Today the Guttmacher Institute released a report based on their census of U.S. abortion providers. It contains abortion statistics up to the year 2011 — meaning this report contains the most recent data on the incidence of abortion in the United States. Overall, the news is good for pro-lifers. The abortion rate declined by 13 percent between 2008 and 2011, and it fell in 2011 to its lowest point since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. The decline was fairly consistent across states. In only six of the 50 states did the number of abortions increase between 2008 and 2011, and all geographic regions in the United States saw a decline in the abortion rate.
To a certain extent, pro-lifers need to take these figures with a grain of salt. Guttmacher obtains its abortion data by doing a survey of known abortion facilities. They try to be thorough. However, by their own admission about 21 percent of abortion facilities refuse to take part in the survey. Also, according to their figures, around 4 percent of abortion facilities closed between 2008 and 2011. The abortion figures contained in this report are also limited. Guttmacher does not provide a demographic breakdown of the women seeking abortions. They also do not provide any information about the percentage of abortions that occur after 20 weeks gestation.
Furthermore, Guttmacher’s analysis of the abortion decline is weak. Since the decline was fairly consistent across states, they argue that the decline was not caused by the recent increase in state-level pro-life laws. However, they do acknowledge that certain laws, such as Louisiana’s informed-consent law, likely played a role in that state’s abortion decline. They also do acknowledge that the reduction in the number of abortion facilities is playing a role in the declining abortion numbers in some states.
That said, Guttmacher fails to provide a compelling explanation for the overall abortion decline. They suggest the slow economy may have caused people to engage in less sexual activity. However, their report indicates abortion rates were fairly stable from 2005 to 2008 and started to decline as the recession officially ended in 2009. Unsurprisingly, they suggest contraceptives may be playing a role, but acknowledge that there has been “little improvement in contraceptive nonuse . . . in recent years.” Guttmacher’s own research on the unintended-pregnancy rate does not extend to 2011 — but does find that the unintended-pregnancy rate has remained fairly stable over time.
Guttmacher also fails to even engage the question of public opinion. Since the early 1990s, there has been an increase in pro-life sentiment and a decrease in the abortion rate in the United States. However, these trends have been more pronounced in some regions of the country than in others. Specifically, the South and Midwest have seen both greater increases in pro-life sentiment and larger decreases in the abortion rate than the rest of the country. Six of the nine Gallup polls taken since May 2009 show that people are more likely to identify as “pro-life” than “pro-choice.” It is disappointing, but unsurprising, that there is no mention of this in Guttmacher’s analysis.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.