The Corner

Guttmacher Study Shows Both Opportunities and Challenges for Pro-Lifers

Earlier, this week the Guttmacher Institute released a study on the demographics of women obtaining abortions. (They release a report of this nature approximately every seven years.) This report provides useful information to all sides of the abortion debate. The annual abortion surveillance reports published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provide some demographic data. However, not every state reports data to the CDC and there are large disparities in the quality and reliability of data from other states. The Guttmacher report, which does a nationwide survey of women seeking abortions, is more reliable and more comprehensive.

The best news for pro-lifers from this report is that the abortion rate continues to fall among teens and minors. This is one of the most unheralded public-policy success stories of the past 25 years.

According to the Guttmacher report, the percentage of total abortions performed on girls under age 20 fell by 32 percent between 2008 and 2014.

Overall, Guttmacher data indicates that the teen abortion rate has fallen by an astounding 65 percent since 1990. While Guttmacher is quick to credit increases in teen contraception use, it should also be noted that numerous surveys have also shown durable, long-term declines in teen sexual activity since the early 1990s.

That said one area of concern for pro-lifers is that an increasing percentage of abortions are being paid for by Medicaid. The Hyde amendment largely prevents federal taxpayer dollars from paying for abortions. However, approximately 17 states cover abortions with their own Medicaid dollars. In these states, the percentage of abortions paid for by Medicaid increased from 43.6 percent to 52.2 percent between 2008 and 2014. I wrote an article in 2014 for State Politics and Policy Quarterly reporting the evidence that in several states there has been an increase in the percentage of abortions paid for by Medicaid.

That said, among states that cover abortion through Medicaid, there is considerable variation among the percentage of abortions actually paid for by Medicaid: In some states less than 10 percent are funded by Medicaid, in other states the percentage is over 60. Pro-life legislators and policymakers may be able to protect the unborn by placing some limits on this practice. Overall, nearly all of the trends in abortion data are favorable to pro-lifers. Abortion rates are falling, a smaller percentage of women with unintended pregnancies are choosing abortion, more pro-life laws are being passed, and the pro-life position has made some durable gains in the court of public opinion.

That said, pro-lifers need to be diligent about the issue of Medicaid funding of abortion. A considerable body of research shows subsidizing abortion through Medicaid increases abortion rates. Furthermore, Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act may result in more women of childbearing age being on Medicaid programs that cover elective abortions.

Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor of social research and political science at the Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.

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