The rate of abortion among American women has dropped overall, but not among the poorest women, according to study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology by the Guttmacher Institute.
Between 2000 and 2008, abortions among American women aged 15 to 44 fell 8%, reaching a low of 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women. The decline applied to most groups: notably, the abortion rate declined 18% among African American women over that time period and 22% among teens aged 15 to 17.
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However, women living in profound poverty were the one exception. Women whose incomes fell below the federal poverty level ($10,830 for a single woman with no children) accounted for 42% of all abortions in 2008. Between 2000 and 2008, the abortion rate among the lowest-income women climbed from 44 to 53 abortions per 1,000 women — an increase of 18% overall.
The researchers theorize that economic hardship, worsened by the recession, may be to blame. It may limit women’s access to contraception, leading to more unwanted pregnancies, or it may keep women from being able to support a child. “That abortion is becoming increasingly concentrated among poor women suggests the need for better contraceptive access and family planning counseling. It certainly appears these women are being underserved,” said the study’s lead author Rachel K. Jones in a statement.
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The data emerge at a time when federal and state governments are making cuts that may further reduce funding for family planning services that target poor women. Reuters reports:
The recent federal budget deal included a 5.5 percent cut in funding for Title X, a 40-year-old federal program that helps low-income women get birth control and other services (but not abortions) at family planning clinics.
And a number of states, including Indiana, Kansas, Wisconsin and Tennessee, have either passed or are considering measures to cut state funding for family planning services — on the basis that some clinics also perform abortions.
While the largest proportion of public funding for family planning comes from Medicaid (71%), not Title X (12%) or state funds (13%), Reuters reports, women’s health advocates say these sources are still important.
According to Adam Sonfield, a senior public policy associate at Guttmacher, without publicly funded family planning programs, the costs of unplanned pregnancy would be 60% higher than they are currently.
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At the national level, the current costs to taxpayers of unintended pregnancy — including births, abortions, miscarriages and infant medical care — reach $9.6 to $12.6 billion per year, according to a study [PDF] by the Brookings Institution Center on Children and Families. At the state level, the annual costs are similar, about $11 billion, according to a study [PDF] by Sonfield.
“At a time when policymakers everywhere are looking for ways to cut costs under Medicaid, these findings point clearly to a way to achieve that goal by expanding access to health care, not cutting it,” said Sonfield in a statement.
Data for the new study on abortion rates came from the Guttmacher Institute’s 2008 Abortion Patient Survey, Current Population Surveys for 2008 and 2009, and the 2006-08 National Survey of Family Growth.