In 2005, the last year for which there are statistics, there were 1.2 million abortions in the United States – the lowest number since 1976.

The statistics were released in a report by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, and represent a decline of nearly 25 per cent from 1990, when they peaked at 1.6 million. The numbers have fallen 9 per cent since 2000, when there were 1.3 million abortions in the U.S. It appears that the numbers include chemical abortions, with RU-486 accounting for 13 per cent of abortions.

The report, published in the March 2008 issue of the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, also shows that the abortion rate has fallen. In 2005, the number of abortions for every thousand women aged 15-44 was 19.4, the lowest figure since 1974. The peak rate was 29.3 in 1981.

The proportion of pregnancies ending in abortion also declined, falling from 24.5 per cent in 2000 to 22.4 per cent in 2005. The peak rate was 30.4 in 1983. In the 1980s, one in three pregnancies ended in abortion, but today just one in five does.

The Guttmacher Institute report does not suggest a reason for the trend, but a Washington Post news article speculated it was due to decreased access to abortion services, increased use of contraception and the abortifacient morning-after pill or some combination of factors. Rachel K. Jones of the Guttmacher Institute told the Post, “It could be more women (are) using contraception and not having as many unintended pregnancies. It could be more restrictions on abortions making it more difficult for women to obtain abortion services. It could be a combination of these and other dynamics.”

Pro-abortion groups opportunistically used the numbers to complain about the lack of access to abortion, suggesting the decline reflected the fact that 87 per cent of U.S. counties do not have abortion facilities, although only a third of American women live in such counties and they can still seek abortions in hospitals and clinics in neighboring communities.

Ultimately, the cause is unknowable, but the National Right to Life Committee said the numbers reflected the success of pro-life educational outreach and legislative initiatives that regulate access. Randall K. O’Bannon, NRLC director of education and research, said, the “numbers confirm what we have known for years: if women seeking abortion are fully informed about the risks surrounding abortion, the development of their unborn child and public and private assistance available in their area, they are more likely to reject the idea of abortion.” He cited parental involvement laws, women’s right to know legislation, the ban on partial-birth abortion and other limits on abortion as contributors to women rethinking their decisions about abortion or carrying a child to term.

According to Focus on the Family, in recent years, pro-life activists and legislators have been instrumental in getting 26 states to pass women’s right to know laws, 35 states to enact parental involvement (either notification or permission) laws and require 10 states to make provisions for women to view ultrasounds of their unborn children.

O’Bannan said such laws “not only help women facing crisis pregnancies, they also raise the public’s awareness about abortion and the humanity of the unborn child.”

He added, “What the pro-life movement has done, and continues to do, has saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Falling abortion rates are a sure sign that, given truthful information about abortion, about its impact on their lives, about the child growing inside them, and given even the slightest help and encouragement, many women will choose life.”

Reflecting on the 1.2 million abortions, O’Bannan said, “It’s still a massive number, but it’s moving in the right direction.”

The report was based on a survey of all abortionists known to the Guttmacher Institute and the Washington Post reports that it is “considered one of the most authoritative sources of data on abortions in the United States.”