The latest report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, incorporating data from 47 states, said the abortion rate for 2013 was 12.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years. That's half the rate recorded in 1980.It's mildly amusing watching pro-life organisations claiming all the credit for this. While there are several articles around saying that there is no single factor at play, there are certainly good reasons for rejecting the pro-lifers "it's all our great work" claim. Last year, for example, fivethirtyeight had an article arguing strongly that fewer pregnancies - almost certainly related to better access to contraception - is behind the lower abortion rate:
Although it’s impossible to attribute the decline to a single factor, the data shows that better contraception — combined with a bad economy and a falling teen pregnancy rate — is largely responsible. Abortion rates did fall in many of the states with new restrictions, but they also dropped in others, such as New York and Connecticut, where access to abortion is relatively unobstructed. In fact, some of the states with the biggest declines — Hawaii, Nevada and New Mexico — have enacted no new abortion laws in recent years, suggesting that something other than reduced access is spurring the trend.
Elizabeth Ananat, an associate professor of economics at Duke University who studies the economics of fertility, said the data also contradicts the notion that more women are rejecting abortion and choosing to stay pregnant. “If women’s attitudes were really shifting, we should see the birth rate go up,” she says. “Instead, birth rates are falling, too.” (The birth rate reached a record low in 2013, according to the CDC. It fell by 2 percent between 2010 and 2013, and by 9 percent between 2007 and 2013.) According to Ananat and other experts, the decline in abortions is a symptom of another trend: Fewer women are getting pregnant in the first place.With the distinct possibility that Republican changes to the health system will lead to more expensive contraception, and harder access to abortions, who knows what will happen to the rate in future.
What’s behind the declining pregnancy rate is more difficult to pinpoint. One clear factor, said Joerg Dreweke, a spokesman for the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, is the teenage pregnancy rate, which has been falling steadily since the early 1990s. According to Dreweke, this is partially due to better contraceptive use among teenagers. Other research on teen fertility rates supports this: In a paper published earlier this year, economists Phillip Levine and Melissa Kearney found that other policy changes — such as sex education, whether it was comprehensive or abstinence-only — couldn’t explain the decline. Because the vast majority (82 percent in 2010) of teen pregnancies are unplanned, a reduction in teen pregnancy overall will have an effect on the abortion rate. Since teenagers account for only about 18 percent of abortions, though, their effect is limited.
But, to confound things further, I also note that, oddly, it may be that the abortion rate in Australia is now quite a bit higher than America, despite Medicare, easy access to contraception, and non religious sex education in schools.
Seems there is something we may not be doing right....
Update: Oh, and before any escapee from Catallaxy drops by and suggests that the higher Australia rate is evidence of the success of the much higher profile pro-Life culture in the US, I would point out that places like most of the the Nordic countries have rates either very similar to, or lower than, the new low in the US, and other corners of Europe, like Holland have had a substantially lower rate for many years. I doubt that the pro-Life movement has any significant profile in those countries. In fact, the whole lesson of what happened in Eastern Europe (a dramatic drop in abortion rate after contraception became more available) is that contraception can massively reduce abortion.