The number of abortion procedures in the United States has reached a historic low — the lowest level since abortion became legal in 1973. In fact, abortions in the U.S. are down 13 percent since 2008. In the wake of a year that saw the most dramatic restrictions on reproductive rights in recent history, let’s step back and examine what caused this drop.
Pro-life activists see this as a victory, and in some ways they’re right. They wanted fewer abortions, and that’s what happened. But they’re attributing the drop to increased abortion restrictions, which is a misinterpretation of the statistics.
Consider the following:
- States that have most aggressively restricted abortion (like Ohio and Oklahoma) saw the same drops as those in states with fewer restrictions (like Oregon and Washington).
- Of the six states that saw the largest declines, five have not passed any recent abortion restrictions. Hawaii declined by 30 percent, New Mexico by 24 percent, Nevada and Rhode Island each by 22 percent, and Connecticut by 21 percent.
- The birth rate has not increased in proportion to the decrease in abortions. Women aren’t forgoing abortions; they’re simply having fewer unintended pregnancies.
Restrictions don’t seem to be doing much. In fact, the states that saw increases in abortions can put that blame on restrictions. Louisiana and Michigan saw a rise of 12 percent and 18.5 percent, respectively. This can be attributed to women from neighboring states with harsher restrictions (Ohio and Texas) traveling for their abortions. Restrictions might make it harder to access abortions — but they aren’t stopping abortions from taking place.
So what is working? Contraception and education.
Teen pregnancy is at its lowest rate in decades, which Planned Parenthood Federation of America attributes to better access to birth control and sex education. Furthermore, the use of IUDs by teenagers has had a significant impact — one only needs to look to Colorado, where an initiative to provide free IUDs to teenagers saw the state’s teen birth rate drop by 40 percent in under five years.
What can we make of these numbers? If you want to reduce the rate of abortions, hand out free contraception.