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New Report Shows Long-Term Declines in Teen Pregnancies and Abortions

Reprinted with permission from the National Review

Additional / Updated text noted

Baby Laundry Hanging on a Clothesline

Bioethics in Law & Culture                                                                                                                              Spring  2021       vol. 4  issue  2

Michael New, Ph.D.

Catholic University of America

Last week, the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute released long-term data on rates of pregnancies, births, and abortions in the U.S. The national data range from 1973 to 2017 and include breakdowns by age demographics, and the state-level data range from 1988 to 2017.


These statistics are especially helpful because, while the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provide some information about the age demographics of women obtaining abortions, their data are incomplete. For instance, the CDC’s 2018 Abortion Surveillance Report did not include data from California, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Wyoming.


As a result, this new Guttmacher report provides interesting information for understanding U.S. abortion trends. In 2012, my Lozier Institute colleague Susan Wills analyzed CDC data and found that the largest abortion-rate declines were taking place among younger age demographics.


These new data suggest that the trend is continuing, as the report shows that between 1980 and 2017, the abortion rate for females between the ages of 15 and 19 fell by more than 82 percent. The abortion rate for 35-to-39-year-olds fell by only 8.5 percent during the same timespan.

The large reduction in the teen abortion rate is partly the result of a higher percentage of pregnant teenagers choosing life for their preborn children. According to these new statistics, the percentage of pregnancies carried to term by women ages 15 to 19 between 1980 and 2017 increased by more than 10 percent.

Additional / Updated text: A reason why more teen girls are carrying pregnancies to term is because more states have passed protective, pro-life parental involvement laws. Since 1980, approximately 37 states have enacted these laws which require that minor girls either notify their parents  or receive permission from their parents before obtaining an abortion.  Over 17 academic studies show that parental involvement laws lower the incidence of abortion among minors. Most studies show that minor abortion rate falls by approximately 15 percent once these protective pro-life parental involvement laws take effect.

Another key reason for the substantial drop in the teen abortion rate is that teenagers are now much less likely to become pregnant in the first place. According to Guttmacher, the teen pregnancy rate peaked in 1990 at 117.6 pregnancies per thousand teenaged females (girls 15 to 19). Since then, the teen pregnancy rate has declined by a whopping 73 percent.

This substantial long-term decline in the teen pregnancy rate in the United States is an important public-policy success story. Groups that support legal abortion and their allies in the mainstream media are quick to credit increases in contraception use for these changes. But even some left-wing media outlets such as Vox have admitted that there are other factors, such as the significant, durable, long-term decline in teenage sexual activity.


Data from the National Survey of Family Growth show that, between 1988 and 2015, the percentage of teenage boys (ages 15-19) who had ever had sexual intercourse fell from 60 percent to 38 percent. During the same time period, the percentage of teenage girls (age 15-19) who had ever had sexual intercourse fell from 51 percent to 42 percent. Similarly, data from the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) show that between 1991 and 2017, the percentage of high-school students who had ever had sexual intercourse declined from 54.1 percent to 38.4 percent.


Declining abortion numbers often receive relatively little attention from the mainstream media, but the 53-percent reduction in the U.S. abortion rate since 1980 is good evidence that the pro-life movement has enjoyed some success. This recent sharp decline in the teen-abortion rate might be even better news, as evidence suggests that a high percentage of abortions are repeat abortions. As a result, this significant decline in the teen abortion rate bodes well for the future.


Michael J. New is a Research Associate at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and is an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New

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