Trends in the Characteristics of Women Obtaining Abortions, 1974-2004 (with supplemental tables)


Stanley K. Henshaw

This study documents 30-year trends in the incidence of abortion as well as the characteristics of women obtaining abortions in the United States. 

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Key Points

Key Points
  • Overall rates of abortion in the United States peaked soon after the procedure was legalized in 1973, remained fairly constant through the 1980s, and have declined steadily since then. However, the overall rate masks large differences and varying patterns across time for demographic subgroups.
  • A substantial drop in the abortion rates of teenagers and women aged 20–24 accounts for much of the overall decline from 1989 to 2004. During this period, the abortion rate of women in their 30s changed little, while the rate of women aged 40 or older increased.
  • The majority of abortions (57%) are obtained by women in their 20s. Minors account for fewer than 7% of all abortions. n Abortion is far more common among unmarried women than married women, although rates for both groups have dropped significantly in the past 15 years.
  • Abortion rates for all racial and ethnic groups have declined recently. The rates now range from 11 per 1,000 for non-Hispanic white women to 28 per 1,000 for Hispanic women and 50 per 1,000 for black women. The widely varying rates reflect differing patterns of contraceptive use, pregnancy and childbearing.
  • Black women account for 37% of abortions, non-Hispanic white women for 34%, Hispanic women 22% and women of other races 8%.
  • Most abortions occur before nine weeks’ gestation, and the proportion of very early abortions (<7 weeks) has increased substantially since 1994. The proportion of abortions performed after 12 weeks of pregnancy has changed little, and fewer than 0.2% take place after 24 weeks. n In 2004, 60% of women having abortions already had children, up from 50% in 1989. n Although 47% of abortions are obtained by women who have had a prior abortion, the proportion of second and subsequent abortions has recently begun to fall. There is no evidence that abortion is being used as a primary method of birth control. n Further research on abortion in the United States should focus on the circumstances facing women in the groups with the highest rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion.


United States

This report is accompanied by a news release.