Abortion is down nearly everywhere...and here's how to push it down even further

The AP just released a survey of abortion trends in America since 2010.  The good news is that the total number of abortions is down for nearly every state that keeps statistics, and pretty dramatically, too, averaging 12 percent nationwide.  Why this is so is a bit of a mystery.

States with Republican majorities that have steadily increased the legal restrictions on abortion in the last few years have predictably seen a decline in abortion.  Wisconsin, for example, saw 7,825 abortions in 2010 and 6,462 in 2013, down 17.4 percent.

But the odd thing is that abortions have declined even in states, like New York, that have iron-girded legal allowances for women to abort their children.  New York’s abortions declined 15.2 percent during the same period.

The AP found that five of the six states with the largest abortion declines from 2010 to 2013 – “Hawaii at 30 percent, New Mexico at 24 percent, Nevada and Rhode Island at 22 percent, Connecticut at 21 percent – haven’t passed any recent laws to restrict abortion clinics or providers.”

What about the Planned Parenthood explanation – that “better access to birth control” and sex education explains the reduction in unplanned pregnancies?  The trouble with this idea is there’s no evidence in support of it, and it appears odd on its face: have deep-red states like Texas and South Carolina really given young women and girls substantially “better access to birth control” and sex education in the last four years?  No one claims that except the abortion industry.

So it’s not condoms.  It appears that explaining the nationwide trend would require something broader.  The president of Americans United for Life, Charmaine Yoest, put forth a cultural and technological shift as the primary answer.  

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 something else is afoot as well: a broader cultural shift away from teen pregnancy.  Nationally, 2010 had the lowest level in decades, and all evidence suggests that the rate has continued to decline since then: teen birth rates have plummeted as well in nearly every state.  For some reason, teens are simply not getting pregnant at the rates they used to, and one assumes that cultural changes are lowering both pregnancies and abortions in the very young.

It would probably be wrong to conclude that recent anti-abortion laws have had no effect, however.  One reason why abortion declines by state is the simple closure of abortion clinics.  If you can’t easily get an abortion, you’re less likely to ultimately obtain one.  But some percentage of women will press ahead with their abortions, and from this it follows that states bordering on those with few clinics left would be flooded with out-of-state seekers of abortion.

And that’s indeed what we see – Ohio, which has experienced the closure of many abortion clinics under recent laws raising the cost of providing abortions (and Ohio saw a decrease in abortions from 2010 by 17.4 percent), now has abortion seekers crossing to Michigan.  This explains why Michigan has seen an increase in abortions during the same period by 18.5 percent.  According to Michigan’s health department, abortions for out-of-staters jumped from 708 in 2013 to 1,318 in 2014.  And as the AP article pointed out, abortion mills in Michigan are openly soliciting business from pregnant women in Ohio and Indiana.

So it appears that for the pro-life movement, tightening the legal/regulatory screws on the abortion mills – in order to force them out of business – is the way to reduce the rates.  That and generally promoting a culture of life have got to be the present task for the pro-life movement.

Christopher S. Carson was formerly a Kohler Fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and a Bradley Fellow at Georgetown University.

The AP just released a survey of abortion trends in America since 2010.  The good news is that the total number of abortions is down for nearly every state that keeps statistics, and pretty dramatically, too, averaging 12 percent nationwide.  Why this is so is a bit of a mystery.

States with Republican majorities that have steadily increased the legal restrictions on abortion in the last few years have predictably seen a decline in abortion.  Wisconsin, for example, saw 7,825 abortions in 2010 and 6,462 in 2013, down 17.4 percent.

But the odd thing is that abortions have declined even in states, like New York, that have iron-girded legal allowances for women to abort their children.  New York’s abortions declined 15.2 percent during the same period.

The AP found that five of the six states with the largest abortion declines from 2010 to 2013 – “Hawaii at 30 percent, New Mexico at 24 percent, Nevada and Rhode Island at 22 percent, Connecticut at 21 percent – haven’t passed any recent laws to restrict abortion clinics or providers.”

What about the Planned Parenthood explanation – that “better access to birth control” and sex education explains the reduction in unplanned pregnancies?  The trouble with this idea is there’s no evidence in support of it, and it appears odd on its face: have deep-red states like Texas and South Carolina really given young women and girls substantially “better access to birth control” and sex education in the last four years?  No one claims that except the abortion industry.

So it’s not condoms.  It appears that explaining the nationwide trend would require something broader.  The president of Americans United for Life, Charmaine Yoest, put forth a cultural and technological shift as the primary answer.  

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 something else is afoot as well: a broader cultural shift away from teen pregnancy.  Nationally, 2010 had the lowest level in decades, and all evidence suggests that the rate has continued to decline since then: teen birth rates have plummeted as well in nearly every state.  For some reason, teens are simply not getting pregnant at the rates they used to, and one assumes that cultural changes are lowering both pregnancies and abortions in the very young.

It would probably be wrong to conclude that recent anti-abortion laws have had no effect, however.  One reason why abortion declines by state is the simple closure of abortion clinics.  If you can’t easily get an abortion, you’re less likely to ultimately obtain one.  But some percentage of women will press ahead with their abortions, and from this it follows that states bordering on those with few clinics left would be flooded with out-of-state seekers of abortion.

And that’s indeed what we see – Ohio, which has experienced the closure of many abortion clinics under recent laws raising the cost of providing abortions (and Ohio saw a decrease in abortions from 2010 by 17.4 percent), now has abortion seekers crossing to Michigan.  This explains why Michigan has seen an increase in abortions during the same period by 18.5 percent.  According to Michigan’s health department, abortions for out-of-staters jumped from 708 in 2013 to 1,318 in 2014.  And as the AP article pointed out, abortion mills in Michigan are openly soliciting business from pregnant women in Ohio and Indiana.

So it appears that for the pro-life movement, tightening the legal/regulatory screws on the abortion mills – in order to force them out of business – is the way to reduce the rates.  That and generally promoting a culture of life have got to be the present task for the pro-life movement.

Christopher S. Carson was formerly a Kohler Fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and a Bradley Fellow at Georgetown University.