This week the Guttmacher Institute, former research arm of Planned Parenthood, released a report on America’s abortion rate, “Abortion Incidence and Service Availability in the United States, 2011.” Covering 2008 to 2011, this is the sixteenth such report, in which Guttmacher surveys providers about the number of abortions they performed. Their results are more accurate than even the CDC’s abortion surveillance, which does not collect data from states with notoriously high abortion rates, such as California. Guttmacher’s report is a powerful indicator of the state of pre-born babies’ human rights in the U.S.
Good news for pre-born babies
To sum up the report, the pro-life movement has much to celebrate. Guttmacher found a dramatic 13% decline in the number of abortions from 2008 to 2011. The rate of abortion – number of abortions per 1,000 women – dropped to a historic low of 16.9. In 1973, when abortion was legalized, the rate was 16.3. With the state condoning abortion as the solution to unexpected pregnancies, the rate shot to an all-time high of 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women in 1981.
So what do we credit for the thirty-year overall decrease in ending the lives of pre-born children, or the plunging decrease of 2008 to 2011? Guttmacher’s study has no answers, though the authors pretend to.
In the study, the authors proposed possible factors for the abortion rate nosedive. They first focused on the pro-choice mantra that shuttering abortion facilities hampers women’s access to abortion. However, all abortion providers declined by only 4%, and clinics devoted to abortion by just 1%. Guttmacher could not draw any link between decreasing providers and the much greater drop in abortion rate.
Guttmacher then examined the effect of pro-life state legislation on abortion rate, but again, oddly, by speculation, rather than statistically. The period from 2008 to 2011 saw 106 pro-life laws enacted, but the majority went into effect in late 2011, and could not account for the steady decline in abortion rate over all four years. The authors also did not find a greater-than-average abortion rate decrease in every state with new pro-life laws, and concluded, “[W]e can not assume that the new restrictions were responsible for the decline in abortion incidence.” However, they failed to mention that they also cannot assume that the laws were ineffectual, as the study lacked any tests for statistical significance.
The study’s state-by-state legislative analysis, though not statistically definitive, proves encouraging to all those concerned for pregnant mothers and their babies. Guttmacher highlighted scientifically accurate counseling and waiting period laws as possible contributors to Missouri’s 17% abortion rate decrease and North Carolina’s 13% drop, as compared to just a 2% drop the year before. A law regulating abortion facilities in Louisiana only temporarily closed some clinics, and the abortion rate plummeted by 19%. Though we cannot claim a direct link before statistical analysis, a clear message is unfolding. Pre-born children are best protected when we work to care for the emotional and physical health of their mothers.
Guttmacher misrepresents study to AP
In their paper, Guttmacher declined to point to direct causes of the four-year abortion decrease, acknowledging that the study simply was not designed to identify them. However, it was a different story in their interviews with the media.
USA TODAY reports that lead author Rachel Jones “attributes the decline to more women using ‘highly effective contraceptive methods such as the IUD [intrauterine device][.]’” It is actually impossible for Jones to make this claim from her study, which conjectured a link between the increased use of long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC) and a lower abortion rate but never attempted to test for one. Still, she repeats this claim to the AP, Washington Post, Huffington Post, New York Times, etc.
Jones says the decline in abortion rate “coincided with a steep national drop in overall pregnancy and birth rates.” She again credits the drops in pregnancy rates and abortion to “contraceptive use.” While contraceptive use lowers overall pregnancy rates, other Guttmacher studies show that it does not directly cause lower abortion rates. In countries like the United States where abortion is not considered simply another method of birth control (as in the former USSR), abortion and contraceptive use rates first increase simultaneously, even in cases when legalized or popularized years apart. Pregnancy rates then stabilize at a lower level, and contraceptive use continues to increase, but the abortion rate never returns to its all-time low found before higher contraceptive use and lower pregnancy rates. This trend is seen in the United States after Griswold v. Connecticut legalized contraceptive use in 1965. Abortions skyrocketed, even before Roe v. Wade legalized them. Though contraceptive use climbs and pregnancy rates fall, abortion rates remain high.
So does increased contraceptive use cause a decline in abortions? After increasing abortions, yes, eventually. Even, so, Jones’s second hypothesis – that couples are delaying pregnancy due to an unsure economy – may be a safer one. The only indication she has of better contraceptive use is a small decrease in non-use among young women, from 15% to 12% from 2007 to 2009, and a higher use of LARCs as compared to other contraceptive methods. This obviously cannot fully account for the 13% decrease in abortions from 2008 to 2011.
It is also deeply misleading to claim that the LARCs Jones mentioned, IUDs, decrease the number of abortions. Besides other side-effects endangering women, they undeniably cause early abortions, making the uterine lining hostile to the embryo, who cannot implant and is starved (1).
A rate worth celebrating
In summary, Guttmacher Institute’s “Abortion Incidence and Service Availability in the United States, 2011” is generally encouraging to pro-life advocates but offers little practical help to either side of the abortion debate. During the short course of Guttmacher’s study, pregnancies ending in abortion dropped from 23 to 21 out of every 100 pregnant mothers (2). Seventy-nine out of 100 choose life for their children. That’s a rate worth celebrating.
However, the report fails to statistically examine any link between the abortion rate decrease and pro-life legislation, fewer doctors performing abortions, or contraceptive use. Guttmacher’s strongly partisan nature is obvious as it completely ignores pro-life educational efforts, the unknown numbers of embryos killed by “emergency contraception,” the impact of prevalent ultrasound imagery on America’s perception of the pre-born child’s humanity, or women’s access to options other than abortion at community pregnancy centers.
Still, there is no denying a national trend. And this trend shows a much greater respect for human life than just thirty years ago. Here I have to take a leaf from Guttmacher’s book and conjecture: hearts and minds are changing.
- (1) Grimes DA (2007). Intrauterine devices (IUDs). In RA Hatcher et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 19th ed., pp. 117-143. New York: Ardent Media.
- (2) Does not include miscarriages.