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February 6, 2014
Column #1,693
Why Are Abortion Rates Declining?
By Mike McManus

America’s abortion rate fell to its lowest level since 1973 when the Supreme Court legalized it in Roe v. Wade that allowed unrestricted abortion on demand.

It dropped by 13% from 2008 to 2011, from 1.2 million a year to only 1,058,000. That figure is also an even bigger drop from the 1.6 million in the peak year of 1990.

The biggest declines were between 1990 and 2003, but the fall of abortions stalled at about 1.25 million through 2008, before dropping another 150,000 by 2011.

What explains the recent drop?

Only on page 11 of its 12-page report, does the Guttmacher Institute note that “The U.S. birthrate decreased 9%” while abortions fell 13%. “Substantially fewer women got pregnant in 2011 than in 2008.” Why?

“Women and couples facing economic uncertainty may have been particularly motivated to postpone or even forgo, childbearing.”

Carol Tobias, President of National Right to Life, the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots pro-life organization, adds: “State laws are making a difference. They humanized the unborn child, such as requiring ultrasound so that women can see their babies.”

Guttmacher documents that between 2008 and 2011, 18 states implemented 44 laws that were aimed at reducing abortions. There were five different kinds of laws:

1. Ultrasound: New counseling laws in such states as Missouri, North Dakota and Utah required that the mother be given the opportunity to view an ultrasound of her baby. There are now 24 states with such laws.

2. Informed Consent: requires that women be told of the medical risks of abortion, positive alternatives, and medical facts of the development of her unborn child. For example, Missouri required women to make an in-person visit for counseling at least 24 hours prior to the abortion. The state’s abortion rate fell 17% from 2008-2011.

3. Bans and limits on late abortions were implemented 2008-2011 in Arizona, Arkansas, Nebraska and Utah. Nebraska was the first to pass a model “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks gestation. Nine more states have followed that model.

4. Restrictions on providers. Kansas required that all abortions at or after 16 weeks of gestation be performed in a hospital or an ambulatory surgical center. Some abortion clinics closed. Result: Kansas abortions fell 35% from 10,620 to 6,940.

5. Parental Notice and Consent Laws. If a minor seeks an abortion, 29 states require that the parents either consent or at least be informed of it. Most of these laws were passed in the 1990s with the remarkable result of cutting teen abortions in half from 351,000 in 1990 to 179,000 in 2009. Teen births also fell from 521,000 to 367,000. Once teens realized parents would have to be involved in an abortion, fewer were sexually active, or used contraception.

Guttmacher argues that the impact of these laws was not as great as pro-lifers assert. It notes that abortion rates decreased by larger than-the 13% average in states with no new state laws, such as Illinois that fell 18% and Oregon, 15%.

While this is true, eight states which passed these laws did experience a drop of 18% to 35% - Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, South Dakota, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arizona and Utah.

Further, I find it impressive that five of these states (UT, MS, LA, MO and SD) already had abortion rates that were two-thirds lower than the U.S., averaging only 4-5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 when the U.S. rate was 16.9 per 1,000 women.

Wyoming is to be complimented for having only 1 abortion per 1,000 women -17 times lower than America’s average.

At the opposite extreme, states with no restrictions had high abortion rates, double the U.S. average such as New York (34 per 1,000), Maryland and Washington DC (29/1,000) and New Jersey (27/1,000). Yet abortions fell at close to the U.S. decline in NY and NJ.

The bottom line: a half million babies are now being born annually who would have been aborted if rates had not fallen.

Abortion rates will continue to fall – perhaps dramatically because 205 new state abortion restrictions were passed in 2011-2013. That’s more than the 189 passed in the previous decade.

With new Republican governors and legislatures, North Carolina and Arkansas passed 13 new restrictions in 2013. North Dakota and Texas enacted 13 more. One result is that 87 abortion clinics closed in 2013. Eleven closed in Texas when it required abortion doctors to maintain local hospital privileges.

What’s now needed is to develop more alternatives to abortion or unwed births – more adoption and marriage. Next week’s column will suggest practical strategies.

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