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Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina laughs with Lynn Seydel of Ames, Iowa, right, during the Iowa Right to Life Presidential Forum on Jan. 20, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP/Charlie Neibergall) Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina laughs with Lynn Seydel of Ames, Iowa, right, during the Iowa Right to Life Presidential Forum on Jan. 20, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina laughs with Lynn Seydel of Ames, Iowa, right, during the Iowa Right to Life Presidential Forum on Jan. 20, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson January 20, 2016

Carly Fiorina incorrect that U.S. has a 'record number of abortions year after year'

Carly Fiorina may be a former CEO, but her campaign hasn’t been all about business and economics. Fiorina has made abortion one of her top issues, most notably referencing a controversial anti-abortion video during a Republican debate. (We rated her claim on the video Mostly False.)

On Jan. 20, 2016, at an Iowa Right to Life event in Des Moines, she cited a statistic sure to trouble her audience, among others.

"I think we're being told to settle for a nation where record numbers of men are out of work, record numbers of women are living in poverty," Fiorina said. "We have record number of abortions year after year after year."

Here, we’ll look at her claim that the United States has a "record number of abortions year after year after year."

There are two data sets for tracking abortions over the long term. One is compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the other is compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that promotes reproductive health and abortion rights. The data from the CDC is current through 2012, while the Guttmacher data -- which includes information for a few states not captured in the CDC data -- is current through 2011.

Both groups’ data show the same general pattern -- a small but steady decline in abortion since the early 1980s.

In plain figures, there were 1.6 million recorded abortions in 1990 compared to a little over 1 million in 2011.

This chart, using CDC data, shows the declines between 2003 and 2012 in the raw numbers of abortions (the solid line), the abortion rate (the number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44), and the abortion ratio (the number of abortions per 1,000 live births).

 

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The Guttmacher data shows a similar trend. Here’s the decline in the abortion rate and the abortion ratio going back to 1973, when the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationally in the case Roe vs. Wade.

 

It’s worth noting that this second pair of charts doesn’t come from an abortion-rights advocacy group. It was disseminated by the National Right to Life Coalition.

"After reaching a high of over 1.6 million in 1990, the number of abortions performed annually in the U.S. (has) dropped to around 1.06 million a year," the National Right to Life Coalition wrote in its fact sheet, adding, "By 2011, the (abortion) rate had dropped to 16.9, nearly half the peak rate, meaning abortion was a significantly less common feature in women’s lives in 2011 than it was in 1980."

And Rebecca Wind, a spokeswoman for the Guttmacher Institute, told PolitiFact that "we have no reason to believe that the long-term decline has reversed itself in recent years."

We should note that even though the abortion rate has decreased, the annual number of abortions is still significant -- 1,058,500 in 2011, according to Guttmacher, the higher of the two estimates.

Still, Fiorina’s claim -- that the United States has a "record number of abortions year after year after year" -- is flat wrong.

Our ruling

Fiorina said the United States has a "record number of abortions year after year after year." In reality, the raw number, the rate and the ratio of abortions compared to live births has been falling since the early 1980s, and the decline shows no signs of stopping. We rate Fiorina’s statement False.

Our Sources

Carly Fiorina, speech before the Iowa Right to Life event in Des Moines, Jan. 20, 2016

Rachel K. Jones and Jenna Jerman, "Abortion Incidence and Service Availability in the United States, 2011" (article in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health), March 2014

Karen Pazol, Andreea A. Creanga, and Denise J. Jamieson, "Abortion Surveillance — United States, 2012" (in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report), Nov. 27, 2015

National Right to Life Committee, "Abortion Statistics: United States Data & Trends," accessed Jan. 20, 2016

Email interview with Rebecca Wind, spokeswoman for the Guttmacher Institute, Jan. 20, 2016

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Carly Fiorina incorrect that U.S. has a 'record number of abortions year after year'

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