The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released the abortion statistics for the US for the years up to 2015. These show both a crop in pregnancy rates and also in the abortion rate. This leaves us with room for the most delightfully virulent arguments about what has happened and a useful guide will be that everyone shouting will be doing so from atop their own prejudices. How unlike politics in general that is. It’s also possible to make an informed guess or two from the numbers themselves which is what we’ll try to do.
The numbers themselves are here:
A total of 638,169 abortions for 2015 were reported to CDC from 49 reporting areas. Among these 49 reporting areas, the abortion rate for 2015 was 11.8 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years, and the abortion ratio was 188 abortions per 1,000 live births. From 2014 to 2015, the total number of reported abortions decreased 2% (from 652,639), the abortion rate decreased 2% (from 12.1 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years), and the abortion ratio decreased 2% (from 192 abortions per 1,000 live births). From 2006 to 2015, the total number of reported abortions decreased 24% (from 842,855), the abortion rate decreased 26% (from 15.9 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years), and the abortion ratio decreased 19% (from 233 abortions per 1,000 live births). In 2015, all three measures reached their lowest level for the entire period of analysis (2006–2015).
In 2015 and throughout the period of analysis, women in their 20s accounted for the majority of abortions and had the highest abortion rates; women aged ≥30 years accounted for a smaller percentage of abortions and had lower abortion rates.
That last bit shows us that this isn’t all about foetal abnormality, that being something which increases with maternal age. But then we pretty much all knew that anyway. It’s the other numbers which shed a little more illumination:
The CDC did not provide any reason for the decline, but abortion rights advocates attributed it to increased use of contraceptives as well as decreased access to abortion services in some states.
That seems reasonable enough although with a caveat. The total number of abortions isn’t very illuminating unless we’re to decry each and every one as the death of an innocent, or applaud it as the exercise of civil rights. For the portion of the population which is fertile women has been falling as the population ages. Gender reassignment surgery might be something talked about a lot but it’s too tiny an influence to be seen in these population figures.
What is interesting is the changing relationship between the fertility rate – not the usual measure, but the incidence of a pregnancy whatever the end result – and that abortion rate. Fewer pregnancies are occurring even in the right and fertile age group and fewer of them are ending in abortion. One reading would be as above, contraception means fewer unwanted pregnancies and abortion restrictions mean fewer can be aborted even when that’s desired.
Except we’ve not the information to be able to agree to that interpretation. For, obviously enough, some pregnancies are in fact wanted. It is the unwanted ones which are prevented by contraception. Better contraception would, we can and should assume, prevent more of those unwanted ones. We actually should see greater and better contraceptive use leading to a fall in fertility, plus also a fall in the abortion rate. For it will the the marginal pregnancy likely to end in abortion which is most likely never to occur because of the better contraceptive use.
Given all the tax money spent on sex education we’d rather hope that some of it worked, so Hurrah there. But we’ve simply not the information to be able to decide on the next piece of causation. Are abortion restrictions really reducing the number of abortions? From this information alone we cannot say. Anyone insisting we can is simply asserting, not discerning a truth available here. For better contraception, as Planned Parenthood keeps reminding us, should lead to a lower abortion rate. Simply because the two are both manners of having sex while fertile and also not having a child. More and more effective of the one of them is indeed a substitute for the other.