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How common is abortion in the U.S.? Your questions, answered

Pew Research Center released a new look at abortion statistics on Friday, May 27

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It’s been four weeks since Politico published a leaked opinion draft showing the Supreme Court will likely overturn Roe v. Wade, but the justices have not yet issued their final decision. As the country continues to wait — and to debate state-level policies — researchers are taking a deeper look at abortion data.

In a new analysis, Pew Research Center compiles statistics from a number of key sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to explore how many abortions take place in the United States each year and who gets them, among other topics. The report presents a snapshot of where the country stands today, as well as where it could be headed.

Here are some notable data points from Pew’s analysis and an update on when to expect the Supreme Court’s final ruling:

How many abortions happen each year in the U.S.?

It’s hard to know the exact number of abortions that take place in the U.S. each year, since some procedures occur at home without medical supervision, according to Pew. However, organizations like the CDC and the Guttmacher Institute work hard to offer educated guesses, drawing on data from local health agencies and medical providers.

According to the CDC, which uses reports from state agencies to calculate an annual abortion total, 629,898 abortions occurred in the U.S. in 2019 (the latest year for which data is available.) The 2019 count did not include procedures that took place in California, Maryland or New Hampshire, since officials in those states did not share their data with the CDC, Pew noted.

The Guttmacher Institute calculates its annual abortion total by contacting abortion providers across the country. It uses the data from providers that choose to participate to estimate the results for the providers that don’t. Through this process, the institute determined that 862,320 abortions took place nationwide in 2017.

Has the number of abortions per year risen or fallen over time?

Both the CDC and the Guttmacher Institute believe the country’s annual abortion total has been declining for the past three decades.

“Guttmacher recorded more than 1.5 million abortions in the U.S. in 1991, almost 75% more than the 862,320 it reported in 2017. The CDC reported just over 1 million abortions in 1991 and 629,898 in 2019,” Pew reported,

However, the rise of the internet and, more recently, the rise of online pharmacy services has led some researchers to question the accuracy of these trend lines.

“If the reduction is caused by increased access to and use of effective methods of contraception, we can celebrate the public health achievement,” wrote Diana Greene Foster for the American Journal of Public Health in 2017. But if it instead stems from an increase in at-home abortions, she continued, “the numbers should prompt public health advocates and researchers to action.”

Who gets abortions in the U.S.?

The CDC’s 2019 data included enough demographic details to allow researchers to get a sense of which Americans are the mostly likely to seek out abortions. The statistics, although incomplete, showed that the most common abortion recipient in 2019 was an unmarried 20-something who had not had an abortion before.

In terms of race and ethnicity, “in the District of Columbia and 29 states that reported racial and ethnic data on abortion to the CDC, 38% of all women who had abortions in 2019 were non-Hispanic Black, while 33% were non-Hispanic White, 21% were Hispanic and 7% were of other races or ethnicities,” according to Pew.

And in terms of family history, the CDC data showed that, “4 in 10 women who had abortions in 2019 (40%) had no previous live births at the time they had an abortion. ... A quarter of women (25%) who had abortions in 2019 had one previous live birth, 20% had two previous live births, 9% had three and 6% had four or more previous live births,” Pew reported.

At what point in pregnancy does the typical abortion occur?

According to the CDC, 93% of abortions in the U.S. in 2019 occurred during the first trimester. Just 1% were performed after the halfway point of a pregnancy — at 21 weeks or later.

“These CDC figures include data from 42 states and New York City (but not the rest of New York),” Pew noted.

How do Americans feel about abortion?

Previous research from Pew has shown that Americans are not as divided over abortion rights as is commonly assumed. While it’s possible to split the country into two camps — 61% of U.S. adults think abortion should be legal in all or most cases and 37% say it should be illegal in all or most cases — just 27% of Americans hold what Pew called an “absolutist” view.

“Nearly one-in-five U.S. adults (19%) say that abortion should be legal in all cases, with no exceptions. Fewer (8%) say abortion should be illegal in every case, without exception. By contrast, 71% either say it should be mostly legal or mostly illegal, or say there are exceptions to their blanket support for, or opposition to, legal abortion,” Pew reported.

A large majority of Americans agree that abortion should be an option when there’s a threat to the mother’s health or when the pregnancy resulted from rape, as the Deseret News noted in its coverage of Pew’s survey.

What’s happening in the Supreme Court’s abortion case?

Under current legal precedent, women have a right to an abortion up until the point of fetal viability, which is around 24 weeks. Past rulings, including Roe v. Wade, have been interpreted to prevent states from barring abortion at an earlier point.

However, in recent years, a variety of conservative states have passed laws violating this standard in hopes of forcing the Supreme Court to revisit or even overturn Roe v. Wade. This term’s abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, centers on one such policy in Mississippi, which outlaws most abortions after 15 weeks.

If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade — and the Politico leak implied it will — control over abortion rights will return to state policymakers. Many legislatures have passed new abortion restrictions in recent weeks in anticipation of this outcome.

The Supreme Court’s final decision in the Dobbs case could come on any upcoming opinion day, the dates of which have not been announced yet. Typically, the justices wrap up each term by the end of June.