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Analysis: Why Did Abortions Decline 5% in the CDC Report?

by Randy O'Bannon Ph.D. | Washington, DC | LifeNews.com | 11/29/12 1:25 PM

National

When abortions drop, for whatever reason, that’s a big deal. Precious unborn lives have been saved and their mothers saved from making a terrible mistake.

But figuring out why they may have dropped, even when the exact cause may be unclear, is important too, especially if, like us, you very much want this trend to continue.

On Monday, National Right to Life News Today looked at the results of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) abortion surveillance report for 2009.

As I explained, the absolute number, 784,507 is far short of the real total of abortions (around 1.2 million) because the report has been missing several states, including the giant California, since 1998. Nonetheless, the CDC report offers a valuable snapshot of abortion in America, revealing important data and trends.

Significantly, this latest report showed abortions declining by 41,057 over the previous year, a one-year drop of nearly 5%, the largest drop recorded by the CDC in more than ten years. Moreover the report documents abortion rates and abortion ratios not seen since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973.

The CDC says that “multiple factors are known to influence the incidence of abortion” and goes on to list several: the supply of abortionists, pro-life laws such as waiting periods, parental involvement, increased acceptance of non-marital childbearing, population shifts, the economy, and factors such as contraception impacting fertility.

According to figures from the Guttmacher Institute, the number of abortionists has declined about 24.6% since 1992, from 2,340 to 1,793 in 2008. However, over all, those numbers have been fairly stable since 2000, when there were 1,819 abortionists. A steady stream of abortionists has continued to leave the practice, but others, particularly with the advent of chemical abortifacients like RU-486, have picked up the deadly mantle.

This is not to say that the closing (or opening) of a large abortion clinic, because of health code violations, the retirement of an abortionist, financial mismanagement, etc., cannot have a large impact, but this will be more concentrated in a certain state or locality. Though there are state to state variations, some of which may be due to this sort of factor, this latest drop in abortions appears more widespread.

Population can factor into abortion declines or increases in a number of ways, by changing the size, age, racial or ethnic composition of the pool of reproductive aged women, for example. But sudden shifts are unlikely here. Changing demographics play a role in the long term, but absent some massive special ethnic outreach, will not realistically account for the bulk of drop seen in just a year’s time.

That abortion rates and ratios have also gone down, reducing the frequency of abortion among pregnant women and among reproductive aged women as a whole is an indication that more than just population shifts are going on.

As mentioned in Monday’s story, the abortion rate (the number of abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age) and abortion ratio (the number of abortions for every 1,000 live births) are both down to their lowest recorded levels since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973.

There was, however, a large drop in the U.S. total fertility rate from 2008 to 2009, from what would have been an expected 2.072 children born per woman over her lifetime in 2008 to 2.002 in 2009 (figures from National Center for Health Statistics “Births: Final Data for 2010″). This does not appear to stem from a sudden increase in contraceptive use, but it does indicate that the lower abortion rate may have been partly due to fewer pregnancies. (1)

The CDC does not consider the impact of the abstinence movement, but this could, in theory, account for some of this data.

As the CDC indicates, the economy could play a role, but it is unclear how. Unemployment soared in 2009 following the financial collapse in late 2008. Some have tried to claim that tough economic times drive many women to abortion, but these figures appear to show the opposite. In truth, the relation is probably complex, making it difficult to draw conclusions from a single year’s data.

If Obamacare increases funding to abortion giant Planned Parenthood, one can expect abortion rates to skyrocket.

The laws mentioned by the CDC do indeed impact demand for abortion at the state level, but they have broader national effects as well. In addition to the parental involvement and waiting period laws cited by the CDC, about half (23) of the states have informed consent or right to know laws, insuring that women more fully know what abortion entails, its risks, the basic facts of fetal development, and realistic alternatives to abortion.

Something not mentioned by the CDC are the large number of states that in 2009 or the years immediately prior passed ultrasound viewing laws, so that a mother will see not just a generic fetal photo, but a real time picture of her baby. The debate and discussion preceding the passage of these laws highlighted awareness of the unborn child’s humanity not just in those immediate states but around the country.

A lot of these factors could be part of what might be called “changes in attitudes towards abortion” that have been long brewing. The CDC captures some of this in what it terms “increasing acceptance of non-marital childbearing,” but implicit in that is the increasing rejection of abortion as a response to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

While different factors may be involved to differing degrees in this latest drop, part of the explanation surely lies in the cumulative response to years of pro-life education highlighting the humanity of the unborn child and the viability of life-affirming alternatives to abortion.

That message has been promulgated by the discussion and passage of pro-life legislation and given practical effect by practical outreach of pro-life chapters, churches, and pregnancy care centers.

These numbers also indicate the truth that medical science expresses through ultrasounds, fetal development websites, internet videos is catching up with the discredited lies of the abortion industry, paying off in tangible dividends.

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We do not yet know whether this same decline will be reflected in national totals published in the future by the Guttmacher Institute, which surveys abortion clinics directly, rather than relying on state reports, as does the CDC. And we will not know for some time whether this trend will continue.

But we do know that, thanks in part to your efforts, there are children alive today that would have otherwise perished. These declining abortions represent lives saved.

There’s a long way yet to go, but it appears we’re moving in the right direction.

(1)With respect to contraception the CDC appears to both push and undercut this as a potential explanation. It says that “‘Research has shown that providing no-cost contraception increases the use of the most effective methods and can reduce abortion rates,” but admits that data from the National Survey of Family Growth for 2002 and 2006-2010 show that “contraceptive use among women at risk for unintended pregnancy has decreased.”

LifeNews.com Note: Randall O’Bannon, Ph.D., is the director of education and research for the National Right to Life Committee.