FACT CHECK: Have There Been 60 Million Abortions Since Roe v. Wade?

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

Twitter users recently claimed that 60 million abortions have been performed in the U.S. since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade.

Verdict: True

There have been roughly 60 million abortions since the case was decided in 1973.

Fact Check:

Justice Anthony Kennedy announced last Wednesday that he would retire from the Supreme Court, opening the door for President Donald Trump to nominate a more staunchly conservative jurist to the bench.

The retirement of Kennedy, who was often described as the swing vote between the four more conservative and four more liberal justices, excited pro-life conservatives who have long hoped that Roe v. Wade – the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationally – would be overturned.

Trump said during a presidential debate in 2016 that he’d put pro-life judges on the court and acknowledged this past Sunday that abortion access “could very well end up with states at some point.”

The announcement by Kennedy led many Twitter users to claim that 60 million abortions had been performed since 1973.

“It’s time to send Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history, where it belongs. We cannot allow another 45 years of brutal bloodshed that has killed over 60 million of our children,” tweeted Live Action, a pro-life non-profit.

“Roe has been ‘settled law’ for a long time. Well, I think it just got unsettled,” tweeted Denny Burk, an associate pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church. “Keep in mind that Roe has caused the death of over 60 million innocent human beings since 1973. It has to end.”

“60 million Americans aborted since Roe v. Wade,” tweeted Matthew Schmitz, a columnist at The Catholic Herald. “We should be absolutely clear about the justice and necessity of ending the slaughter.”

The number likely comes from the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), a pro-life advocacy group. The organization published a report in January that estimates that 60.1 million abortions have been performed in the U.S. since 1973.

The NRLC relies on data from the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice organization that produces some of the most reliable and complete estimates on the number of abortions performed over the years.

By surveying clinics, hospitals and other facilities that offer abortion services, researchers at the institute estimated that 55.5 million abortions were performed in the U.S. from 1973 to 2014, the latest year for which data was available.

The NRLC calculates a figure through 2017 by assuming that the same number of abortions performed in 2014 – 926,200 – were performed the following years as well. The organization then adjusts the total number of abortions upward by 3 percent to account for underreporting.

Researchers at Guttmacher acknowledge that their figures may undercount the true number of abortions by up to 5 percent. An estimated 2,000 physicians who perform abortions in their private practice are believed to be missing from the data.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes abortion estimates of its own, but the data has much larger gaps. For one, the agency has lacked consistent data from California and New Hampshire since 1998. These states performed 17 percent of all abortions in 2014, according to Guttmacher.

Another deficiency is the way the data is reported. The CDC relies on voluntary submissions from central health agencies that are in some cases incomplete.

Guttmacher, on the other hand, takes a more proactive approach to data collection. For its latest report, researchers made 11,800 contacts to follow up with nonresponsive abortion facilities.

The disparity can be seen in the number of abortions reported over time by Guttmacher versus the CDC.

Abortions have declined almost every year since 1990 due in part to greater access to contraception, including longer-term birth control options like Intrauterine Devices (IUDs).

The decline has occurred despite a growing population in the U.S.

In fact, there are proportionally fewer abortions being performed today than when Roe v. Wade was decided. Abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 fell from 16.3 in 1973 to 14.6 in 2014, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

About 39 percent of the women who had abortions in 2014 were white, 28 percent were black and 25 percent were Hispanic. Proportionally speaking, there were 10 abortions per 1,000 white women, 27.1 per 1,000 black women and 18.1 per 1,000 Hispanic women.

Nearly half of all abortions were for women whose family incomes were below 100 percent of the federal poverty line.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor
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