TUESDAY, Sept. 23, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Abortions in the United States fell 33 percent between 1974 and 2004, but sizeable differences among racial and economic groups continue to exist as to who gets an abortion, a new report says.
While the number of abortions among teens has also dropped dramatically, down 50 percent, abortion rates are still high among older women with children and poor women, according to the report from the Guttmacher Institute.
"There's been a shift in the population of women obtaining abortions relative to 30 years ago," said Rachel Jones, a senior research associate at the institute. "They are older, they are more likely to be unmarried, more likely to be mothers, and they are more likely to be women of color."
One of the largest factors in the decline has been the drop in teenage pregnancies and abortions, Jones said. "We've done a lot of work addressing teen pregnancy, including comprehensive sex education, access to contraceptive services and providing kids with information to help them delay sexual activity," she said.
Most U.S. women having abortions today come from lower income groups, she said.
The rate of abortions in the United States has dropped 33 percent from 1974 to 2004. In 1980 there were 29 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44; by 2004, that number had dropped to 20 per 1,000 women, according to the report.
While the abortion rate has dropped among all racial groups, it remains three times higher among Hispanic women and five times higher among black women, compared to white women, the report found.
From 1994 to 2004, the rate of abortions among Hispanic women fell by 20 percent, from 35 per 1,000 women to 28 per 1,000 women. The drop in the abortion rate over the same period for white women was 30 percent; for black women, it was 15 percent.
Other findings in the report, titled Trends in the Characteristics of Women Obtaining Abortions, 1974 to 2004, include:
- The teen abortion rate dropped from 33 percent in 1974 to 17 percent in 2004.
- 57 percent of abortions in 2004 were among women in their 20s.
- Most abortions (89 percent) in 2004 occurred during the first trimester.
- Abortions performed at seven weeks or sooner after pregnancy increased from 16 percent in 1994 to 28 percent in 2004.
- 60 percent of abortions in 2004 were among women who already had children, up from 50 percent in 1989 and 46 percent in 1974.
Laurie Rubiner, vice president of public policy at Planned Parenthood, said the report underscores the disparities in women's health care in the United States.
"This study highlights what we at Planned Parenthood see every day -- affordable access to birth control is the best way to prevent unintended pregnancies," Rubiner said. "Unfortunately, there are more than 45 million uninsured Americans and more than 17 million American women who need help getting their [birth control] pills filled," she said.
The report also illustrated the widening gap between those with insurance and those without, Rubiner said.
Dr. Michael F. Greene, director of obstetrics at Massachusetts General Hospital, and a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School, called the report's findings an "encouraging" trend.
"Nobody wants to see more abortions occurring," Greene said, adding that the decision to have an abortion isn't an easy one.
"Women don't make this decision based upon whether it's simple and easy and they can fit it in between going to lunch and getting their nails done. There is a tendency for people to try to trivialize this, and that's nonsense. It's a difficult decision for any woman," he said.
Wendy Wright is executive vice president of Concerned Women for America, which describes itself as the "nation's largest public policy women's organization" that strives to "bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy."
She said the new report was designed to get more funding for contraception and education about contraception, so it can't be taken as "gospel truth."
Wright doesn't agree that abortion is a consequence of unintended pregnancy. "In talking with women who have had abortions, we find that there are many reasons for abortions, other than the 'oops' factor," she said. "Many women felt that they were coerced into it -- they may have wanted the baby, but they were pressured into an abortion by other people -- boyfriend, husband, parents, jobs, universities or such."
For more on abortion, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.