North Carolina's abortion rate has inched up since 2011, even as the national rate continues a long and steady decline, according to new figures released by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports legalized abortion.
The report updated state-by-state abortion figures through 2014. That year, North Carolina had an estimated abortion rate of 15.1 per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44. Nationally, the rate was 14.6 per 1,000 women.
Taking a longer look, abortion rates have been declining in North Carolina for years, matching a similar trend across the nation. In 1988, for example, there were 25.4 abortions per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44 in North Carolina, the highest annual rate on record.
Rachel K. Jones, a principal research scientist with the Guttmacher Institute and author of the report, pointed to the wider availability of contraceptives, and especially the intrauterine device (IUD), as a driving cause of reducing unintended pregnancies and therefore reducing abortions.
"There is clear evidence, from our perspective, that improvements in contraceptive use, and again, reliance on long acting methods such as the IUD, is contributing to this decline," Jones said.
While the long-term trend in North Carolina shows a largely consistent abortion rate decline since the mid-1980s, recent rates are up from the low mark set in 2011.
The recent increase occurred even as new North Carolina laws attempted to reduce the instances of aborted pregnancies. One new law, for example, required that any woman seeking an abortion must receive an ultrasound at least four hours before an abortion. Another law requires that women must receive counseling at least 72 hours before an abortion procedure.
In addition, abortion clinics have closed since 2011. North Carolina had 16 abortion clinics in 2014, a 24 percent decline from 2011, according to Guttmacher.
Even as these laws have taken effect and clinics have closed, the abortion rate has increased from 14.6 per 1,000 women of childbearing age in 2011 to 15.1 per 1,000 in 2014.
"That's a very small increase, but still, that is differing from the larger trend from what’s going on in most states, which shows abortion rates going down," said Jones. "If the intent was to reduce the incidence of abortions in North Carolina, it didn’t actually have that effect."
In North Carolina, it is illegal to perform abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of medical emergency. For any abortion performed after the 16 week of pregnancy, the physician must keep a record of the ultrasound image and must provide that image and other records to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
The abortion rate was 15.5 per 1,000 women in 2013, meaning the rate has declined for the most recent two years of data available.