When the report on the numbers of abortions performed in Nebraska in the first half of 2011 came out, pro-lifers were quick to congratulate themselves. After all, the 10% decrease in abortion had to be the result of the enactment of the 2010 “fetal pain” law, which banned abortions at or after 20 weeks. As usual, however, the pro-life perspective doesn’t tell the whole story.
Nebraska Right to Life claimed that the drop in the abortion numbers were directly related to Dr. Leroy Carhart’s decision to move his late-term abortion clinic to Maryland after the 20-week ban went into effect. The law was clearly targeting Dr. Carhart, who is one of the few doctors in the country who provides late-term abortions.
“Legislation does save lives,” said Nebraska Right to Life’s executive director, Julie Schmit-Albin. “Carhart admitted when [the ban] was enacted last fall that he would be forced by the law to do late-term abortions out of the state.”
The problem is, there is no way to know how many of Nebraska’s abortions were performed after 20 weeks, because many doctors did not report the fetus’ gestational age. As our own Robin Marty points out at RHRealityCheck, “according to the 2010 state abortions statistics, there was only one abortion at 20 weeks or later reported, even though the ban itself didn’t go into effect until October.” Anti-abortion advocates have no way to prove that the ban had any effect on the number of late-term abortions, because they don’t know how many were happening to begin with.
Carhart suggested that the drop might have to do with other factors, including an “improvement in birth control, improvement in [the use of] the morning-after pill, hopefully doing a little better in contraception.”
It may be shocking for pro-lifers to imagine that preventing pregnancy might do more to reduce the numbers of abortions than making it difficult or impossible for women to access late-term abortions, but it seems a little premature to declare that the abortion ban is the only relevant factor, especially since abortion rates in Nebraska have been declining at a steady rate for the past three years.
Photo from infomatique via flickr