Little in American public life remains as contested as the continual battle over a woman’s right to seek a legal abortion.
Since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 legalizing abortion, the battle has remained fierce. Portrayed as the fight between the right to life and a woman’s right to choose, it is more complicated and nuanced than that.
Since 2011, those in the anti-abortion movement have successfully placed restrictions on a woman’s right to seek an abortion — whether through mandatory ultrasounds, waiting periods or restrictions on clinics. Most involved in the battle believe the issue will return to the Supreme Court someday.
Now comes the release of new information on abortion and pregnancy that offers opportunities to both prevent abortions and to move beyond this fight.
Numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta showed that between 2008 and 2009, the nation’s abortion rate dropped 5 percent, to 16.9 abortions per 1,000 live births — the lowest rate since 1973.
And the drop isn’t due to the new restrictions. Those began in 2011, after the data were gathered.
The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice think tank, confirms the drop in the abortion rate with its own report. (Guttmacher, using a longer period of measurement than the CDC, sets the drop in both the abortion rate and number of abortions at 13 percent from 2008-2011.)
Research shows that the abortion rate often rises during recessions, when families tend to delay having children. The Washington Post reported last week: “A 2004 paper in the journal Health Economics looked at the relationship between the economy and abortion rates at the state level. It found that, ‘As the economy moves into recession, a 1-point rise in the unemployment rate leads to about a 3 percent increase in abortion rates.’”
Despite the tough economic times, however, the abortion rate is not rising.
It appears something else is happening, and researchers believe it might be more effective contraception. Long-acting devices, such as intrauterine devices, are being used by more women. In 2002, only 2.4 percent of women used an IUD; between 2007 and 2009, that figure jumped to 8.9 percent. The Guttmacher study also shows that more women took the so-called morning-after pill.
In science, of course, just because two things happen close together, there is no proof of a causal link.
Pro-life activists believe that young adults today are more aware about the stirrings of life, especially because more of them have seen sonograms of unborn babies their entire lives. They believe they are winning the war to persuade hearts and minds that abortion is wrong.
We can’t say for sure what factors are changing these numbers. This research, though, gives hope for progress on this contentious issue:
To prevent abortion, prevent unwanted and unplanned pregnancies. Make contraception available (the provisions of the Affordable Care Act make even more sense in light of this report), help teens delay sexual activity and ensure that women find good-paying jobs so they feel they can support children — all of these efforts will help reduce the abortion rate.
Even the most strident right-to-lifer and the most ardent pro-choice advocate should be able to agree that all babies should be wanted babies.
— The Santa Fe New Mexican