Decades-long decline » Theories abound, but there are no definitive reasons for the drop.
The rate of abortions in Utah has dropped dramatically in recent years, setting record after record for the lowest mark since the state started keeping statistics after the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
And the actual number of Utahns who had abortions — 2,893 in 2013 — is the lowest since 1977, even though the population of women in their childbearing years has doubled since then.
Utah’s statistics are an amped version of a national trend. There’s plenty of speculation as to the reasons behind the decline, everything from the Great Recession to better contraceptives to more restrictive abortion laws.
But there is no definitive reason for the drop.
"From our perspective, fewer abortions are a great thing," said Laurie Baksh, with the Utah Department of Health’s Maternal and Infant Health Program. "It would be interesting to know a little bit more about why that trend is happening."
The numbers • Baksh has watched the statistics closely. She’s seen that from 1997 to 2008 Utah’s abortion rate was relatively flat, hovering around six abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age, which is 15 to 44 years old.
That rate dropped to five in 2011. And it fell to 4.6 in 2013, the most recent data published by the state health department.
The rate was 7.2 when first calculated by the state in 1975 and it reached a high of 11.1 in 1980. Through the years, Utah has always been far below the national level.
The Guttmacher Institute tracks statistics nationwide and, in 2011, noted that the U.S. rate was 16.9, the lowest recorded since 1973, and just as in Utah, it has been dropping in recent years.
Based on geography, there are big differences in abortion rates in Utah. In Salt Lake County, there are 100 abortions for every 1,000 babies born. In Summit County, that number jumps to 143.5. In Utah County, the abortion ratio is 22.9. Summit and Salt Lake counties are among the least Mormon in the state, according to numbers offered by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Utah County is one of the most Mormon. The LDS Church opposes abortion except in cases of incest, rape or when the life or health of the mother is jeopardized, or a fetus has terminal defects.
That religious split hasn’t changed dramatically in recent years, but Baksh points out that the economy has.
The bottom line • The economic collapse of 2008 was the worst since the Great Depression and the recovery has been long and slow. That, Baksh surmises, caused many women to think about the economic realities of raising a child.
"They are probably working a little bit harder not to become pregnant because now is not the time," Baksh said.
It is just a theory driven by the calendar: When the economy took a nosedive, so did abortions. Statistics, though, don’t show similar drops during previous economic downturns in the early 2000s or the 1980s.
More than just the pill • Karrie Galloway, director of Planned Parenthood of Utah, said tight finances could have resulted in greater family planning. But she believes a more definitive reason for the trend of fewer abortions is the increased use of long-acting reversible contraception, which includes intrauterine devices and subdermal implants. The percentage of young women using such methods of contraception has risen throughout the 2000s and 2010s, and Galloway says it’s now at about 12 percent.