By Patrick Whelan, M.D.
There are two ways to look at abortion statistics: the total number, and the rate (the number of abortions per 1,000 child-bearing-aged women per year).
Number. Following the Supreme Court decisions in 1973, the total number of legal abortions rose rapidly during the Ford and Carter Administrations, as the number of illegal abortions fell. The total number of abortions continued to climb throughout the Reagan Administration and peaked in 1990 under President George H. W. Bush, at 1.61 million per year. The number of abortions declined significantly during the Clinton Administration, to 1.3 million a year. Complete numbers are not available for the presidency of George W. Bush, but it appears that the decline slowed significantly. In 2005, 1.21 million abortions were performed in the United States.
Rate. The abortion rate (that is the number of abortions per 1,000 females aged 15-44) takes into account changes in population. The abortion rate began to decline starting in 1982, and the greatest decline occurred during the Clinton Administration. The graph below is a unique compilation of the Guttmacher Institute annual data from all 50 states under each of the last four administrations. Each curve shows the fall in the abortion rate as normalized to the rate at the beginning of each administration (ie. 1980 for Reagan, 1988 for Bush Sr., 1992 for Clinton and 2000 for George W. Bush).
We calculated that if the rate had continued to decline under President Bush at the same rate it fell under President Clinton, there would have been an additional 274,800 children alive at the end of 2005—the most recent year for which data are available. The clear conclusion is that the Democrats have a record of accomplishment when it comes to abortion, as demonstrated by the significantly steeper decline under President Clinton compared with the two Presidents Bush or President Reagan. Senators Obama and Biden have publicly committed themselves to advance abortion reduction measures in a new Administration, and the Catholic Democrats support this approach as the most moral and effective way to solve the abortion problem.