A new report has shown that between 2008 and 2011 the abortion rate in the United States dropped by a massive 13%.
The report from the Guttmacher Institute showed that in 2011 there were 16.9 abortions per every 1,000 women of reproductive age. This represents the lowest level of abortions since termination of a pregnancy was legalized in the landmark Supreme Court ruling of Roe v. Wade in 1973.
The figures were immediately seized upon by the anti-choice movement, claiming that they proved that more women and girls were opting to carry a pregnancy to term rather than seek a termination. Charmaine Yoest of the anti-choice United Americans for Life said:
“There is increased awareness throughout our culture of the moral weight of the unborn baby. And that’s a good thing.”
Carol Tobias, the president of the National Right to Life Committee also claimed the figured affirmed the so-called “pro-life” position:
“It shows that women are rejecting the idea of abortion as the answer to an unexpected pregnancy.”
However, Rachel Jones, the lead author of the landmark study, was quick to point out that the decline in abortions was not down to a decrease in terminations, but mainly an increase in the number of women who avoided pregnancy in the first place, as well as economic factors:
“The decline in abortions coincided with a steep national drop in overall pregnancy and birth rates. Contraceptive use improved during this period, as more women and couples were using highly effective, long-acting reversible contraceptive methods, such as the IUD. Moreover, the recent recession led many women and couples to want to avoid or delay pregnancy and childbearing.”
Additionally, Thinkprogress warned against celebration of the figures, pointing out that in many cases the decrease in abortions was as much to do with a lack of safe abortion services as it was with couples using more effective contraception:
“As states have imposed an increasing number of harsh state-level restrictions on the procedure, many women — especially economically disadvantaged individuals and communities of color — have struggled to exercise their right to choose. Many of those women end up giving birth not because they didn’t want an abortion, but because they simply could not access one. For instance, harsh anti-abortion laws in Texas are projected to result in 22,000 women losing access to safe and legal abortion this year alone.”
It is not surprising that the anti-choice movement has sought to spin the figures in their favour: many “pro-lifers”, particularly Roman Catholics, believe that contraception is the equivalent to an abortion, and abortion itself is morally equivalent to murder. For them to admit that increasing knowledge of and access to contraception has led to a decrease in abortion rates would undermine their ongoing campaign to impose ever-harsher restrictions on women’s freedom of choice.
These new figures should be analyzed carefully before any conclusion is drawn. As noted above, the drop in the number of abortions has been influenced by the increasing restrictions on abortion services, as well as an increase in contraception. That said, the pro-choice movement must be vigilant against any attempt by the anti-choice camp to manipulate scientific studies like this to suit their own fundamentalist worldview.
As Maya Dusenbery noted for Feministing:
“If it seems obvious to you that birth control prevents abortion, let me remind you that most anti-choicers willfully deny that fact, which suggests their real concern is about sex, not ‘life.'”