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Abortion: United States: At Least 839,226 in 2004

For 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the number one cause of death for human beings was heart disease with 652,486 dying from this cause.

For those of us who accept that human life begins in some sense at conception, the actual number one killer in this country is abortion, with at least 839,226 unborn children being terminated in the womb during 2004. This is almost a third again as much as those human beings who died from heart disease. But the actual number of abortions is higher than the reported number of abortions. How much higher and why don’t we know?

No one really knows although the number could be hundreds of thousands more. The why we don’t know is easy and is explained in the CDC’s FAQs Abortion Surveillance:

Are states required to report their abortion statistics to CDC?
No, states and areas voluntarily report data to CDC for report preparation. CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health prepares surveillance reports as data becomes available. There is no national requirement for data submission or reporting. For more detailed information, we recommend you review the CDC/NCHS document, Handbook on the Reporting of Induced Termination of Pregnancypdf logo (PDF–2.5MB) Source: NCHS.

Here’s how the voluntary reporting worked out in 2004, according to the 2004 (latest year available) Abortion Surveillance Report:

For 2004, CDC compiled data that were voluntarily provided from 49 reporting areas in the United States: 47 states (excluding California, New Hampshire, and West Virginia), the District of Columbia (DC), and New York City (NYC). Legal induced abortion was defined as a procedure, performed by a licensed physician or someone acting under the supervision of a licensed physician, that was intended to terminate a suspected or known intrauterine pregnancy and to produce a nonviable fetus at any gestational age (1,2). The total number of legal induced abortions was available from all reporting areas; however, not all areas collected data on some or all characteristics of women who obtained abortions, and the availability of such data varied by reporting area.

The reason I say the actual number is higher is because the last time California reported numbers back in 1997, they reported 275,739 abortions. Even assuming that their abortions have followed the national trend downward, there are probaby still at least 200,000 more abortions being performed each year than are documented. I have done some research in article databases and with libraries in California and there does not appear to be any official reason for California ceasing to report its abortion statistics. I’ve read speculations attributing this behavior to malice towards the unborn, but I don’t find that explanation worth linking to without documentation.

But let’s come back to the present and not speculate about the current CA numbers. Here are some basic stats from the 2004 report:

Results: A total of 839,226 legal induced abortions were reported to CDC for 2004 from 49 reporting areas, representing a 1.1% decline from the 848,163 legal induced abortions reported by 49 reporting areas for 2003. The abortion ratio, defined as the number of abortions per 1,000 live births, was 238 in 2004, a decrease from the 241 in 2003. The abortion rate was 16 per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years for 2004, the same since 2000. For the same 47 reporting areas, the abortion rate remained relatively constant during 1998–2004. In 2003 (the most recent years for which data are available), 10 women died as a result of complications from known legal induced abortion. No death was associated with known illegal abortion.

The highest percentages of reported abortions were for women who were known to be unmarried (80%), white (53%), and aged <25 years (50%). Of all abortions for which gestational age was reported, 61% were performed at <8 weeks’ gestation and 88% at <13 weeks. From 1992 (when detailed data regarding early abortions were first collected) through 2004, steady increases have occurred in the percentage of abortions performed at <6 weeks’ gestation, except for a slight decline in 2003. A limited number of abortions were obtained at >15 weeks’ gestation, including 4.0% at 16–20 weeks and 1.4% at >21 weeks. A total of 35 reporting areas submitted data stating that they performed and enumerated medical (nonsurgical) procedures, making up 9.7% of all known reported procedures from the 45 areas with adequate reporting on type of procedure.

Where did abortions take place? Here are some results along with a number of caveats:

The numbers, ratios, and rates of reported legal induced abortions are presented by area of residence and by area of occurrence (Table 3). In 2004, the highest number of reported legal induced abortions occurred in Florida (91,710), NYC (91,673), and Texas (74,801); the fewest occurred in Wyoming (12), South Dakota (814), and Idaho (963) (Table 3). The abortion ratios by state or area of occurrence ranged from 43 per 1,000 live births in Idaho to 770 per 1,000 in NYC. Among women aged 15–44 years, rates by occurrence ranged from three per 1,000 women in Idaho to 30 per 1,000 in New York. These ratios and rates should be viewed with consideration of the sizable variation by state in the percentage of abortions obtained by out-of-state residents. In 2004, approximately 8% of reported abortions were obtained by out-of-state residents (range: from 0.2% [in Alaska] to 53% [in DC]) (Table 3). Data by state of residence are incomplete because three states (California, New Hampshire, and West Virginia) did not report any data on abortion, and seven states (Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Massachusetts) did not provide data concerning the residence status of all women obtaining abortions in their state. Thus, ratios and rates by state of residence should be viewed with caution because of the substantial variation in completeness of reporting of residence information.

In my Alaska posting last week, I reported on the percentages of women who had had a previous birth or abortion. This data is reported for the nation by the CDC with the caveat that only 41 jurisdictions collected this data;

For women who obtained legal induced abortions and for whom data on previous live births were adequately reported (41 reporting areas), 40% were known to have had no previous live births, and 32% had had two or more previous live births (Table 12). The abortion ratio was highest for women who had three previous live births (274 per 1,000 live births) and lowest for those who had one previous live birth (190 per 1,000).

For women who obtained an abortion and whose number of previous abortions were adequately reported (41 reporting areas), 54% were reported to have obtained an abortion for the first time, and 19% were reported to have had at least two previous abortions (Table 13).

Whether or not you accept as I do that human life does begin in the womb, the number of 839,226 abortions should stir you to some kind of action. This number represents hundreds of thousands of women who suffered a significant disruption in their lives. Probably hundreds of thousands of women who agonized over their next action. Likely thousands of broken families and relationships. Likely hundreds of thousands of women who might have kept their baby or given it up for adoption if only the adequate supports and services were available.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Next week we’ll have a look at global abortion statistics where the uncertainty of statistics becomes even greater.

Sources:

Abortion Surveillance—United States, 2004 (Latest available as of 11/23/2008)
http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5609a1.htm?s_cid=ss5609a1_e

Abortion Surveillance–United States Archive (1979-2003)
http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/Data_Stats/index.htm#Abortion

FAQs Abortion Surveillance | CDC Reproductive Health
http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/Data_Stats/Abortion.htm

Mortality Data from the National Vital Statistics System
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/deaths.htm

Deaths: Leading Causes for 2004. NVSR Volume 56, Number 5. 96 pp. (PHS) 2008-1120
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr56/nvsr56_05.pdf

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