Abortion • The number of procedures in the state and the U.S. peaked in the 1980s.
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As soon as abortion was legally available, Utah women took advantage.
The state's abortion law became effective in April 1974, and in the remaining months of that year nearly 1,200 pregnancies were legally terminated, according to the Utah Department of Health.
The number continued to rise, with some fluctuations, until 1989, when terminations peaked at 4,300 among Utah women. That same year, another 645 women from out of state came to Utah to seek terminations. Since then, the numbers have steadily dropped.
That mirrors the national trend. After abortions were legalized in the United States, the number of procedures increased rapidly, topping out in the 1980s before decreasing slowly, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2012 report.
Then came the biggest drop in a decade both in Utah and nationally. The CDC reported a 5 percent dip in abortions from 2008 to 2009 among 45 reporting states (excluding the state with the largest number of abortion providers, California). Abortions among Utah women also plunged, by nearly 7 percent.
News reports credited the reduction to the recession women being careful to use birth control or the morning-after pill during tough economic times.
The 2009 drop was followed by a jump of 5 percent, which was then followed by the biggest decline yet: From 2010 to 2011, abortions among Utah women plummeted by nearly 11 percent, to a three-decade low of 3,081, according to the health department's annual tally.
But whatever had reduced the demand for abortions among Utah residents didn't affect women from nearby states who end their pregnancies here. Their numbers remained steady in 2011, keeping the total number of abortions in Utah at almost 3,780.
"I can't explain at all what affects those numbers," said Karrie Galloway, CEO of the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, which advocates for reproductive rights. Planned Parenthood also provides abortions in Utah, along with three other clinics.
While legislative action can affect women's choices, Galloway said, Utah's new law requiring a 72-hour waiting period meant to reduce abortions wouldn't have affected 2011 numbers.
The CDC says unintended pregnancy is the "major contributor" to abortion, and it calls on increasing access to contraception to further reduce the demand for abortions.
Utah data show nearly half of women who got an abortion in 2011 didn't use contraception in the prior year.
Galloway said more women have sought contraception from Planned Parenthood clinics during the recession, but she doesn't know if that explains the drop in abortions. "I would hope that maybe we did a better job in preventing the need for termination."
According to the Guttmacher Institute, which promotes reproductive health and conducts research on abortion, women say they seek terminations because they cannot afford a child, that having a baby would interfere with work, school or their ability to care for their other children, that they don't want to be a single parent or are having problems with their partner or husband.
While a majority of Utah women who seek abortions are single and in their 20s (as is the case nationally), more married women sought abortions in Utah in 2011 than in the past two decades.
That year, 32 percent of all Utah women who obtained abortions were married or separated. That's a jump from the decade-long average of 24 percent.
It's also a much higher share than seen nationally, where 15 percent of women who obtained abortions in 2009 were married or separated. In fact, a higher percentage of Utah women seeking abortions were married than women who obtained abortions in the 37 other states that recorded marital status, according to the CDC report.
More about Utah's 2011 abortions
71 percent of abortions were performed at 8 weeks gestation or less, and 95 percent were performed at 14 weeks gestation or less.
29 percent of Utah women who had an abortion have had at least one prior abortion.
55 percent of Utah women who had an abortion have one or more children.