The Guttmacher Institute reported Tuesday that there were 1.21 million abortions in 2008 and a rate of 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44.
Both figures were up slightly from the previous 2005 survey, ending a steady decline since 1990, when U.S. abortions peaked at 1.6 million and the abortion rate was 27.4.
Sharon Camp, the institute’s president, said the stalled numbers should serve as an “urgent message” to policymakers that access to contraceptive services should be increased to prevent unintended pregnancy.
But many pro-life advocates believe abortion rates can best be lowered through abstinence education, citing a 2008 The American Journal of Health Behavior report that said students receiving abstinence education were about half as likely to start sexual activity as students who did not receive such education.
Pro-life advocates also believe tougher state restrictions can curb the number of abortions. With conservative gains in legislatures in the Nov. 2 elections, many states will be considering expanded restrictions. For instance, lawmakers in several states would like to emulate Nebraska in outlawing abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on studies that show that unborn babies can feel pain after that point.
The new Guttmacher report documented sharp variations by state—with abortion rates over 30 percent in Delaware, New York, and New Jersey, and at or below 6 percent in Wyoming, Mississippi, Kentucky, South Dakota, and Idaho.
The report also documented a significant increase in early medication abortion, entailing use of the abortion pill. The number of such procedures performed in abortion centers rose from 161,000 to 199,000 between 2005 and 2008, accounting for about 17 percent of abortions.
According to the new study, the number of abortion providers changed little—from 1,787 to 1,793 – between 2005 and 2008.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.