Abortion rate drops to lowest level since Roe

That’s the good news, but the question is why. The pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute released its findings last week, showing that the abortion rate has dropped 13% since 2008, and is now only slightly higher than it was after the Supreme Court declared abortion to be a doctor‘s right. Guttmacher believes it to be the cause of more universally available and increasingly effective contraception:

The study did not examine the reasons for the drop. But the authors suggested that one factor was greater reliance on new kinds of birth control, including intra-uterine devices such as Mirena, which can last for years and are not susceptible to user error like daily pills or condoms.

They also noted the economy as a contributing factor, because people tend to adhere more strictly to their birth control during tough economic times. But they did not credit the recent wave of state laws restricting access to abortion, because most of those took effect in 2011 or later.

Those restrictions will surely have an impact on the numbers going forward, said Rachel K. Jones, a senior researcher at Guttmacher and lead researcher on the paper.

“If the abortion rate continues to drop, we can’t assume it’s all due to positive factors” such as better adherence to contraceptives, she said, calling the laws passed in 22 states “onerous.”

Color me a bit skeptical on this explanation. The CDC did a long-range study on unplanned pregnancies (1980-2008) which found 99% of all sexually-active women wishing to avoid pregnancy had used contraception, although — and this is the key — not always effectively. The use of injectables and other longer-range contraception arrived well before 2008, especially IUDs, an abortifacient in use for decades. There hasn’t been a revolutionary discovery in contraception since 2008 and the end of this study, which would tend to suggest that the answer lies at least in part elsewhere.

In a press release this morning, the pro-life group Concerned Women for America declare victory in part through new legislation, and in part through greater education and expansion of the pro-life message:

Penny Nance, CEO and President of Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization, issued the following statement:

“The bottom line is that Americans and specifically women have become increasingly pro-life. The pro-life message resonates especially with young women who have grown up seeing their own sonogram pictures. The debate on whether or not a child in the womb is a part of our human family is settled science. Concerned Women for America will continue to work to protect women and their babies through education, better options for mothers, and better laws.”

Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, Executive Director and Senior Fellow of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute (BLI):

“This Guttmacher report bends over backwards in trying to deny that record-setting pro-life legislation has made tremendous strides in curbing abortions in the United States. Further, the authors try to convince the American public that suddenly couples are using contraception better and timing the spacing of their children better, all the while denying the concrete data showing that abstinence education is improving the future for the nation’s teens and common sense legislation is exposing the profit-centered motivation of the abortion industry. Our young women are benefiting as fewer are engaging in too-early sex, fewer are choosing abortion, fewer doctors are willing to do abortions, and more clinics are closing.”

My colleague Peter Weber at The Week thinks this should be cheered by all sides, and calls for a truce in the culture wars:

Fewer abortions is something just about everybody can cheer, especially if the reason behind the drop isn’t contentious. What constitutes “contentious?” Anti-abortion advocates might frown on an increase in the Plan B morning-after pill, which prevents sperm from fertilizing an egg if taken soon after sex; the abortion-rights side would decry a drop caused by decreased access to abortion providers. …

So anti-abortion groups oppose medication-induced abortion and abortion rights groups oppose the increase in restrictions on abortion. Both sides — if only for this one moment — should find plenty to celebrate in this drop in the abortion rate. Not exactly peace in our time, but cause, certainly, for a brief pause in the thorniest battle of the culture war.

That’s unlikely, because this isn’t really a “culture war” item the way medicinal marijuana or even gay marriage is. The key question here isn’t the preservation of cultural norms, but of recognizing human life and its right to exist. In fact, it’s a clash of definitions; one side uses science to distinguish human life, while the other side measures it by convenience to others. That’s the core conflict here, and the reason there won’t be a “truce” just because we’re not snuffing out quite as many human lives last year as in the past. This debate will continue, and science will continue to make it a very uncomfortable debate for those who want human life to be disposable.