The Corner

Media Misleads on Reasons behind Abortion Decline

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released abortion statistics for calendar year 2009. The news was good for pro-lifers as the CDC statistics indicate the number of abortions decreased by approximately 5 percent between 2008 and 2009. Overall, the abortion rate has been declining fairly steadily since the early 1990s, but has leveled off somewhat during the current decade. Furthermore, some research indicates that the incidence of abortion increases when the economy slows down. As such, this reported decline in the abortion rate was somewhat unexpected.

Unsurprisingly, most of the mainstream-media coverage of the abortion decline was quick to credit contraception use. The Associated Press story on the abortion decline cited two professors and a Guttmacher Institute analyst. They each credited contraception use, even though they were unable to provide any actual evidence of increased contraception use in 2009. Perhaps unsurprisingly, no one representing a pro-life group was quoted or cited in the article.

Sarah Kliff, writing for the Washington Post’s Wonkblog offered some more-thoughtful commentary. She combs through some research and argues that the decline is due to the fact that women are more likely to use long-acting contraceptives such as IUDs which tend to be more effective. There is some evidence that women have become more likely to use long-acting contraceptives. However, it is unlikely there was a dramatic increase in long-acting contraceptive use in 2009. Furthermore, data from the National Center for Health Statistics indicate that even though the use of long-acting contraceptives has increased since 1995, the percentage of pregnancies that are unintended has actually increased slightly.

To be honest, there is no obvious reason for the abortion decline. A closer look at the data indicates the decline was fairly consistent as 36 of the 45 states reporting data saw their abortion numbers fall between 2008 and 2009. Additionally, the abortion decline was fairly similar across geographic regions. In, fact, the percentage decrease in “red” states carried by George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 was similar to the percentage decrease in “blue” states carried by his Democratic counterparts. However, one potential factor is a shift in public opinion. The CDC data indicate that the percentage of pregnancies resulting in abortion fell slightly in 2009. Furthermore, according to Gallup, 2009 was the first year that a majority of Americans self-described as “pro-life.” Unsurprisingly, this fact has been all but ignored by the mainstream media.

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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