of what Americans think about abortion law, let’s take a look at some of the specifics surrounding the procedure. How many abortions are performed in the U.S. every year? Who is getting abortions? Where are abortions most common? Some of this information may surprise you.
How common are abortions?
The Guttmacher Institute has collected data annually for years on the number of legal induced abortions in the U.S., so they’re able to provide an excellent picture of how common the procedure is. Their June 2022 analysis includes the following data:
- There were 930,160 abortions in the U.S. in 2020
- This is an 8 percent increase from 2017
- There was a 6 percent decline in births in 2020 compared to 2017, and the ratio of abortions to births in 2020 was 12 percent higher than in 2017
What abortion method is more common?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) splits abortion into two categories: medication abortion, which is the use of the prescription drugs mifepristone and misoprostol (up to nine weeks), and surgical abortion, which is performed by a health care provider. According to Pew Research, in 2019, 44 percent of all legal abortions in the U.S. were medication abortions and 56 percent were surgical abortions. Abortion data from the CDC indicates that there has been a significant rise in medication abortions, with a 10 percent increase in use from 2018 to 2019, and a 123 percent increase from 2010 to 2019.
When are abortions performed?
In 2019, the CDC said 92.7 percent of all abortions were performed at 13 weeks of gestation or earlier, 6.2 percent were done when the parent was between 14 and 20 weeks pregnant, and less than 1 percent were performed after 21 weeks of pregnancy.
Who gets abortions?
There are a lot of assumptions and stereotypes about the people that choose to have an abortion, so you might find yourself surprised by some of this data.
Abortions by age in 2019 (ratios per 1,000 women):
- 14 years old or less: 0.4
- 15 to 19 years old: 6
- 20 to 24 years old: 19
- 25 to 29 years old: 18.6
- 30 to 34 years old: 13
- 35 to 39 years old: 7.4
- 40 years old or more: 2.7
Race and ethnicity of women who underwent abortions in 2019:
- Non-Hispanic White Women: 33.4 percent
- Non-Hispanic Black Women: 38.4 percent
- Hispanic Women: 21 percent
- Non-Hispanic Women (other race categories): 7.2 percent
Marital status of women who underwent abortions in 2019:
- 14.5 percent were married
- 85.5 percent were unmarried
Parental status of women who underwent abortions in 2019:
- 40.2 percent had no children
- 24.5 percent had one child
- 20 percent had two children
- 9.2 percent had three children
- 6 percent had four or more children
Abortion history of women who had abortions in 2019:
- 58.2 percent had no prior abortions
- 23.8 percent had one prior abortion
- 10.5 percent had two prior abortions
- 7.5 percent had three or more prior abortions
Changes in the number of abortions between 2017 and 2020, by location
- 12 percent rise in the west
- 10 percent rise in the midwest
- 8 percent rise in the south
- 2 percent rise in the northeast
While there is more detailed data concerning the number of abortions by individual states during this period of time, there weren’t any clear patterns or explanations found for significant changes.
Safety of Abortions
Whether you agree with the statement or not, you’ve probably heard someone, at some point, say that abortion is health care. There are a lot of reasons for this, from ectopic pregnancies to cancer therapy to miscarriages. Additionally, the risk of complications or death in abortion versus pregnancy and childbirth is significantly lower, which is an important factor when you’re considering health care.
On average, only around 2 percent of patients who seek abortion care report complications (and when they do, they are usually minor, including pain, bleeding, infection, and post-anesthesia complications). In contrast, when collecting patient data from 2014 to 2018, Blue Cross Blue Shield found that 16.4 percent of their customers experienced complications from pregnancy and 14.2 percent experienced complications from childbirth.
As for mortality rates, in 2018 there were 619,591 legal abortions in the U.S. with only two reported deaths, which comes out to a mortality rate of .0003 percent. In 2020, there were 3,605,201 live births and 860 deaths of women from the time they became pregnant to up to 42 days after delivery, which comes out to a 0.02 percent mortality rate.
In cases where a person may face a high-risk pregnancy or childbirth, they are statistically less likely to suffer complications or death if they undergo an abortion.
Where Abortion Stands Now
In just over a week, the status of abortion in the U.S. continues to change dramatically. As of now, six states have total abortion bans in place, four states’ bans have been blocked by the courts, and seven states will have total abortion bans in place very soon (some of these laws offer exceptions to the bans, others do not). Other states have abortion restrictions in place that will likely become even more limited, while a handful of states already have laws that protect abortion rights. It’s a quickly evolving situation, and there are a lot of unknowns as the ripple effects of this SCOTUS decision continue to emerge. (You can track changes in state laws here.)
Abortion Surveillance – United States, 2018
Abortion Surveillance – United States, 2019
Births: Provisional Data for 2020
Center for Disease Control and Prevention Reproductive Health Data and Statistics
Long-Term Decline in US Abortions Reverses, Showing Rising Need for Abortion as Supreme Court is Poised to Overturn Roe v. Wade
Maternal Mortality Rates in the United States, 2020
Rates of Legal Abortions in the U.S. in 2019, by age
Trends in Pregnancy and Childbirth Complications in the U.S.