Guest Column

Guttmacher misleads on recent unintended pregnancy declines

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(National Review) Late last month, the Guttmacher Institute released new data in the academic journal Demography on pregnancy rates and pregnancy desires for the years 2009 to 2015. The data showed an increasing percentage of women who said that their pregnancies occurred at the right time. The data also showed decreases in the unintended-pregnancy rate and increases in the rate of pregnancies that occurred later than planned. These new data were extensively covered in an article that ran in the New York Times’ Upshot section.

Guttmacher’s methodology differs from that of their previous reports on pregnancy desires. In previous attempts to analyze pregnancy desires, respondents were asked to place their pregnancy into one of three categories: intended, unintended, or mistimed. This report used data from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) to place pregnancies in one of five categories: pregnancy occurred at the right time, pregnancy occurred later than wanted, pregnancy occurred too soon, did not want to have a baby, and other. This more detailed approach allows for a more nuanced look at pregnancy desires.

The results were interesting. From 2009 to 2015, there was a significant decrease in the rate of pregnancies that occurred too soon. There was also a smaller decrease in the rate of pregnancies that were unwanted. Interestingly, there was a 37 percent increase in the proportion of pregnancies that took place too late. This increase was especially large among women between the ages of 35 and 44. This might have been due to the recession that took place around 2009. It might also reflect broader trends of delayed childbearing among U.S. women.

While the new data are interesting, the authors put a pro-contraception spin on it. They are quick to credit the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate for the reduction in the unintended-pregnancy rate. While this is possible, it should be also be noted that Guttmacher’s older data show that increases in contraception use have not always resulted in unintended-pregnancy-rate declines. Furthermore, since the data go back only to 2009, it is possible that the reduction in the rate of unintended pregnancy may be due to a broader, long-term trend — and not the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate.

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Similarly, the authors also credit the reduced abortion rate during this time period to reductions in pregnancies that occurred too soon and in pregnancies that were unwanted. It is true that the rates of “too soon” pregnancies and of unwanted pregnancies both declined between 2009 and 2015. However, it should be noted that between 2009 and 2015 there were modest reductions in the fraction both of “too soon” pregnancies and of “unwanted” pregnancies that resulted in an abortion.

More importantly, Guttmacher analysts consistently overlook the long-term data on unintended-pregnancy rates and abortion rates. These trends are more important and tell a much different story. Two separate datasets from Guttmacher-affiliated researchers both show substantial long-term increases in the percentage of unintended pregnancies carried to term since the 1990s. The most recent data show that in the early 1990s, half of all unintended pregnancies resulted in an abortion. By the late 2010s, only approximately one-third of unintended pregnancies were aborted.

I cite those statistics every time I have the opportunity to give a talk to a pro-life audience. If more unintended pregnancies are being carried to term, that is for three reasons: shifts in public opinion, more support for pregnant women through pregnancy-help centers, and the passage of more pro-life laws. In short, the durable long-term decline in the percentage of unintended pregnancies that were aborted nicely shows the effectiveness of pro-life educational, service, and legislative activities. It also shows that pro-life efforts have played a very substantial role in the 50 percent decline in the U.S. abortion rate since 1980. As always, pro-lifers would do well to stay the course.

Editor’s Note: This article was published at National Review and is reprinted here with permission.

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