Dr. Rachel Jones, principal research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute, told CNA, "we think the most important contributing factor is improvements in contraceptive use … That couples are using contraception more effectively, and in particular, there are indicators that more women are using long-acting methods such as IUD."
There was increased utilization of certain contraceptive devices such as intra-uterine devices (IUDs) and long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs). The "reliance" on those two devices had increased by 130 percent between 2007 and 2009 and "continued, albeit at a slightly slower pace, through 2012," the Guttmacher Institute said.
Jones added that "fewer women were getting pregnant in 2014 than in 2011…we think this is because the best available evidence suggests that more women are using highly-effective methods and therefore there [are] fewer unintended pregnancies. So that means more of the pregnancies that do occur are intended. And so, by default, these women chose to get pregnant and they choose to have a baby."
Other, smaller causes for the decline in the abortion rate could have been state laws restricting abortions or regulating abortion clinics, Guttmacher said.
"Improved contraceptive use in recent years has led to a decline in the U.S. unintended pregnancy rate, suggesting that women are increasingly able to plan their pregnancies and therefore have a decreased need for abortions," they stated.
"However, the wave of abortion restrictions passed at the state level over the last five years could also have contributed to the decline by making it more difficult for women to access needed services in highly restrictive states."
19 states have passed "pain-capable" bills, or 20-week abortion bans, since 2010. Regulations of abortion clinics have also been passed by several states in the wake of the Kermit Gosnell incident, in which the Philadelphia abortionist was convicted in 2013 on three counts of first-degree murder of babies and prosecutors described his clinic as a "house of horrors" full of serious health violations.
There are a "whole host of factors" that could be behind the abortion rate decline, Donovan said. "We think there's an awful lot going on."
He pointed to surveys showing young people trending more pro-life, due to an increase in the use and quality of ultrasounds that show a baby in the womb. The violence of abortion would also be a turn-off to many young people, he said. A higher percentage of unintended pregnancies are being carried to term, he added.
Teenage sexual activity has overall decreased, Donovan said, pointing to numbers from the Resource Center for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention showing the percentage of high school students who had ever had sex declined from 54 percent in 1991 to 47 percent in 2013.
There have also been "changing understandings of abortion," Camosy said. The unborn child was formerly referred to as a "clump of cells," but the rise of technology such as 3D ultrasounds have enabled people to see a living, moving child in the womb.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards attributed the decline to contraceptives, NPR reported. "It shows that we're finally doing a better job of helping women get access to birth control that's affordable and that's high-quality," Richards said.
In the Guttmacher report, there was a 14 percent increase in "early medication abortions" that were "in non-hospital facilities," like the use of the RU-486 pill in the first eight weeks after gestation. Donovan admitted this is a "worrisome number."
It is also a "clarion call" for better tracking of the number of abortion injuries, he insisted, as the RU-486 pill can be taken by a mother at home and the complications or injuries arising from it are "outside of the clinic."
And only just over half of states require reporting of abortion complications, he said.
Overall, the numbers reflect progress, Donovan said, pointing to factors like more resources for pregnant women as driving more women to carry their children to term.
Matt Hadro was the political editor at Catholic News Agency through October 2021. He previously worked as CNA senior D.C. correspondent and as a press secretary for U.S. Congressman Chris Smith.