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SURVEY OF COUNTRIES WITH
LIBERAL ABORTION LAWS FINDS ABORTIONS CONCENTRATED AMONG WOMEN IN THEIR 20s

Decline in American Teen Abortion Rate Puts United States
on Par With Some Industrialized Counterparts, but More
Progress Is Needed

A new study of countries with liberal abortion laws finds that abortion is more common among women in their 20s than among women of other ages, according to "Legal Abortion Levels and Trends by Woman’s Age at Termination," by Gilda Sedgh et al. of the Guttmacher Institute. A large body of research has shown that this group often wants to postpone childbearing, which would interrupt their ability to work or complete their schooling; in addition, many young adult women have yet to establish stable partner relationships. The current study found that recent declines in the teen abortion rate in the United States (now at 20 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–19) have put the United States on par for the first time with several other industrialized countries, including England and Wales, Scotland, Sweden and New Zealand. This marks a considerable change from the mid-1990s, when the U.S. teen abortion rate was substantially higher than that of any other industrialized nation.

“We know from previous studies that the decline in the U.S. teen abortion rate has been driven by increased contraceptive use and the use of more effective methods by American teens, which has decreased unintended pregnancy within this group,” says Susan Cohen, director of government affairs at the Guttmacher Institute. “By improving coverage and eliminating cost barriers, the Affordable Care Act should help accelerate this positive trend, allowing American women, including teens, greater access to the most effective contraceptive methods.”

Despite these improvements, the teen abortion rate in the United States remains roughly three times that in the Netherlands or Germany (6–7 per 1,000). The authors attribute this difference to a number of factors, including that, compared with the United States, many European countries provide better access to contraceptive services and comprehensive sex education and have a more pragmatic approach to adolescent sexuality.

Analyzing data from government statistics and nationally representative sample surveys for more than 40 countries where abortion is legal, the authors found that the abortion rate was typically higher among 20–24-year-olds than among women in any other age-group.

“There is a large gap between the time women become sexually active and when they are ready to have a family, and this creates a window of risk for experiencing an unintended pregnancy,” says Gilda Sedgh, the study’s lead author. “These women are in particular need of the most effective forms of contraception to help reduce their risk of unintended pregnancy and the abortions that often follow.”

The study, "Legal Abortion Levels and Trends by Woman’s Age at Termination," by Gilda Sedgh et al., appears in the September 2012 issue of International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

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