Last week brought some good news — or what should have been good news — regarding one of America's most divisive social issues.
A new report by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice think tank that tracks abortion data, noted that abortion became less common between 2011 and 2017. The study noted declines in three separate measures: the overall number of abortions performed (down 20%), the rate of abortion (meaning the number of procedures per 1,000 women aged 15-44, also down 20%), and the abortion ratio (or the number of abortions per 100 pregnancies that ended either in an abortion or a live birth, down 13%).
To put those findings in a different context, the 862,000 abortions reported by the Guttmacher Institute in 2017 were the lowest number recorded since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision. That 2017 figure also was just 53% of the peak of 1.61 million reported in 1990.
Florida was slightly ahead of the pace in the abortion rate, which dropped 21.7% in the Sunshine State between 2011 and 2017.
The authors of the study went to great lengths to attribute the national downward trend to anything but policy shifts that restrict abortion services or changes in the public's attitude toward the procedure.
In a reach for Occam's razor, they note abortion declined because there simply were fewer pregnancies during the period studied. That situation resulted from mandated contraceptive coverage under private health insurance plans and the expansion of Medicaid, both according to the Affordable Care Act; more usage of long-lasting but reversible contraceptives, such as interuterine devices; possibly a decline in sexual activity, particularly for young men; rising infertility; and "self-managed" abortions, conducted through use of drugs that inhibit pregnancy.
In their conclusion, the authors maintain, "We know that abortion restrictions were not the main driver of abortion declines between 2011 and 2017, nor were shifts in public opinion about abortion." To support that, they report that 57% of the decline in abortions occurred in states that did not enact new restrictions. Further, the authors maintain that changes in public opinion have remained stable for a number of years.
But the study's narrow six-year window fails to account for the long-range trend regarding an attitudinal shift that, in turn, has prompted new restrictions on the procedure.
Still, the authors write, why abortions declined "is all beside the point. The reality is that a decline in the abortion rate should not be an end in and of itself."
That is a truly sad statement because that was once the goal on both sides of the issue.
Undoubtedly, this issue will fracture us further. But for the moment, our hope is that despite the authors' contention to the contrary, both pro-life and pro-choice proponents will see a drop in this traumatic procedure as some common ground for their strongly held, and vigorously argued, beliefs.
A version of this editorial first appeared in The Ledger, a News Herald sister paper with GateHouse Media.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD
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