It is no secret that the efforts of pro-lifers receive precious little recognition from mainstream media outlets. Indeed, journalists and commentators devote hardly any attention to the 53-percent drop in the U.S. abortion rate that has taken place since 1980.
On those occasions when there is reporting on abortion-rate reductions, journalists typically parrot talking points from abortion-rights groups, claiming that the abortion rate has dropped only due to an increase in contraception use. Pro-life legislative, educational, and service efforts are simply ignored.
However, on Wednesday afternoon, the Washington Post published a column by David Von Drehle about the long-term U.S abortion rate decline that is unbelievable, even by the standards of mainstream media.
Unsurprisingly, Von Drehle refuses to give pro-lifers any credit for the long-term decline in the U.S. abortion rate. Instead, he makes the ridiculous, bizarre, and illogical argument that the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade is responsible for the abortion-rate declines that have occurred since 1980.
Again, he actually attempts to claim that today’s historically low abortion rates are a result of the decision in Roe, which legalized abortion, and he claims that “those who seek a return to the days before Roe v. Wade would take us to a time when abortion was more common than it is now.”
It should come as no surprise that Von Drehle’s column is full of inaccuracies. He acknowledges that the U.S. abortion rate increased in the years immediately after Roe, but he claims that this is because “desperate women came out of the shadows.” In reality, the abortion rate increased because, unsurprisingly, many more women sought and obtained abortions after it was made legal.
In the years immediately prior to Roe, abortion actually was legal in several states, including New York and California. However, Roe effectively legalized abortion in all 50 states throughout all nine months of pregnancy, so it should come as no surprise that the incidence of abortion increased dramatically.
Von Drehle then claims that the U.S. abortion rate has fallen since 1981 because “couples have easy access to a variety of birth-control methods.” However, he fails to explain why increases in contraception use during the 1970s failed to reduce the abortion rate during that decade.
Furthermore, if Von Drehle is correct, increases in contraception use should lead to a consistent reduction in the rate of unintended pregnancies — but since 1980, the unintended-pregnancy rate has fluctuated. In fact, the most recent data from the Guttmacher Institute show that the unintended-pregnancy rate in the U.S. actually increased between 2001 and 2008, even as the U.S. abortion rate was declining. Clearly, there is more to the reduction in the abortion rate than increases in contraception use.
A serious analysis of available data suggests that an important reason for the long-term reduction in the abortion rate is because a higher percentage of women are carrying unintended pregnancies to term. Von Drehle cavalierly dismisses this possibility. In his piece, he explicitly asserts that “the decline in the abortion rate has not been a function of more (unwanted) pregnancies being carried to term.”
But the data simply do not support this assertion. Indeed, statistics from Guttmacher — until recently Planned Parenthood’s research arm — show that approximately 54 percent of unintended pregnancies were aborted in 1981. That fell to 42 percent by 2011, the most recent year for which we have data.
If more unintended pregnancies are being carried to term, that means that pro-lifers are succeeding at changing hearts and minds, offering resources to more women through pregnancy-help centers, and passing protective pro-life laws. For instance, there is a strong consensus among both pro-life and pro-choice researchers that the Hyde amendment alone, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1980, saves tens of thousands of unborn lives every year.
Pro-lifers are accustomed to commentators claiming that pro-life laws are an ineffective strategy for lowering abortion rates. But this poorly argued column in the Post, riddled with inaccuracies and claiming that legalized abortion contributed to a long-term decline in the abortion rate, demonstrates that the media can always sink to new depths.
However, pro-lifers should not be discouraged. A substantial body of academic research suggests that the incidence of abortion is sensitive to its legal status and that incremental pro-life laws help to reduce the abortion rate. As always, pro-lifers would do well to stay the course.