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Trends in Abortions by Age in the United States
Tessa Longbons | 05 November 2020
Historically, college-age women have been the most vulnerable to abortion. Pregnancy centers have provided outreach, resources, and education to young high school and college-age women, work that they continue to do. The latest abortion surveillance report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for 2016 shows that women in their early twenties account for the largest percentage of abortions and experience the highest abortion rate of any age group, the continuation of a long-term trend.[i] However, a review of more recent available state data shows that could be changing.
The Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) identified 33 states that reported abortions by age for 2016, 2017, and 2018 in the age ranges used by CDC: teens, 20-24, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, and 40 or older.[ii] In these states as a whole, abortion rates declined among young women in their teens and early twenties between 2016 and 2018. In contrast, the abortion rate held steady for women in their late twenties, and rates actually increased for women ages 30 to 34 and 35 to 39. In these 33 states, the abortion rate for women in their late twenties (16.4) has almost caught up to the early twenties abortion rate (16.5).
In fact, women ages 25 to 29 experienced the highest total number of abortions of any age group in the 33 states in 2018, despite experiencing an overall abortion rate slightly below women ages 20 to 24. Women in their mid to late twenties and thirties, often termed “Millennials,” make up the largest groups of women of reproductive age (ages 15 to 44) in the United States.[iii] In 2019, there were 11.5 million women ages 25 to 29, 11.1 million ages 30 to 34, and 10.9 million ages 35 to 39. In comparison, there were just 10.3 million women ages 15 to 19, 10.6 million ages 20 to 24, and 10.0 million women ages 40 to 44. As a result, the sheer number of women in their late twenties meant they accounted for the largest number of abortions in the 33 states in 2018.
Fortunately, these changing demographic trends have not caught pregnancy centers by surprise. A recent report from CLI on the impact of pregnancy centers over the past few decades shows that pregnancy centers have grown along with the current generation of young women.[iv] Centers first began to medicalize, adding ultrasound machines and other resources, in 1985, as the first millennial women were born. By 2019, 2,700 pregnancy centers were serving nearly 2 million people every year, and the value these centers have contributed to their communities approaches $270 million. These centers provide a host of resources that are useful to women of all ages and especially important to the wellbeing of moms in their twenties, such as parenting classes (86 percent of centers), material resources (94 percent), and STD/STI testing (30 percent).
Besides marking a shift in abortions by age group, 2018 was significant as the first year in which all women of reproductive age – ages 15 to 44 – were born after Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Almost all women having abortions today were born after abortion was legalized across the United States. Consequently, the mothers of these women were some of the first to be served by pregnancy centers as the movement began to grow in the 1970s and 1980s. As the latest CLI report notes, pregnancy centers have stood the test of time to assist women and families in choosing life. Pregnancy centers served these women before they were born, and they continue to adapt to meet the needs of women best as they have babies of their own.
[ii] State abortion reports from AL, AK, AR, AZ, CO, CT, DE, GA, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NE, NJ, ND, NV, OH, PA, SD, TN, UT, VT, WI
[iii] See CDC WONDER Online Database Bridged-Race Population Estimates 1990-2019. https://wonder.cdc.gov/Bridged-Race-v2019.HTML
is a research associate with the Charlotte Lozier Institute, based in Arlington, VA. Her research focuses on abortion statistics at the state and national levels. It tracks U.S. abortion trends, the characteristics of abortions and abortion providers in the United States, and the impact of abortion on women. For more up-to-date analysis of state abortion reports, please see: https://lozierinstitute.org/state-abortion-reporting/