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CDCs Abortion Surveillance System FAQs

When did CDC start conducting abortion surveillance?

CDC began abortion surveillance in 1969 to document the number and characteristics of women obtaining legal induced abortions. Many states and reporting areas (New York City and the District of Columbia) conduct abortion surveillance. CDC compiles the information these reporting areas collect to produce national estimates. CDC’s surveillance system compiles information on legal induced abortions only.

How does CDC define abortion?

For the purpose of surveillance, a legal induced abortion is defined as an intervention performed by a licensed clinician (e.g., a physician, nurse-midwife, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant) that is intended to terminate an ongoing pregnancy.

Many areas now report if an abortion was medical or surgical. Medical abortions are legal procedures that use medications instead of surgery. The number of states and areas collecting information on the use of medical abortion is increasing each year.

Are states required to report their abortion statistics to CDC?

No, states and areas voluntarily report data to CDC for inclusion in its annual Abortion Surveillance Report. CDC's Division of Reproductive Health prepares surveillance reports as data become available. There is no national requirement for data submission or reporting.

States needing guidance on abortion surveillance may contact CDC at Contact CDC-INFO.

How is the report prepared and formatted?

Preparation of the Abortion Surveillance Reports is based on the data available from all states and reporting areas that voluntarily provide this information for a given calendar year. In addition, after CDC receives the data some additional time is required to perform the analyses that produce the tables, charts, and the narrative describing methods and trends. Please view the abstract and methods portion of the most recent Abortion Surveillance Report for more information on compilation of the report.

How is the Abortion Surveillance Report used?

This report is used for many purposes in the field of public health. In the past, it has been used to—

  • Identify characteristics of women who are at high risk of unintended pregnancy.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of programs for reducing teen pregnancies and unintended pregnancies among women of all ages.
  • Calculate pregnancy rates, on the basis of the number of pregnancies ending in abortion, in conjunction with birth data and pregnancy loss estimates.
  • Monitor changes in clinical practice patterns related to abortion, such as changes in the types of procedures used, and weeks of gestation at the time of abortion. This information is needed to calculate the mortality rate of specific abortion procedures.

Surveillance systems, such as this one, continue to provide data necessary to examine trends in public health.

Are data available for my own analysis?

In addition to the data available in the annual Abortion Surveillance Report, data also are available for abortions distributed by state of maternal residence and state of clinical service. No additional data are available for public use. Search the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE/PubMed or MedlinePlus bibliographic reference for other abortion data.

Abortions Distributed by State of Maternal Residence and State of Clinical Service
Download files: [XLS - 68K] | [CSV - 11KB]

Abortion Surveillance—Findings and Reports

Abortion Surveillance 2011

In 2011, 730,322 legal induced abortions were reported to CDC from 49 reporting areas. The abortion rate for 2011 was 13.9 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15–44, and the abortion ratio was 219 abortions per 1,000 live births. 

Compared with 2010, the total number and rate of reported abortions for 2011 decreased 5%, and the abortion ratio decreased 4%. Additionally, from 2002 to 2011, the number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions decreased 13%, 14%, and 12%, respectively. Given the large decreases in the total number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions from 2010 to 2011, in combination with decreases that occurred during 2008-2010, all three measures reached historic lows. 

Women in their twenties accounted for the majority of abortions in 2011 and throughout the period of analysis. The majority of abortions in 2011 took place early in gestation:  91.4% of abortions were performed at ≤13 weeks’ gestation; a smaller number of abortions (7.3%) were performed at 14–20 weeks’ gestation, and even fewer (1.4%) were performed at ≥21 weeks’ gestation. In 2011, 19.1% of all abortions were medical abortions. Source: MMWR 2014;63(11)

Previous MMWR Abortion Surveillance Reports

2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000 | 1999 | 1998 | 1997 | 1996 | 1995 | 1994–1993 | 1992 | 1991 | 1990 | 1989 | 1988 | 1987–1986 | 1985–1984 | 1981 | 1980–1979