U.S. abortion rate falls, but the procedure is still common among certain groups

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The U.S. abortion rate fell 25 percent between 2008 and 2014, though the procedure is still a common experience, according to a new study published Thursday in the Journal of Public Health. The falling rates were also not even across all groups, and the procedure has become increasingly concentrated among lower-income people.

The study found that, in 2008, there were 19.4 abortions per 1,000 women and gender minorities between the ages of 15 and 44. By 2014, that number had fallen to 14.6 per 1,000. The study’s authors suggest that the drop is largely explained by better improved contraceptive use, which experts suggest is one of the main drivers of the falling teen pregnancy rate, as well.

The biggest decline in abortions — 46 percent — was seen among people between the ages of 15 and 19 who are able to become pregnant, and for the first time in 20 years, the abortion rate fell among women who make less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), or a little less than $20,000 per year for a family of three.

But disparities persist.

“Disparities in abortion rates correspond with disparities in unintended pregnancy,” the authors of the study, Guttmacher Institute researchers Rachel Jones and Jenna Jerman, write.

Women and people of color who can get pregnant have higher rates of abortion than white women and gender minorities. Additionally, the study found that the highest abortion rate was seen among people who can get pregnant and have incomes less than 100 percent of the FPL; the decrease among that population was less pronounced.

In 2014, about 49 percent of abortion patients were below the poverty line, while an additional 26 percent made between one and two times the FPL.

“Laws and policies that make abortion more difficult to access have a disproportionate impact on groups overrepresented among abortion patients, particularly those who are poor or low income,” the study’s authors write.

Several states enacted restrictive abortion laws — including Texas, which passed HB2, a law that was later struck down by the Supreme Court — during the time period indicated in Thursday’s study. Jones and Jerman note that those kinds of laws are typically expected to impact lower-income people the most, potentially resulting in an even more dramatic drop among the low-income population.

But this study shows that’s not the case. Instead, Jones and Jerman note that widespread access to long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), as well as health care reforms, keep unintended pregnancies down more effectively.

“Equitable access to wide-range family planning and contraceptive services would better allow women in underserved populations to avoid unintended pregnancy, but these efforts alone will not eliminate these disparities,” Jones and Jerman conclude. “Efforts should also be devoted to making sure that women who want abortions are able to have them without having to overcome financial and logistical barriers.”

Notably, a White House memo that was leaked to Crooked Media on Thursday revealed that the Trump administration wants teenagers to use the “rhythm method” instead of birth control or the kinds of family planning tools that would actually prevent unintended pregnancies.

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