Why Did the Abortion Rate Increase in 2018?

In recent months, multiple reports have indicated that the incidence of abortion increased in the U.S. in 2018. Last November, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control revealed a slight uptick in the U.S. abortion rate between 2017 and 2018. Similarly, new abortion data that the Texas Department of State Health Services released in December show that the Texas abortion rate increased in both 2018 and 2019. Finally, a September 2020 report from the Charlotte Lozier Institute analyzed 38 state abortion reports from 2018 and found evidence of a slight increase in the number of U.S. women obtaining abortions.

Why this recent increase in the abortion rate? In some states, public-policy changes likely played a role. In January 2018, Illinois began covering elective abortions through its state Medicaid program. Unsurprisingly, the abortion rate in Illinois increased by more than 9 percent between 2017 and 2018.

Additionally, in 2016, the Food and Drug Administration changed the labeling for the abortion drug Mifeprex, allowing chemical abortions to be obtained later in pregnancy, with fewer visits to the physician’s office. Since Texas requires that chemical-abortion drugs be administered under the FDA label, this made chemical abortions more accessible in the Lone Star State.  Unsurprisingly, between 2017 and 2019, the number of chemical abortions obtained by Texas women increased, by about 32 percent.

It is worth noting that, while CDC statistics indicate that between 2017 and 2018, the number of abortions increased in 27 of the 46 states reporting data for both years, in many cases, these abortion increases were small. But since a majority of states did report abortion increases, it is likely that other factors in addition to public policy contributed to the overall abortion rate increase.

A closer look at the data reveals fairly consistent changes in the incidence of abortion across various demographic groups. Thirty states and the District of Columbia reported abortion data to the CDC by race and ethnicity in both 2017 and 2018. The report indicates that whites, blacks, and Hispanics all experienced slight increases in the incidence of abortion.

Interestingly, according to that data, the number of abortions performed on women under the age of 25 fell slightly in 2018, while the number of abortions performed on those 25 and older increased by nearly 3 percent. This is consistent with previous trends suggesting that younger age demographics have experienced larger abortion-rate declines than older groups.

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