The New York Times recently published an article by opinion columnist David Leonhardt about the significant short-term decline in Delaware’s abortion rate. Indeed, new data from the Guttmacher Institute indicate that between 2014 and 2017, the rate of abortions performed in Delaware fell by 37 percent, the largest percentage decline of any U.S. state. Similarly, a Newsweek article from this past weekend, written by former Delaware governor Jack Markell, credits contraception for the state’s abortion-rate decline.
In his piece, Leonhardt credited a government-funded contraception program for this decrease. Beginning in 2014, Delaware partnered with the company Upstream to offer a range of free contraceptive services to women who visit health-care providers, and data show that the percentage of Delaware’s family planning patients using a long-acting, reversible contraceptive has increased.
Unfortunately, Leonhardt’s analysis is superficial. Specifically, he ignores three other key factors that also have played a significant role in Delaware’s abortion-rate decline. First, as in many states, Delaware’s declining abortion rate is part of a larger, long-term trend. Guttmacher statistics show that the Delaware abortion rate has been falling sharply since 2007, well before the state began funding the new contraceptive program. In fact, in percentage terms, Delaware’s abortion rate actually fell at a faster clip in the three years before the state partnered with Upstream than in the three years after.
Second, Delaware is a geographically small state, where nearly every resident lives in close proximity to the border of an adjacent state. As a result, Delaware’s large in-state abortion decline could partly be due to the fact that more residents obtain abortions in nearby states such as Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Interestingly, Guttmacher’s statistics on resident abortion rates, which specifically include Delaware residents who obtain abortions in other states, show a considerably more-modest decline in Delaware’s abortion rate.
Finally, the Times piece overlooks the role of abortion-clinic closures. Data from the state health department show that Delaware’s in-state-resident abortion rate dropped by 12 percent in 2011, following the closure of abortion facilities associated with infamous Pennsylvania abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell. The abortion rate fell again in 2013, by 21 percent, after one Delaware Planned Parenthood closed for the year due to unsafe conditions and another Planned Parenthood stopped performing surgical abortions. In 2016, the state abortion rate fell by 20 percent, directly after another Delaware abortion facility, operated by the disreputable abortion doctor Stephen Brigham, halted surgical-abortion procedures after failing to meet accreditation standards.
According to recently Guttmacher data, there was a 53-percent decline in the U.S. abortion rate between 1980 and 2017. However, mainstream-media outlets, with few exceptions, have tended to parrot the spin of Guttmacher and abortion-rights groups, arguing that this decline largely has been the result of increased contraceptive access and use. The fact that the unintended-pregnancy rate in the U.S. has fluctuated since the early 1980s indicates that other factors also play an important role in the changes to the national abortion rate.
One key factor in the long-term reduction of that abortion rate has been the durable increase in the percentage of unintended pregnancies carried to term since the early 1980s. This fact has been all but ignored by most media outlets, likely because this statistic reveals that pro-life efforts to change hearts and minds, assist pregnant women, and pass protective laws have been effective. Last week’s Times piece is another example of how mainstream writers prefer to applaud contraception rather than provide balanced information about the many factors that contribute to abortion-rate declines in many states and across the country.