Black Voices

Abortion Rates Highest Among Black Teens, Study Shows, But Accuracy May Be Hard To Measure

Teenage girls with pregnancy test
Teenage girls with pregnancy test

While the debate over New York City's wildly criticized teen pregnancy prevention campaign rages on, a recent study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute may offer support to proponents of the PSA.

According to the Institute's state-by-state study of abortion rates among teens, black teenagers between 15 and 19 years old have an abortion rate of 41 per 1,000 women, more than twice the national average of 18 per 1,000. In comparison, white teenagers have an abortion rate of 10 per 1,000 women, which means that African-American teenagers are having abortions at a rate that is about four times higher than that of their white counterparts.

In New York, the state with the highest abortion rate in the country, the situation is even more grim, with pregnancies among black teens -- excluding miscarriages -- resulting in abortion 67 percent of the time.

But as convincing as the stats may be to those like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose tenure has served as a testing ground for aggressive public health campaigns like the recent teen pregnancy prevention PSAs, others say there's no way to accurately measure how many abortions happen each year. The reason: Researchers' methods of tracking abortions are complicated,'s L.V. Anderson says.

Take the United States, for example, where the CDC collects data from state health agencies, though those agencies aren't required to report abortion numbers to the CDC. According to Anderson:

The CDC encourages agencies to ask abortion providers for the woman’s age, gestational stage, race, ethnicity, abortion type, the woman’s marital status, and the woman’s previous abortions and births, but not every state collects all this information, and some states (California, Delaware, Maryland, and New Hampshire) don’t report abortions to the CDC at all.

Anderson does point to the Guttmacher Institute, however, where efforts to collect more-complete data include approaching every known abortion facility nationwide while also taking governmental tallies into consideration.

But in places where abortion is illegal, obtaining accurate figures remains a challenge, Anderson goes on to say.

In the U.S., all but one state has layered on restrictions to 1973's Roe vs. Wade decision, ultimately limiting access to abortions for many women.

That said, there has not been a study that has found the direct cause for the high abortion rate among black teenagers.

Some abortion rights opponents, like the National Black Pro-Life Coalition, an organization seeking to reduce the number of abortions among black teenagers, claim easy access to abortions is the culprit and that abortion providers like Planned Parenthood deliberately place their abortion facilities in areas with large minority populations.

Others, like Rachel Jones, a senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute, say the cause may be far simpler. She noted that poverty and a lack of attention given to teenagers at high risk for teen pregnancy could be potential causes for the high abortion rates among African-American teens.

“There’s no definitive research that’s actually been able to answer that question. We just do know that African-American women, including African-American teenagers, just have more pregnancies,” Jones told The Daily Caller.

Cheryl L. Somers, associate professor and director of the School & Community Psychology program at Wayne State University agrees, and argues that data on abortion rates cannot be counted unless it factors in teen pregnancy rates as a whole.

"The [studies] on abortion are missing a key piece on information and that is the raw difference in pregnancy rates," Somers told The Huffington Post. "Per capita, there are going to be more abortions, because we know that African Americans have a high teen pregnancy rate. So this doesn't tell the whole story. It's almost irresponsible, because it misleads the public... and it really perpetuates racial bias," she said.

Somers is currently investigating the efficacy of school-based teen pregnancy prevention programs among minority middle-school students in the Midwest.

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