The number of abortions in the USA has fallen to the lowest level since the procedure became legal in 1973, according to a new study that cites a decrease in pregnancies rather than tighter restrictions on abortion.
The report from the Guttmacher Institute, which attempts to track all abortions in the USA, counted 862,000 abortions in 2017 – a 7% decline since 2014 – in what it calls "the continuation of a long-term trend." The study reported more than 1 million abortions in 2011.
The study says the 13.5 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 is the lowest since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide in 1973.
After that ruling, the number of abortions rose to a high of 1.6 million in 1990 before dropping steadily.
The institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, gathers its data through inquiries of individual providers. Federal data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention excludes California, Maryland and New Hampshire.
Take a closer look: Fewer women are having abortions. Why?
Areas with the highest abortion rates in 2017 were the District of Columbia, New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Florida. Rates were lowest in Wyoming, South Dakota, Kentucky, Idaho and Missouri.
The Guttmacher report says the increase of state abortion restrictions in the Midwest and South from 2014 to 2017 does not appear to be the primary driver of declining abortion rates.
From 2011 to 2017, the number of clinics providing abortions in the USA fell by less than 4%, from 839 to 808. During that time, 86% of new abortion restrictions occurred in the South and the Midwest.
From 2011 to 2017, the South had a net decline of 50 clinics – 25 in Texas alone – and the Midwest had a net decline of 33 clinics, including nine each in Iowa, Michigan and Ohio. The West lost a net of seven clinics. By contrast, the Northeast added a net 59 clinics, mostly in New Jersey and New York.
The study says 57% of the decline in the number of abortions nationwide happened in the 18 states and the District of Columbia that did not adopt any abortion restrictions.
"There was also no consistent relationship between increases or decreases in clinic numbers and changes in state abortion rates," the report says.
Guttmacher President Herminia Palacio said abortion restrictions, regardless of whether they lead to fewer abortions, “are coercive and cruel by design,” having a disproportionate impact on low-income women, The Associated Press reported.
The study notes that fertility rates declined in almost all states from 2014 to 2017, "and it is unlikely that the decline in abortion was due to an increase in unintended births."
Factors that may have contributed to the decline in abortion are improvements in contraceptive use and access to them, a decline in pregnancy rates and increases in the number of individuals relying on self-managed abortions outside a clinical setting, the study says.
The study notes that women who have abortions increasingly rely on medication rather than surgery. Medication abortion, using the so-called abortion pill, accounted for 39% of abortions in 2017, up from 29% in 2014.
Support for legal abortion is at its highest level in more than two decades, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll that found a 60% majority say abortion should be legal in most or all cases.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Abortion rate decline due to fewer pregnancies, not new laws: Study