Today the Guttmacher Institute released their abortion figures for 2008. The big story is that the consistent decline in America’s abortion rate has apparently stalled a bit — the total number of abortions and the abortion rate both increased very slightly from Guttmacher’s last survey, which reported data from 2005.
The reasons for this slight uptick are fairly straightforward. A number of peer-reviewed studies have found that the strength of the economy has an impact on abortion rates. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, the number of abortions reached an all time high of 1.4 million during the early 1990s recession before beginning a steady decline. That decline stalled a bit during the economic slowdown in 2000–1, and it appears to have stalled again.
Not surprisingly, Guttmacher is using these findings to argue for more government funding for contraceptives. However, it is far from clear that more contraceptive funding would lower the abortion rate. Guttmacher’s own research indicates that very few sexually active women forgo contraceptives due to cost or availability. Additionally, there is no substantial body of peer-reviewed evidence that shows that contraceptive funding lowers abortion rates.
The mainstream media’s coverage of this report has been disappointing. Nearly all their coverage focuses narrowly on why the abortion decline stalled in 2008; very few media outlets are taking a longer-term view and asking why the number of abortions has declined by 20 to 25 percent since the early 1990s.
Conservatives should take pride in this decline. Key reasons for it include more pro-life laws being passed at the state level (e.g., parental-involvement and informed-consent laws), and the declining number of abortion providers, as fewer physicians are interested in performing abortions. There is also evidence of less sexual activity among teens. The pro-life position has made consistent gains in the court of public opinion — especially among young people — even though pro-life success stories typically receive scant coverage.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.