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Abortions in U.S. reach lowest level since 1973

The U.S. counted 862,000 abortions in 2017, the lowest level since the procedure became legal nationwide in 1973, new data and analysis shows.

The big picture: The national abortion rate has continuously reached new lows since 1981, per the report by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. "[A]bortion restrictions were not the main driver of the decline in the U.S. abortion rate between 2011 and 2017," Guttmacher said.

  • The latest data, calculated with Census information from July 2016 to July 2017, is only a minor drop from 2016's abortion rate, the institute notes.
  • A likely factor for the decline is increased accessibility of contraception under the Affordable Care Act, which required most private health insurance plans to cover contraceptives without out-of-pocket costs.

What they found: Abortion rates declined the most from 2014-2017 in Delaware, Arkansas, West Virginia, Alabama and Virginia, according to the institute. The West saw the steepest abortion rate drop of any U.S. region.

  • Virginia requires minors to take more steps to obtain an abortion than any other state, according to an Axios analysis of Guttmacher data.
  • Adults are also required to take more steps in Virginia to obtain an abortion than anywhere else in the U.S.

The other side: Abortion rates increased the most from 2014-2017 in Mississippi, New Jersey, Minnesota, Georgia, Maryland and Wisconsin, according to the institute.

  • Mississippi and Wisconsin are among 7 states where adults are required to take more steps to obtain an abortion than anywhere else in the U.S.
  • New Jersey is among 12 states — and D.C. — where adults and minors can obtain an abortion through the fewest steps.

By the numbers: Even though 400 state laws restricting abortion access were passed between 2011 and 2017, the majority of the decline happened in states that didn't pass any new restrictions, the AP reports.

  • People who are having abortions are increasingly using medication over surgery. The "abortion pill" accounted for 39% of abortions in 2017.

Background: "They [Guttmacher Institute] are the best source for information to understand national trends, as well as state-level trends, for what's happening on the ground in abortion care," said Alina Salganicoff, senior vice president and director of women's health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Go deeper ... Where abortion restrictions stand: The states that have passed laws

Editor's note: This article has been updated with more details on the Guttmacher report.