Just days before the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we have a new report from the Guttmacher Institute that says the U.S. abortion rate has fallen to its lowest level since 1974. Despite fairly widespread access to the new abortion drug RU-486, the rate now stands at 19.4 abortions per 1,000 women age 15-44 in 2005, down from a high of 29.3 per thousand in 1981. The number of abortions is also down, from 1.6 million in 1990 to 1.2 million in 2005 (the last year for which data are available).
While pro-choice advocates point to a lack of access to abortion providers and the success of comprehensive sex-ed programs as factors in the decline, pro-lifers say state laws have made a difference.
Bill Beckman, director of the Illinois Right to Life Committee, said he sees the national decline in abortion numbers as a victory for anti-abortion efforts.
“A number of states over the last five or six years have enhanced their pro-life laws, such as requirements for informed consent and parental notice,” said Beckman. “When those laws take effect, the rate of abortion drops. I think the data they’re getting is reflecting that change.”
While I’m looking forward to a thorough analysis of the numbers, the answer is probably both/and rather than either/or. I believe that cultural attitudes also are changing, thanks to the persistent efforts (such as the spread of ultrasound machines) of pro-lifers to keep before the American people the undeniable fact that every abortion ends a human life. And these efforts must be working, if even pro-choicer Hillary Clinton concedes that abortion is a “tragic choice.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Guttmacher study comes on the heels of news that the birth rate is unexpectedly booming in the United States.
An Associated Press review of birth numbers dating to 1909 found the total number of U.S. births was the highest since 1961, near the end of the baby boom. An examination of global data also shows that the United States has a higher fertility rate than every country in continental Europe, as well as Australia, Canada and Japan. …
Experts believe there is a mix of reasons: a decline in contraceptive use, a drop in access to abortion, poor education and poverty.
There are cultural reasons as well. Hispanics as a group have higher fertility rates — about 40 percent higher than the U.S. overall. And experts say Americans, especially those in middle America, view children more favorably than people in many other Westernized countries.
“Americans like children. We are the only people who respond to prosperity by saying, `Let’s have another kid,'” said Nan Marie Astone, associate professor of population, family and reproductive health at Johns Hopkins University.