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Interactive: Women’s Reproductive Health and Abortion

For the past two weeks, North Carolina lawmakers have been debating bills that would change the state’s regulation of abortion clinics, curtail health plan coverage of the procedure and ban sex-selective abortions. This interactive map gives readers an idea of who and how many women in the state have had abortions.

By Rose Hoban

In 2011, 143,474 pregnancies to North Carolina women were recorded by the NC State Center for Health Statistics; of those, at least 22,370 were terminated (2011 is the last year for which the center has released complete data).

According to demographer Tamara Fetters, who works with the Chapel Hill-based international public health organization Ipas, there were probably more pregnancies than that, but some ended naturally.

“About 15 percent of recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. That’s why we usually don’t use recognized pregnancies as a denominator when calculating the abortion rate,” Fetters said.

 

To use the map, click on a county to see the characteristics of women who live in that county who had an abortion in 2011.

Fetters said the abortion rate is calculated by looking at the number of women of reproductive age and seeing how many of those women had abortions in a given year.

She said demographers usually think about abortion rates in terms of the number of abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age, generally considered to be 15-44 years old. While some females younger than 15 and older than 44 can and do get pregnant and could terminate that pregnancy, the numbers provided by the NC State Center for Health Statistics do not reflect those females’ pregnancies.

According to Elizabeth Finley, spokeswoman for the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina, many of the girls younger than 15 who became pregnant did so because of abuse.

“What we know of young women who have had abortions at 11 or 12 years old, if they’ve gotten pregnant the overwhelming likelihood is that that sex is not consensual,” Finley said. “As a matter of fact, what our data show is that  62 percent of the sex is is non-consensual.”

For girls in their teens, she said, preventing pregnancy is key, rather than thinking about preventing abortion.

“Our position has always been that if you prevent pregnancy in the first place, you don’t need an abortion,” Finley said.

According to the National Campaign to End Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, North Carolina ranks 16th in the country in the rate of teens who get pregnant, at a rate of 72 per 1,000 girls aged 15-19.

Since 2002, the overall rate of women having abortions has dropped from a statewide rate of 14.4 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age to 11.4 in 2011. In that same time frame, the number of women having a so-called medical abortion (using a combination of pills including RU 486) has risen from 9.3 percent in 2002 to 23.4 percent in 2011.

Women from every county in North Carolina had abortions, but the overwhelming majority took place in 10 counties – Buncombe, Cumberland, Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Onslow, Orange and Wake – where abortion clinics are located. Only two abortions in 2011 were reported outside of those counties, in Pitt and Richmond counties, presumably in hospitals.

This means that most women obtaining abortions had to travel to obtain them.

In addition, there were about 3,822 abortions performed on women who were not North Carolina residents. As surrounding states – including Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee – have passed restrictions on access to abortion, more women have traveled to North Carolina to have the procedure done.

A note about this map:

Numbers shown in county data reflect total pregnancies as reported to the NC State Center for Health Statistics. However, more women become pregnant whose data never was reported because their pregnancies end in miscarriage.

Characteristics of NC Women Receiving Abortions
NC RESIDENT ABORTIONS: Characteristics of Women Receiving Abortions, NC Residents, 2011
NUMBER PERCENT
TOTALS 22,370 100.0
LOCATION OF PROCEDURE
North Carolina 21,933 98.0
Out of State 437 2.0
AGE
14 and under 109 0.5
15-19 2,774 12.4
20-24 7,236 32.3
25-29 5,245 23.4
30-34 3,438 15.4
35 and over 2,679 12.0
Unknown 889 4.0
RACE
White Non-Hispanic 8,363 37.4
Af. Am. Non-Hispanic 10,097 45.1
Other Non-Hispanic 959 4.3
Hispanic 2,369 10.6
Unknown 582 2.6
MARITAL STATUS
Married 4,214 18.8
Unmarried 17,018 76.1
Unknown 1,138 5.1
YEARS OF EDUCATION
Not completed high school 3,029 13.5
High school graduate 7,193 32.2
Some college 10,077 45.0
Unknown 2,071 9.3
NUMBER OF LIVING CHILDREN
None 7,956 35.6
1 6,069 27.1
2 or more 7,511 33.5
Unknown 834 3.7
NUMBER OF PREVIOUS ABORTIONS
None 10,962 49.0
1 5,036 22.5
2 1,999 8.9
3 or more 1,028 4.6
Unknown 3,345 15.0
WEEKS OF GESTATION
First trimester 0-12 weeks* 19,399 86.7
13-20 1,829 8.8
Greater than 20 weeks 8 0.0
Unknown 1,134 5.1
TYPE OF PROCEDURE
Any Surgical 16,809 75.1
Medical (nonsurgical) 5,236 23.4
Other/Unknown 325 1.5
*Fetus gender cannot be determined prior to 12 weeks of gestation.

Thanks to Tyler Dukes and Steve Tell for help processing the data and creating the map.