There’s Little Evidence Contraception Use is Responsible for Abortion Declines

National   |   Michael New, Ph.D.   |   Nov 16, 2017   |   5:34PM   |   Washington, DC

Last month two researchers affiliated with the Guttmacher Institute published a report in the American Journal of Public Health.  The study analyzes abortion trends between 2008 and 2014. It finds that the U.S. abortion rate declined by 25 percent during that 6-year timespan. There were declines in the incidence of abortion among a wide range of demographic groups. However, the largest percentage declines took place among adolescents and non-white women.

Interestingly, for the first time in 20 years the abortion rate declined among women with incomes less than 100 percent of the poverty level.   This study has been covered by a number of mainstream media outlets including The Washington Post, Shape Magazine, and Salon.

The most widely reported statistic in the study is that one in four women will have an abortion at some point in her lifetime. The authors rigorously analyze first-time abortion data from various age groups to calculate that figure.  Previously, many media outlets reported that one in three women will have an abortion. However, the “one in three” statistic appeared to be calculated by dividing the total number of abortions performed since 1973 over the current number of women of childbearing age.  Repeat abortions and population fluctuations were not carefully considered.  That said, the new “1 in 4” statistic should still be viewed with some skepticism. Abortion rates in the United States have been steadily declining since 1980. If trends continue, women who are coming of age today will be even less likely than their predecessors to experience an abortion.

Unsurprisingly, the media coverage of this study uncritically buys Guttmacher’s spin that the 25 percent reduction in the abortion rate since 2008 was largely due to increased contraception use. There is some evidence that the unintended pregnancy rate has fallen in recent years. However, historical data provide little evidence that increased contraception use is responsible for America’s long term abortion decline.

Between 1980 and 2008 the U.S. abortion rate fell by over 33 percent, while the unintended pregnancy rate fell by approximately 10 percent.  Furthermore, good data shows durable long term gains in both pro-life sentiment and the percentage of unintended pregnancies that are being carried to term. Unfortunately, the mainstream media has little interest in reporting on trends that reflect well on the pro-life political and educational efforts.

LifeNews Note: Michael J. New is an Associate Professor of Economics at Ave Maria University and an Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. He is a former political science professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University. He is a fellow at Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.