By Jonathon Van Maren
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report with more good news for pro-lifers, on the heels of the Guttmacher Institute’s report that the abortion rates have been trending steadily downwards. For analysis on what this report means, I spoke with Dr. Michael New, one of America’s foremost expert on abortion statistics.
How does this data differ from the good news we had previously this year?
This new abortion data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not differ much from the data that the Guttmacher Institute released in September. Historically abortion figures that are released by the CDC correlate strongly with the abortion data that is released by Guttmacher. This new data is no exception. In September, Guttmacher released new abortion data that extended until 2017. The CDC’s new data which was released in November provides information on abortion totals and abortion rates up until 2016. The new CDC data shows that both the abortion rate and the number of abortions performed fell by approximately 2 percent between 2015 and 2016. This is broadly consistent with the data reported by Guttmacher.
Additionally, both data sources also show that long term decline in the U.S. abortion rates continues. Overall, data from both the CDC and Guttmacher indicates that the U.S. abortion rate has fallen by approximately 50 percent since it peaked 1980.
Is there any new information pro-lifers should know?
There is not a tremendous amount of new information here. However, the fact that two separately collected sources of data both show that abortion numbers are falling should give us more confidence that abortion numbers are, in fact, declining. There is also some evidence that a higher percentage of abortions that are being performed are chemical abortions. Pro-lifers should be aware of this. As abortion clinics continue to close and abortion doctors retire –supporters of legal abortion are trying to use techniques like telemed abortions to expand access to legal abortion.
What should pro-lifers take away from this new report from the CDC?
One key takeaway is that there is plenty of room for improvement in the abortion data that is reported by the CDC. Neither California nor New Hampshire has reported any abortion data to the CDC since 1997. Maryland has not reported any abortion data since 2006. Furthermore, the CDC is slow to release abortion data. The CDC has more recent data on dental visits by senior citizens that on the incidence of abortion.
Have pro-life efforts contributed to this decline?
Pro-life efforts have certainly contributed to this decline. A key reason why the U.S. abortion rate has fallen by approximately 50 percent since 1980 is because a higher percentage of unintended pregnancies are being carried to term. In 1981, approximately 54 percent of unintended pregnancies were aborted. That number fell to 42 percent by 2011. Whenever I give presentations to pro-life audiences I always highlight this statistics because it nicely shows that pro-life efforts are effective. If a higher percentage of unintended pregnancies are being carried to term that means 1) we are changing hearts and minds 2) we are assisting women through our fine network of pregnancy help centers or 3) we are passing protective laws. It shows that our educational, service, and political efforts are bearing fruit.
In terms of changing public opinion, a 1995 Gallup survey showed that only 33 percent of Americans identified as “pro-life.” The most recent Gallup survey found that 49 percent of Americans identify as pro-life, a plurality. The General Social Survey which has been collecting public opinion data since the early 1970s has found the current generation of young adults is more likely to oppose abortion than previous generations. There has also been a large increase in the number of organizations dedicated to assisting pregnant women.
According to data I have collected from Heartbeat International’s Worldwide Directory of Pregnancy Help, the number of organizations assisting pregnancy women has increased by 86 percent between 1988 and 2015. Finally, there has been a large increase in the number of pro-life laws being passed at the state level. According to data from the Guttmacher Institute, over 400 state level pro-life laws have been passed since January 2011.
What numbers really stand out to you?
The 50 percent decline in the U.S. abortion rate since 1980 gives me optimism. Suppose I was giving a talk to a group of pro-life leaders back in 1980. In the audience would be pro-life heroes like Jack Willke, Mildred Fay Jefferson, Joe Scheidler, and Nellie Gray. If I told them that some 40 years later, we would not succeed in overturning Roe v. Wade. However, the abortion rate would be cut in half — I think they would have been pretty skeptical. However, that is exactly what did happen. Overall, declining abortion numbers are good evidence of the dedication, persistence, and tenacity of pro-life activists around the country.