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Reducing the U.S. abortion rate

Adolescent pregnancy & abortion
rates in the U.S.
Comparison with European data.

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Reducing abortions by reducing unwanted pregnancies:

Every time that an unwanted pregnancy is prevented -- either by:

bullet Avoiding sexual activity or
bullet Switching from a sexual act that is at a high risk for pregnancy to a less risky activity, or
bullet By using safer sex, or
bullet By using emergency contraception (a.k.a. EC, "morning after pill") after intercourse if necessary,

then one abortion may also have been prevented.

Laws that restrict access to abortion clinics will also reduce the number of abortions. However, this approach has its limits. Women can and do go to adjacent states with more liberal laws to obtain their abortion. If necessary, they can travel to another country. Some stay in their home state and seek illegal abortions.

Adolescent abortions in the U.S.:

Even as the number of American adolescents has gradually increased, the number of abortions has gone down markedly, at least among whites and blacks. It has increased slightly among Hispanics from:

Numbers of induced abortions, in thousands, for teenagers 15 to 19

Year All races Non-Hispanic white Non-Hispanic black Hispanic
2002 215 81 77 44
2000 235 94 84 45
1995 263 122 88 43
1990 351 198 108 38

As of early 2009, data for 2002 is the most recent available. 2

The Division of Reproductive Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion of the Centers for Disease control wrote:

There have been significant declines in pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates for teenagers over the past decade. From 1990 to 2002, the pregnancy rate among 15 to 17 year-olds decreased 42%, from 77.1 per 1,000 females to 44.4. The birth rate declined 45%, from its peak at 38.6 per 1,000 in 1991 to 21.4 per 1,000 in 2005.3 In 2002, more than 750,000 pregnancies among U.S. teenagers, aged 15 to 19 years resulted in 425,000 live births, 215,000 abortions, and 117,000 fetal losses.

Though we are close to the overall decreased teen pregnancy goal for 2010 for the nation, major disparities in pregnancy and birth rates and contraceptive use exist when we look at data by race/ethnicity and for individual states. Black and Hispanic youth are disproportionately affected compared to whites. For example, 2002 pregnancy rates for Non-Hispanic black and Hispanic teenagers aged 15 to 17 were similar (88.4 and 85.1 per 1000, respectively). Both were about 3.5 times the rate of non-Hispanic white teens (25.1 per 1,000) and double the Healthy People 2010 goal of 43.0. A wide range of teen birth rates are seen among states, ranging from 62.6 (Texas) to 18.2 (New Hampshire) per 1,000 in 2004.

International comparisons show that the United States could do much better in improving teen pregnancy and birth rates. U.S. teen pregnancy and teen birth rates are the second highest among 46 countries in the developed world. These data show that U.S. teens' sexual behavior is similar to teens of other developed countries in terms of when they start to have sex and how often they are having it. Yet, U.S. teens are less likely to use contraception or to consistently use more effective methods of contraception when compared to the teens of several other developed countries. Recent data show that 77% of the decline in teen pregnancy rates among U.S. teens aged 15 tp 17 years is because teens have increased their use of contraception and 23% of the decline is because teens are having less sex. Among older U.S. teens, 18 to 19 years, this data showed that all the reduction in pregnancy risk was related to increased contraceptive use. Effective pregnancy prevention programs exist that have been shown to be successful at delaying intercourse initiation and increasing rates of contraceptive use. For example, Advocates for Youth has published reports which highlight U.S. based programs, Science and Success: Sex Education and Other Programs That Work to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, HIV & Sexually Transmitted Infections. Although this is encouraging, much work remains to identify additional innovative interventions that address the social, cultural, and environmental influences on teen pregnancy. There is also a need to find better ways of disseminating evidence-based approaches to teen pregnancy prevention, so that effective interventions are more widely used. 3

Many western European countries have numerous points of similarity to the U.S. For example:

bullet They share a Christian heritage, although the decline in Christian affiliation is far more advanced in Europe than it is in North America.

bullet They are democracies.

Many immigrants to the U.S. originally came from Europe.

However, many European countries tend to have a much lower adolescent pregnancy, live birth, and abortion rates than does the United States. If the cause(s) of this difference can be isolated and applied in the U.S., then adolescent abortion rates could be drastically reduced.

Comparison of abortion statistics in the U.S., France, Germany and the Netherlands:

Advocates for Youth report the following annual rates, per thousand adolescents:

Factor United States France Germany Netherlands
Pregnancy 79.8 20.2 25% 16.1 20% 8.7 11%
Births 48.7 10.0 21% 12.5 26% 4.5 9%
Abortions 27.5 10.2 37% 5.6 20% 4.2 15%

The percentages show the rate for each country expressed as a percentage of the U.S. value. For example, the Netherlands abortion rate per year is 4.2 per thousand adolescents which is about 15% of the American figure.


What would happen if the U.S. rates could be reduced to Europe's?

The number of abortions during 2002 by adolescents in the U.S. would be reduced by about:

bullet 135,000 if the U.S. rate was lowered to that of France,
bullet 171,000 if the rate was lowered to that of Germany.
bullet 182,000 if the rate was lowered to that of the Netherlands,

Lowering the adolescent abortion rate would probably also reduce the rate of abortions among older women as well. It is not beyond reason to hope that the current number of abortions -- over one million per year -- could be eventually reduced to a few hundred thousand if European policies were adopted!

Lowering the number of live births and abortions would also have a significant impact on the quality of lives among adolescents. For example:

bullet Many young women's lives are disrupted and their educational goals either delayed or terminated because of an unwanted pregnancy that is carried to term.
bullet A small percentage of women suffer from the extreme long-lasting depression of Post Abortion Syndrome (PAS) after having an abortion.

Advocates for Youth also have listed sexually transmitted disease prevalence rates for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. Rates in the U.S. range from 6 to 74 times higher than whichever of the above three European states has the lowest values.

To most supporters of the pro-life movement, the stakes are extremely high. Most believe that human life becomes a human person at conception. Thus one fewer abortion means one fewer murder of a human being. Preventing the deaths through abortion of hundreds of thousands of embryos and a much smaller number of fetuses would be of immense importance to pro-lifers. However, among many pro-lifers who are also Roman Catholics, reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies through the use of contraception is unacceptable.

What does Europe do differently?

Advocates for Youth and the University of North Carolina sponsor a tour each year to these three European countries to help "policy makers, researchers, youth serving professionals, foundation officers and youth" understand why there is such a large difference between American and European statistics on numbers of pregnancies, abortions, and live births.

They find that:

"Each of these nations has an unwritten social contract with young people: 'We'll respect your right to act responsibly, giving you the tools you need to avoid unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV'."

The public in these European countries:

bullet Assign a high priority to the reduction of unintended pregnancy, abortion and STDs.
bullet Anticipate that youths will be sexually active and expect them to act responsibly.

The governments:

bullet Base their policies primarily on research.
bullet Are not heavily influenced by political and religious advocacy groups.
bullet Make condoms and other contraceptives readily available to young people at low or no cost.
bullet Provide comprehensive education programs in the schools.
bullet Provide extensive public educational programs using a wide range of media.

The end results are that:

bullet Adolescent sexual activities are regarded as a normal enjoyable and expected part of life.
bullet "... young people believe it is 'stupid and irresponsible' to have sex without protection." Many "use the maxim, 'safer sex or no sex'." 1

Advocates for Youth promote the adoption of the European model towards sex. They have created a "Rights. Respect. Responsibility national campaign to achieve this.

References used:

  1. Ammie Feijoo, "Adolescent Sexual Health in Europe and the U.S. -- Why the Difference?" Advocates for Youth, 2001-OCT, at: They cite four sources for pregnancy, birth and abortion rates:
    bullet S.J. Ventura et al., "Trends in pregnancy rates for the United States, 1976-97: an update," National Vital Statistics Reports, 2001;49(4):1-10.
    bullet S. Singh & L.R. Darroch, "Adolescent pregnancy and childbearing: levels and trends in developed countries," Family Planning Perspectives 2000;32(1):14-23.
    bullet J. Rademakers, "Sex Education in the Netherlands." Paper presented to the European Study Tour. Utrecht, Netherlands: NISSO, 2001.
    bullet J.A. Martin et al., "Births: preliminary data for 2000,", National Vital Statistics Reports. 2001;49(5):1-20.
  2. Stephanie J. Ventura, "Recent Trends in Teenage Pregnancy in the United States, 1990-2002," National Center for Health Statistics, Table 1, at:
  3. "Adolescent Reproductive Health," Centers for Disease Control, 2008-APR-24, at:
  4. "United States: Teen Pregnancy," Guttmacher Institute, 2016, at:

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Copyright 2007 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2007-JAN-21
Latest update: 2016-SEP-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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