An image of an empty waiting room is a fitting metaphor for the historically low abortion rate in America. - Image courtesy of Julep67 (http://bit.ly/1h6YD9G)

This image of an empty waiting room is perhaps a fitting metaphor for America’s plummeting abortion rate. – Image courtesy of Julep67 (http://bit.ly/1h6YD9G)

In a time when bad news saturates headlines, pro-lifers have reason to rejoice: America’s abortion rate has plummeted in all 50 states to its lowest point since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalized it in 1973.

According to a paper published by the Guttmacher Institute, there was a 13 percent drop in national abortion rates between 2008 and 2011.

In response, both conservative and liberal activists are rushing to explain why abortions have dropped, predictably attributing the trend to their respective legislative goals. In many cases, the data is conflicting and can be cherry-picked to support one’s presuppositions or hopes. Anyone (including me) who speculates on what is driving this trend assumes the risk of allowing personal bias to influence their explanations.

But as I have surveyed arguments and data coming from both sides, here are three reasons I believe the abortion rate has plummeted:

A 3D ultrasound image depicts an infant's face. - Image courtesy of Ianiv & Arieanna (http://bit.ly/1fdVxDw)

A 3D ultrasound image depicts an infant’s face. – Image courtesy of Ianiv & Arieanna (http://bit.ly/1fdVxDw)

Scientific Advances: Technology is a double-edged sword when it comes to abortion. On the one hand, drug companies have developed abortifacients that can induce an abortion while saving a woman the trouble and trauma of an invasive procedure. But technological advances have also magnified the ethical questions surrounding pregnancy termination. For example, EEGs have demonstrated that there is human consciousness in the womb early on. Ultrasound advances have made it possible to capture 3D images depicting an unborn child sucking his or her thumb with startlingly detailed facial features. (Though the data is mixed, according to one study, 78 percent of women who were undecided about whether to terminate their pregnancy chose to carry their child to term after being shown an ultrasound.)

Thanks to science, fewer women today look down at their growing bellies and think “ball of tissue” or “clump of cells” as they may have in decades past.

A crowd gathers for the 2014 Right-to-Life March in Washington, DC - Image courtesy of beechwood Photography (http://bit.ly/1e7JykZ)

A crowd gathers for the 2014 Right-to-Life March in Washington, DC – Image courtesy of beechwood Photography (http://bit.ly/1e7JykZ)

Effectiveness of the Right-to-Life Movement: The pro-life movement has become a powerful force in American culture shaping the national conversation and influencing public opinion. According to Gallup, most Americans are now pro-life and the number identifying as pro-choice has reached record lows. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood and Center for Reproductive Rights have failed to beat back abortion regulations through legal means. As Michael New, research associate for the Reproductive Research Audit told “Catholic News Agency,” numerous national studies on attitudes toward abortion show indicate that right-to-life “efforts to change the hearts and minds of Americans may be making a difference.”

According to the CDC, virtually all sexually active women in the U.S. have used some form of contraception. - Image courtesy of Starbooze (http://bit.ly/1fzwc1Q)

According to the CDC, virtually all sexually active women in the U.S. have used some form of contraception. – Image courtesy of Starbooze (http://bit.ly/1fzwc1Q)

Increased Use of Contraception: According to Rachel Jones, lead author of the Guttmacher paper, improvements in contraceptive use were mainly responsible for the abortion decline, which “coincided with a steep national drop in overall pregnancy and birth rates.” Use of long-acting contraceptive methods nearly tripled during the Guttmacher study period.

We might assume Jones’ conclusions to be biased, given that she draws a paycheck from a flagship pro-choice think-tank. But numerous other studies, including a massive 2012 study of more than 9,000 women by St. Louis’s Washington University, have arrived at similar conclusions. The study’s authors estimate that expanding access to free birth control could have a dramatic effect on abortion rates, “preventing as many as 41–71% of abortions performed annually in the United States.”

As a pro-life Christian, I’m opposed to the use of any abortion-inducing drugs or devices. Those are not, in my book, contraception. But the vast majority of contraceptive methods utilized by Americans are helpful and ethical ways of preventing unintended pregnancies and abortions.

Many other factors may also be contributing to rate falling. Many states, for example, have passed stiff abortion regulations in recent years. During last year alone, 22 states adopted 70 different restrictions. Thirty-nine states now require parental notification or consent before a minor can have an abortion. The data on whether these restrictions have significantly influenced the abortion rate is unclear, but many should still be supported on moral, if not pragmatic, grounds.

None of the factors driving this trend seem to be losing steam. Science continues to march forward at warp speed, the pro-life movement remains heavily funded and supported, and the availability and acceptability of contraception will likely expand. So I predict the abortion rate will continue to drop in the United States.

Pro-life Americans have reason to celebrate, and it seems the party is just getting started.

12 Comments

  1. Not to mention that the younger generation are increasingly pro-life. It is a very good sign. Now if they would just wake up to the sanctity of sexuality and marriage we could get somewhere.

  2. Thanks for this, Jonathan. I’ve been looking for a source that’s not completely biased one way or the other, and you do a great job of looking at the facts and analyzing these issues carefully but succinctly. Very helpful. :-)

  3. This Guttmacher data on the effects of the increased restrictions is not “unclear”. The data show that the restrictions often started after abortions had already dropped, and that similar drops were seen at the same time across other states too, showing that the restrictions fail in lowering abortions. Thus, listing that as a possible reason for the drop is a dishonest attempt at suppporting those restrictions. Worse, saying that they should be supported “on moral grounds” ignores the fact that they are opposed “on moral grounds”, and thus is a snide implication that those opposing them are immoral.

    That bias is repeated throughout the article, such as the times that Jonathan says that “pro-lifers” will celebrate these data, implying that pro-choicers won’t or shouldn’t also celebrate them. The data show that the drop is due to increased contraceptive use, and *both* sides celebrate the prevention of pregnancies though increased contraception and the resulting drop in abortions. Thus, this is yet another attempt to paint the pro-choice as “pro-abortion”.

    That same bias also shows in his claim that more people are “pro-life”. While that’s true, it’s only true because many of the “pro-life” now support a woman’s right to an abortion, while considering themselves “pro-life for me”. http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/more-and-more-pro-life-americans-support-ab .

    Biased and misleading articles such as this one are divisive because they hide the growing middle ground on abortion, which already commands a majority in America, while those who think abortion should be illegal in all cases continue to dwindle. That middle ground is the position that abortion should be safe, legal, fairly regulated, and happen as early (and as uncommonly) as possible. As long as Christians such as Jonathan continue write from a position on division, name-calling, and implied insults, Christians will be seen as divisive, narrow-minded and ultimately unhelpful.

    • Anyone who supports abortion in any way is immoral. No getting around that.

      Keep up the great work states. Lets make sure more and more restrictions are put in place!

  4. Earold Gunter

    Jonathan,
    First, I would like to clarify my position on abortion. I wish no woman would choose an abortion, think that it should only be done prior to the 25th week of pregnancy, but also think it is her choice alone, and I would not judge her actions.

    I appreciate your candidness about your potential bias based on your personal beliefs, but I saw none in the article. I do have a few questions I would like to pose though.

    At what point in a pregnancy do you think an EEG demonstrates human consciousness, and how does it do that?
    What is your definition of human consciousness?
    Do you think the rise in STD’s has increased the use of condoms, and if so, did that also have an effect on unwanted births, and ergo abortions?

    I see this as a moral, rather than religious issue, and will leave my opinion of religion out of this comment.

  5. Excellent article. I do, however, want to address the statement “abortifacients that can induce an abortion while saving a woman the trouble and trauma of an invasive procedure”, because it doesn’t seem like the author has more than a rhetorical knowledge of the experience.

    I was prescribed mizoprostol to expel the remains of a miscarriage. The experience was both troubling and traumatic (and if the author means “trouble” as in time consuming, then yes, it was that as well; you can’t just insert the pills and head out for a jog). I could literally feel my circulatory system throbbing with every heartbeat, and the blood loss is horrific. In my case there were complications, and had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery because I almost bled to death. I was indeed troubled and traumatized, and would still have been even even if I wasn’t prolife. In my case, the D&C procedure was much LESS traumatic, since I was knocked out, woke up clean and dry in a warm hospital bed, and got to eat jello.

    My point is neither to shame or gross-out the author, but to express that pharmaceutical abortifacients are not really that much less traumatic than surgical abortion, and shouldn’t be referred to as sort of a fast-food, easy-peasy version of abortion.

    • Earold Gunter

      Emily, Sorry to hear of your traumatic experience with pharmaceutical abortifacients, but might you agree that yours was a unique experience, and it is unfair to characterize all experiences as “not really that much less traumatic than surgical abortion”?

    • This argument about abortifacients clear supports the need for every type of abortion to be done under competent, full medical care.. Rare and as needed, but not blankly and totally dismissed as Merritt argues. Women should have much more to say about abortion. After all, as the line from a song in Cole Porter’s now “old” musical,”Kiss Me, Kate,” puts it, “It’s he who has the fun, and you who have the baby.”

  6. “expanding access to free birth control could have a dramatic effect on abortion rates, ‘preventing as many as 41–71% of abortions performed annually in the United States.'”

    If people want to reduce the incidence of abortion, why are they not doing everything in their power to expand access to free birth control? What if all the energy and money spent trying to pass legislation to reduce access to abortion were re-allocated to expanding access to free birth control? Abortions down — boom! Why is no one seriously pursuing this path?

  7. It is presumed, I suppose, that columnists for a religious news outlet would not be as objective as a writer for, let’s say, a scientific paper, but I finished Jonathan Merritt’s piece about abortion and Roe v. Wade with convictions of plain prejudice in his “reporting.” He acknowledges that prejudice in a full paragraph about being “a pro-life Christian.”

    Merritt, promoting his own bias, negatively asserts that Rachel Jones is “biased” toward abortion since she “draws a paycheck from a flagship pro-choice think-tank.” After all, Merritt is paid for his writing as a pro-lifer. Naturally, Jones works for and is paid by a group with which she agrees, just as does Merritt.

    Unfortunately, Merritt’s article distorts facts. And he sadly neglects to accredit science for the reduction of abortions. Whether conceptions are prevented by contraceptives or ended very early on by abortifacients, science and technology now allows humans to participate in their “sixth sense” of sex and still control the outcome..

    Merritt uses emotion, not science, when he uses photos of embryos with the beginnings of facial features and presumes the brain/mind behind them required for “person.” He claims they are photos of an “infant,” not an “embryo.” I find that no less scientific, no more emotional than pro-life demonstrators who wave cute baby dolls in front of offices and clinics supporting abortion. It is not too many steps away from shooting Dr. Teller to death at his church.

    I agree that sex should be practiced with great responsibility to prevent both disease and insupportable, unwanted pregnancy. After that, I would limit abortion to the very early stage of pregnancy, immediately upon discovery, before science determines there is enough brain development to consider the pregnancy more than an embryo, a person, or in Merritt’s terms, “an infant.”

    I submit that abortion should be allowed at any time if the pregnant woman and her doctor determine the pregnancy threatens the life of the woman. That determination, like all medicine, must be controlled by appropriate law.

    Few clergy are sufficiently educated in science, psychology, or family life to be determining for others what they consider the morality of sex, pregnancy, and family life.

  8. Even my brother, a vehement pro-lifer who marches in rallies, agrees that abortion should be allowed to save the mother’s life. I submit that it should also be considered in rape, incest, physical/mental health of the mother. Sometimes you get the result of the mother having too many kids who smothers the last one or rams the car into a tree with several kids in tow. Everything is not all black and white. Let us have more adoptions.(I am not parenthood material but for those of you who are I would like to hear adoption stories). Prevention of unwanted pregnancies through contraceptives has the most merit.

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