A new analysis from The Alan Guttmacher Institute shows that U.S. abortion rates continued to decline in 2001 and 2002, although the rate of decline has slowed since the early 1990s. The Institute estimates that 1,303,000 abortions took place in the United States in 2001—0.8% fewer than the 1,313,000 in 2000. In 2002, the number of abortions declined again, to 1,293,000, or another 0.8%. The rate of abortion also declined, from 21.3 procedures per 1,000 women aged 15–44 in 2000 to 21.1 in 2001 and 20.9 in 2002.

Since 1973, the Guttmacher Institute has estimated the number of abortions performed in the United States by periodically conducting a census of all known abortion providers. The most recent survey reported on abortions in 2000. Since that time, limited national abortion incidence data have been available. Yet demands for more recent data, resulting in part from media reports, opinion pieces and public speeches speculating that abortion has increased as a result of Bush administration policies, have prompted the Institute to analyze available government data as an interim measure until another provider census can be conducted.

“It takes time for political decisions to be reflected in the statistical data, so it is too soon to tell what the impact of Bush administration policies will be on U.S. abortion rates,” says Sharon Camp, president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute. “We will be keeping a watchful eye on what our policymakers do both to help and to hinder women’s efforts to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and how that affects abortion rates going forward.”

Changes in the abortion rate are difficult to interpret without a broader context. Abortion may decline because fewer women are faced with unintended pregnancies, or because fewer women who accidentally become pregnant end their pregnancies by abortion. The most recent estimates of unintended pregnancy rates are for the year 1994; the Guttmacher Institute is currently updating these estimates to 2002, which will shed some light on the immediate causes of abortion declines.

Because these abortion estimates are not based on a comprehensive census, they are subject to some limitations and should be considered provisional.

For the full report and methodology, see “Estimates of U.S. Abortion Incidence in 2001 and 2002.”