A survey released Sunday by the Associated Press (AP) shows that abortion rates are dropping nationwide: the overall decrease was roughly 12 percent. The survey shows in states with significant pro-life legislation, such as Indiana, Missouri, Ohio and Oklahoma, the drop is closer to 15 percent; however, pro-life states were not alone. The report notes that “more liberal states such as New York, Washington and Oregon also had declines of that magnitude, even as they maintained unrestricted access to abortion.”
AP conducted the survey by acquiring abortion data from all the states that had numbers available (California, Maryland, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Wyoming do not compile abortion data). Most of the information collected came from 2013 to 2014, which as AP writer David Crary notes, the numbers provide “a unique nationwide gauge of abortion trends during a wave of anti-abortion laws that gathered strength starting in 2011.”
Like any pro-lifer, I’m looking for signs of positive movement. But my gut feeling is that this data is at least somewhat misleading. It’s certainly a curious phenomenon that abortion rates are dropping when you consider that we are not becoming more moral — or even responsible with our sexual behavior — as a society.
Keep in mind that in 2012, the number of American first-born babies who were born to married couples fell below 60% for the first time. More babies being born out of wedlock means more familial instability for those babies that are being born. Single mothers, live-together couples, and other non-traditional situations for pregnancy are continuing to rise. These are precisely the sort of situations where you would expect to see more abortions, not fewer.
All of which makes you wonder: is this a numbers game? Are abortions falling because the number of pregnancies are falling? It isn’t hard to find research showing that this might well be the case:
Final 2011 data are not available, but according to preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the overall birth rate in 2011 was 63.2 per 1,000 women of childbearing age. That rate is the lowest since at least 1920, the earliest year for which there are reliable numbers.
Back to LiveActionNews‘s analysis:
While both sides of the abortion issue dispute why abortions are dropping, the fact is, they are. Less preborn babies are dying now in virtually every state.
Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, said:
“There’s an entire generation of women who saw a sonogram as their first baby picture. There’s an increased awareness of the humanity of the baby before it is born.”
But the President of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, disagreed:
“Better access to birth control and sex education are the biggest factors in reducing unintended pregnancies. More restrictive abortion laws do not reduce the need for abortions.”
While the idea of “needing” an abortion is abhorrent to anyone who understands the humanity of the preborn baby, Richards’ view is also much too narrow, denying the power of the pro-life voice, as well as legislation nationwide. Just as Richards and her organization use rhetoric to sing a happy tune about abortion, pro-lifers have risen to the call to show the reality of the preborn baby.
As much as I hate to concede anything to Planned Parenthood, it seems to me that both of these points of view here likely have merit.
First, Yoest is absolutely correct: as medical technology improves, the reality of the humanity of the unborn child becomes increasingly difficult to deny. Witness the power of the so-called “4D ultrasound.” These stunning images have been taking the world by storm for years now. And recently in Brazil, 3D printing technology was actually used in conjunction with new sonography techniques to produce a physical 3D model of a baby for his mother, who is blind. The powerful video has since gone viral:
Clearly, the power of seeing the face of an unborn child militates against killing them. But there’s another reality in play, and it’s the one that Richards brings up: fewer women are choosing to have fewer children — mostly through contraception — so it stands to reason that the number of clinical abortions have diminished.
Is that really good news? It seems so at first, but consider this: in addition to new data indicating that standard hormonal contraception acts as an abortifacient, causing newly fertilized embryos not to implant, there is also another reality: chemical abortions from drugs like RU 486 are on the rise — according to one study in 2008, these have gone up by as much as 20%. We simply have no way of knowing how many pregnancies are ending in abortion through easily-obtained drugs. This isn’t the kind of things that’s going to show up accurately in public data or research.
There’s a temptation, I think, for us to look for any indication that abortions are declining as evidence that what we’re doing is working. And we legitimately do need to find those approaches which bear fruit, the power of ultrasound imagery being perhaps foremost among them. But I’m incredibly weary of celebrating too soon. Look around you. We’re not winning the culture war, so why do we think we’re winning the abortion battle? In fact, we’re getting beaten senseless on the re-definition of marriage, so much so that I suspect it’s draining a not insignificant amount of our effort away from the pro-life front.
I’m willing to be cautiously optimistic on these numbers. Any time there are fewer abortions, that’s a good thing. But if the reasons are as I suspect, and the true numbers are simply being hidden by new techniques that are going under reported, then we’re not really in a better place.
I’ve said for years that this isn’t about politics, it’s about morals. If we can’t convert hearts and minds on the reality of the dignity of human life, even legislation that goes in our favor is a victory built on sand. It’ll crumble just as soon as the mob focuses its attention to overturning it.
Want a pro-life society? Then you need a Catholic society. The fact is, we stand almost completely alone on our no-exceptions stance against abortion — which is where most of our Protestant and Mormon political allies in the pro-life movement part ways. Regaining our bearings on the Great Commission and learning how to evangelize rather than “dialogue” is absolutely critical if we’re going to stand a chance.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.