The abortion rate in the United States dropped 8 percent between 2000 and 2008, while rising nearly 18 percent among the country's poorest women -- a trend that researchers believe might reflect tough economic times. Of the more than 1.2 million legal abortions reported in 2008, women whose family income fell below the national poverty level accounted for 42 percent of them.
"In the middle of a recession, it's possible women have reduced access to contraception and have more unintended pregnancies," said Rachel Jones, senior research associate at New York City's Guttmacher Institute and lead author of the report published Monday in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. "It's also possible that women confronted with unplanned pregnancies when they are out of work decide to have abortions, even though they might have carried it to term in more stable times."
Using information collected through patient surveys, Jones and colleagues estimated the rate of abortion among women of various ages, races, religions, income and education levels, calculating changes in the rate since 2000. The rise in abortions among poor and low-income women was the most worrying finding, Jones said.
"Increasingly, we're seeing restrictions placed on abortion services, and this shows that it's going to have a disproportionate impact on poor women," Jones said.
Planned Parenthood puts the the cost of an abortion during the first trimester at between $300 to $950 -- a fee many women front out-of-pocket because of a lack of insurance coverage, confusion about whether the procedure is covered or a desire for privacy.
The abortion rate has been steadily declining since 1990 -- a possible product of more and better contraceptive use as well as fewer teens having sex, Jones said. But the decline seems to have stabilized. If the 2008 rates persist, it's estimated that almost one in three women in the U.S. will have had an abortion before the age of 45.
"A lot of people find this surprising," Jones said. "But a lot of women have abortions and just don't talk about it."
About one-half of U.S. pregnancies each year are unintended, and about half of those end in abortion, according to a 2006 study published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.
"Women who are deciding to have an abortion are women who have unintended pregnancies, and limited access to contraception is one of the key drivers of unintended pregnancies," said Lawrence Finer, director of domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute and author of the 2006 report. "Most Americans want to control how many kids they have and when they have them. We should [ease] access to contraception when possible to reduce the substantial proportion of unintended pregnancies."
Although teens account for 24.8 percent of U.S. abortions, women over 25 represent 49 percent, according to the report. Almost 20 percent of women who have abortions have a college education, and 44 percent are married or living with their partners.
"All types of women have abortions. People don't realize that their friends, their family members have had this experience," Jones said. "If people realize that a substantial minority of women will have one, maybe they will have a less harsh evaluation of abortion and the circumstances surrounding it."