CDC Releases Its Annual ‘Abortion Surveillance’ Report

Amie Newman

The CDC releases its annual "Abortion Surveillance" report on abortion in the United States, for 2006. The report says the surveillance provides critical information needed to evaluate programs aimed at preventing unintended pregnancy.

Today, the CDC released its Abortion Surveillance report for
2006. Every year, since 1969, the CDC conducts this “abortion surveillance” to
“document the number and characteristics of women obtaining legal induced
abortions in the United States.” The information is obtained from abortion data
the CDC requests from 50 central health agencies in all fifty states plus
Washington DC and New York City.


The report provides critical information on how many abortions are performed in this country, at what gestational age, and with what medical procedure but also about who gets abortions in this country: broken down by age, ethnicity and race. 

According to the report, for 2006, a total of 846,181
abortions were reported to CDC. From that number, researchers found that the
abortion rate was 16.1 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years, and the
abortion ratio was 236 abortions per 1,000 live births. During the previous
decade (1997–2006), reported abortion numbers, rates, and ratios decreased 5.7%, 8.8%, and 14.8%, respectively. However, most
of these declines occurred

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In fact, from 1996-2000, the report finds that the number of
abortions decreased 20,605 per year, the abortion rate decreased 0.5 abortions
per 1,000 women per year, and the abortion ratio decreased 9.7 abortions per
1,000 live births per year. Reductions were much smaller on average during
2001–2006; the number of abortions declined 2,163 per year, the abortion rate
declined 0.1 per year, and the abortion ratio declined 3.3 per year.

The greatest increase could be seen from 2005-2006 when the
total number of abortions increased 3.1%, and the abortion rate increased 3.2%;
the abortion ratio was stable. Thee numbers seem to coincide with the increase
in the number of live births as well as the fertility rate, both of which
increased by 3% in 2006, “constituting the largest single-year increase in more
than 15 years. For this reason, the increase in the total number and rate of
abortions for 2006 might reflect a general increase in the number of
pregnancies of all outcomes (fetal losses, induced abortions, and live

The overall decrease in abortion numbers could be due to a
variety of factors, the report notes, including a “decline in the availability
of abortion providers; the adoption of 
legislative restrictions and barriers to abortion services like
mandatory waiting periods and parental involvement laws; and increasing
acceptance of nonmarital childbearing” among other reasons.

Other findings include:

  • 62% of
    abortions were done before eight
    weeks gestation. This percentage increased almost 11% since 1997.  And the percentage of abortions
    done before six weeks gestation increased a whopping 66.3%. This can, in
    part, be attributed to the rise in the availability of medication abortion
    (RU-486 or “the abortion pill”)
  • 5% of
    abortions were done after sixteen weeks gestation; of those, only 1.3% of
    abortions were done at 21 weeks gestation or later.
  • Almost
    30% of abortions were done earlier
    than 6 weeks gestation
  • Adolescent
    abortion rates increased during 2005–2006 after several years of decline.
  • Women
    ages 20-29 years old account for the majority of abortions at 56.8%
  • In
    2005, the most recent year for which data were available, seven women were
    reported to have died as a result of complications from known legal
    induced abortions.


Some of what is noteworthy about the above:

  • Women
    are having abortions earlier in their pregnancies when the risk of
    complication is lowest and the procedure is the safest.
  • Very
    few abortions are recorded for women in later stages of pregnancy, 16-20
    weeks or later, despite what anti-choice advocates attempt to convey.
  • While
    it is a tragedy when a woman dies from a legal abortion, according to the
    report, the annual number of deaths associated with known, legal abortions
    was more than two-thirds lower on average in the early 2000s than it was
    in the early 1970s.
  • I want to note what the Centers for Disease Control’s
    Division of Reproductive Health surmises from its own numbers and analysis:

Providing women with the knowledge and resources necessary
to make decisions about their sexual behavior and use of contraception can help
women avoid unintended pregnancies and thus reduce the number of abortions
performed in the United States.

Let’s be clear. The majority (if not all) of the leading
anti-choice advocacy organizations from Focus on the Family to the Family
Research Council do not support increased access to contraception or family
planning. They do not advocate for the use of or expanded access to
contraception for women in the United States, as a critical women’s health tool
or as a means to decrease the abortion rate. In fact, there is active
opposition to the use of contraception. In an op-ed on the Family Research
Council web site, from April 2009, titled “The Myth of the Contraceptive
Compromise”, Cathy and Austin Ruse write, “Let’s try contraception to end
abortion? Please.”

Crisis Pregnancy Centers, most often created and run as an
outreach arm of a faith-based, anti-choice organization, do not provide medical
care and so do not provide family planning or contraception services to
pregnant clients. Instead, they repeat falsities and lies claiming that birth
control methods like the pill or emergency contraception (Plan B) cause

If there is anything we can take from reports like these it
is that an increased focus on ensuring that all women in this country have
access to the education and tools necessary to prevent unintended pregnancy
should be accessible health care for  all women of reproductive health age.

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