No, there are not 63 million abortions a year in the United States.

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Everybody makes mistakes. I make mistakes. You make mistakes. It happens.

Sometimes people even make mistakes on national television. As was the case with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro on Tuesday.

“My statistics, which I have”, she mentioned“is that there are 63 million abortions a year in this country. These are the statistics that I have heard. It is a bit too much.

It’s a bit more than a bit too much! Not in the sense that abortion should be less common, but in the sense that abortion is less frequent. Basically. But let’s not waste our time pointing out Pirro’s mistake. Instead, let’s spend our time understanding what abortion looks like in the United States.

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We should start with the obvious reason why Pirro’s number was wrong: there are only 330 million people in the United States. So either 1 in 5 American women have an abortion each year, or maybe Pirro’s numbers are off.

Especially since there are many American women who cannot get pregnant. In 2020, the Census Bureau estimates that women made up about 50.7% of the population, or some 167 million people. But then, of course, not all women are able to get pregnant. If we consider only the age group of 15 to 49 years, we see that it included about 74.6 million women in that year. According to Pirro, the equivalent of 84% of them become pregnant and have an abortion each year.

I use this age range because it is the age range used by the Guttmacher Institute. It compiles data on the number of abortions performed worldwide and estimates that there were an average of approximately 890,000 abortions per year in the above age group in the United States from 2015 to 2019. That is approximately one-seventieth of Pirro’s number.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiles state-level data on abortion that is also informative. For example, it allows us to see how abortion rates have changed over time. Comparing the 2010 numbers with the 2019 numbers (for the states reporting the data), we see that the rates are fairly even across the country. We also find that in almost every state the abortion rate relative to the population of women aged 15-49 decreased (gray squares) from 2010 to 2019. This is only in Arizona, Illinois, Michigan and Nevada as the rate increased. (States that do not or did not report data in 2010 – Florida – are shown in an overview.)

In states for which data was available, the number of abortions per 10,000 women in this age range fell from an average of 98 in 2010 to 80 in 2019.

CDC data is also interesting because it shows both who requested abortions and where they were obtained. Most women get abortions in the states where they live. But in several states, a large percentage of women seek abortions across state lines. In South Carolina, for example, a large percentage of women get abortions in other states (mainly in North Carolina and Georgia, as you might assume). Additionally, the percentage of out-of-state abortion requests increased from 2010 to 2019. A similar trend is seen in Missouri, where women are more likely to obtain abortions in Illinois or Kansas.

Note: CDC data only records 630,000 abortions, slightly below the Guttmacher Institute’s total.

It is also worth noting that the data is several years old. This data does not show what abortion looked like in 2020 or 2021 – years affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Google search data reveals an interesting trend: When the pandemic hit, searches for nearby clinics plummeted. Since the start of 2021, however, searches for abortion clinics have increased, peaking in more than 17 years of Google data in recent weeks.

This is not necessarily an indication that abortion itself has increased, certainly. But it does suggest that the pandemic has disrupted procedural demand as it has for so many other things.

What these data also do not indicate is how access to abortion will decrease if Roe vs. Wade be canceled, as now seems likely. There has been some good analysis on this, suggesting that the biggest impact will be on those numbers of seeking an abortion in other states. Those who can will cross state lines to legally obtain abortions. The question is what happens to those who cannot.

One thing is clear: the country will not go from 890,000 abortions per year (much less 63 million) to zero.




Washington

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