There is good news coming from number crunchers for those who would like to see a reduction in abortion in our country: 2011 resulted in the fewest abortions since Roe legalized the procedure in all 50 states. That’s a statistic that both abortion opponents and abortion rights activists are lauding. But there are still many questions: Who is really responsible for that decrease? Is it sustainable? Is reduced abortion really a victory at all?
According to Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive rights laws and statistics, the abortion rate of 16.9 per every 1000 people aged 15 to 44 marks a historic low, one that hasn’t been seen since abortion was made legal across the country in 1973. The rate of incidence has also fallen significantly since 1980, when it was over 29 procedures per live birth.
Both sides are claiming victory, albeit through very different tactics and with different caveats. Reproductive rights advocates say the steady decline since 2008 shows the effectiveness of pregnancy prevention, noting that with less unintended pregnancies, you will inevitably have less abortions. “With abortion rates falling in almost all states, our study did not find evidence that the national decline in abortions during this period was the result of new state abortion restrictions. We also found no evidence that the decline was linked to a drop in the number of abortion providers during this period,” says Rachel Jones, lead author of the Guttmacher report. “Rather, the decline in abortions coincided with a steep national drop in overall pregnancy and birth rates.”
Anti-abortion groups disagreed with that assessment, with Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, stating, “It shows that women are rejecting the idea of abortion as the answer to an unexpected pregnancy,” while Americans United for Life says they doubt those are the full number of abortions occurring, anyway.
The idea that more people are choosing to give birth, rather than preventing pregnancy in the first place, just doesn’t bear out, however. According to Guttmacher the abortion rate declined 13 percent since 2008. Meanwhile, over that same period of time, the birth rate for the U.S. has dropped from 2.08 to 1.89. If abortion restrictions were really convincing more people to give birth to an unintended pregnancy, where did all of the babies go?
Where are the babies, unfortunately, could be an answer coming far too soon for those who want to ensure that every pregnancy and birth is a wanted, intended one. When next year’s stats come out, analyzing 2012′s abortion numbers and birth numbers, then we will truly see what an impact abortion restrictions and limits on funding for family planning providers plays. Between 2011 and 2013 there have been 205 new reproductive rights restrictions, and if those policies are going to have an impact, it will start then.
In the end, regardless of whether the lowest abortion rate is caused by better access to birth control or by restrictions making pregnant people less inclined to terminate, at the heart of the issue is the fact that no matter how low the rate becomes, there is no victory behind it being less accessible. We can cheer the prevention of unwanted pregnancies as progress in our number one goal, ensuring that no person is forced to be pregnant when she does not want to be. But we must be sure that while we celebrate the victory of less abortion in what we hope is a case of less abortions being needed, abortion needs to be accessible, legal and safe for whomever finds herself in the position of still needing it.
As long as there is a person who does not want to remain pregnant, a legal, affordable and accessible provider must be nearby so she can access that right. That will remain unchanged, no matter how low the numbers go.
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