The real numbers behind abortions in the United States

How many abortions are actually performed? Numbers reveal the complexity in the raging debate.

The real numbers behind abortions in the United States
Getty Images.
  • The American society is close to split on the legality of abortions.
  • 45,789,558 abortions were carried out in the U.S. between 1970 and 2015.
  • The abortion numbers are at an all-time low now, trending almost half of what they were.

WHAT AMERICANS THINK ABOUT ABORTION

Abortion is an extremely divisive issue that splits the country close to down the middle. About 48% of Americans consider themselves "pro-choice," but the same number – 48% are "pro-life," found a May 2018 Gallup poll. The numbers of pro-choicers is higher, however, in a Pew Research Poll from October 2018 which counted 58% of Americans saying abortion should be almost always legal in contrast to 37% who thought abortion should in illegal in most cases.

The views continue to go in separate ways when you drill down further. With regards to first trimester abortions, 90% of pro-choice Americans support their legality in most cases, while 60% of pro-life voters think it should be illegal [Gallup].

In the political arena, the divide couldn't be more clear. 59% of Republicans think abortion should be mostly illegal, while 76% of Democrats say abortion should be legal in most cases, discovered the Pew Center poll. Notably, these positions have become hardened over time as in 1995, just 49% of Republicans supported keeping abortion legal and 64% of Democrats.

Where Americans do seem to agree is in cases where a woman's life is in danger, with 83% saying abortion should be legally allowed (including 71% of pro-lifers). In cases of rape and incest, 77% support abortion rights (96% of pro-choicers and 57% of pro-life Americans). [Gallup].

While Americans take complex positions on abortion, it should be pointed out that only 18% of all U.S. adults think it should be illegal in all circumstances. Most support some form of abortion being allowed.

WHAT ALABAMIANS THINK ABOUT ABORTION

In Alabama, the ground zero of the abortion debate due to a recently passed abortion ban, repeated polling has shown that most of the voters oppose abortion rights, women included. A 2014 Pew Research Center poll found 58% of residents saying abortion should be illegal in mostly all cases. 51% of the pro-life respondents were women. Other polling indicates similar patterns.

The New York Times reports that in 2017, the citizens of Alabama approved modifying the State Constitution to include the language that the state must "to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life."

Most Alabamians, however, do think the extreme abortion ban recently passed by their legislature goes too far. Only 31% supported having no rape/incest exception in a 2018 poll.

Americans generally agree on the legality of abortions in cases of a woman's life being endangered or those involving rape and incest.

Gallup.

HOW MANY ABORTIONS ARE PERFORMED

According to CDC stats, 638,169 abortions were performed in 2015. Compare that to the period from the late 70s till the late 90s when the number of abortions was regularly fluctuating between 1 - 1.4 million per year.

Taken as a whole, there were 45,789,558 abortions performed in the U.S. between 1970 and 2015.

Current abortion rates are actually at an all-time low, reported Vox. It declined by 26% from 2006 until 2015, according to the CDC. Improved access to contraceptives is likely the cause of that.

While lower, it is still a fairly widespread procedure, with about 23.7% of American women having an abortion before reaching 45, concluded Guttmacher Institute's 2017 research. Before 30, the percentage is 19%. Before 20 it's 4.6%.

In Alabama, the numbers went from 11,267 abortions in 2007 to 6,768 abortions in 2017.

A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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