Problem/condition: In 1969, CDC began abortion surveillance to document the number and characteristics of women obtaining legal induced abortions, to monitor unintended pregnancy, and to assist efforts to identify and reduce preventable causes of morbidity and mortality associated with abortions.
Reporting period covered: This report summarizes and reviews information reported to CDC regarding legal induced abortions obtained in the United States in 1998.
Description of system: For each year since 1969, CDC has compiled abortion data by occurrence. From 1973 to 1997, data were received from or estimated for 52 reporting areas in the United States: 50 states, the District of Columbia, and New York City. In 1998, CDC compiled abortion data from only 48 reporting areas; Alaska, California, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma did not report.
Results: In 1998, 884,273 legal induced abortions were reported to CDC, representing a 2% decrease from the 900,171 legal induced abortions reported by the same 48 reporting areas for 1997. The abortion ratio, defined as the number of abortions per 1,000 live births, was 264, compared with 274 in 1997 (for the same 48 areas); the abortion rate for these 48 areas was 17 per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years for both 1997 and 1998. The availability of information about characteristics of women who obtained an abortion in 1998 varied by state and by the number of states reporting each characteristic. The total number of legal induced abortions by state is reported by state of residence and state of occurrence; characteristics of women obtaining abortions in 1998 are reported by state of occurrence. Women undergoing an abortion were likely to be young (i.e., age < 25 years), white, and unmarried; slightly more than one half were obtaining an abortion for the first time. Of all abortions for which gestational age was reported, 56% were performed at < or = 8 weeks of gestation, and 88% were performed before 13 weeks. Overall, 19% of abortions were performed at the earliest weeks of gestation (< or = 6 weeks), 18% at 7 weeks, and 19% at 8 weeks. From 1992 (when this information was first collected) through 1998, an increasing percentage of abortions were performed at the very early weeks of gestation. Few abortions were provided after 15 weeks of gestation; 4% were obtained at 16-20 weeks, and 1.4% were obtained at > or = 21 weeks. A total of 24 reporting areas submitted information stating that they performed medical (nonsurgical) procedures (two of these areas categorized medical abortions with "other" procedures), making up < 1% of all procedures reported from all states. From 1993 through 1997 (years for which data have not been published previously and the most recent years for which such data are available), 36 women died as a result of complications from known legal induced abortion, and three deaths were associated with known illegal abortion. The annual case-fatality rate of legal induced abortion ranged from 0.3 to 0.8 abortion-related deaths per 100,000 reported legal induced abortions.
Interpretation: From 1990 through 1995, the number of abortions declined each year; in 1996, the number increased slightly, but in 1997, it declined to its lowest level since 1978. In 1998, the number of abortions continued to decrease when comparing the 48 reporting areas. In 1997, as in previous years, deaths related to legal induced abortions occurred rarely. PUBLIC HEALTH ACTIONS TAKEN: The number and characteristics of women who obtain abortions in the United States should continue to be monitored so that trends in induced abortion can be assessed and efforts to prevent unintended pregnancy can be evaluated.