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New Abortion Rate Data: Rate Did Not Increase Nationally Under Bush, but Decrease Rate Slowed

Good news and good newer numbers to work with on the abortion issue.

"A new analysis from The Alan Guttmacher Institute shows that U.S. abortion rates continued to decline in 2001 and 2002, although the rate of decline has slowed since the early 1990s. The Institute estimates that 1,303,000 abortions took place in the United States in 2001—0.8% fewer than the 1,313,000 in 2000. In 2002, the number of abortions declined again, to 1,293,000, or another 0.8%."

And in the report they note that: "Between 1992 and 1996, the annualized decline was 3.4% per year, while between 1996 and 2000, it was 1.2% per year. The annualized decline between 2000 and 2002 was 0.9%"

So good news in those numbers for I'd think anyone on all sides of the abortion issue. But clearly still too high. The study also points to some evidence for why those who have abortions are doing so, and it clearly point to economic pressures as a partial factor: 2/3 of women having abortions say they cannot afford a child; and 1/2 say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner. Black women are more than 3 times as likely as white women to have an abortion, and Hispanic women are 2 1/2 times as likely.

As I've posted before, I think Christians can do better by bringing a focus on political action that helps decrease the actual abortion rates versus focusing on criminalization. This study is now the most definitive numbers on where we are as a nation in this regard...

Late last year, Fuller Professor Glen Stassen made estimates based on earlier data suggesting an increase in the overall abortion rate during the Bush years. His study was abased on the available data in 16 states, the new AGI study is based on 44 states.

This better data shows a slowing of the decline in abortion during the Bush years, and covers up until 2002. The study is careful not to speculate in the cause of the abortion rate decline, nor of the slowing of this reduction rate.

Afer this new information, Professor Stassen wrote this in repsonse:

"On May 19, 2005, the Alan Guttmacher Institute released a study of abortion rates in 2002, apparently in response to the opinion editorial that I published seven months ago in numerous papers in October, 2004, and the widespread interest that it has stimulated. That op ed has called forth widespread national attention to the stall that has occurred in what was the dramatic reductions of abortions in the United States in the 1990s.

Upon releasing the study, The AGI said:

"Demands for more recent data, resulting in part from media reports, opinion editorials, and public speeches speculating that abortion has increased as a result of Bush administration policies, have prompted the Institute..." to speed up its research of the question and make this report.

I am pleased that we were able to draw national attention to focus on the actual results of the policies. As AGI rightly says, it will take a few years to be sure what the impact of Bush administration policies will be on numbers of abortions. Now the nation will be watching to see what the policies actually produce in the next few years.

It is clear to me that undermining the financial support for mothers, undermining the availability of medical insurance, and increasing the jobless rate for prospective mates so that they are less likely to marry, has a bad influence on abortion rates and infant mortality rates.

The data show that the dramatic decline in number of abortions of the '90s to 300,000 fewer abortions per year has now stalled almost to a stop. My initial study thought it had actually reversed. We will watch to see what happens in the next few years.

In the data from the Center for Disease Control, abortions as a ratio of all births actually increased slightly in 2001 (CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Sept 26, 2004, page 16), while AGI estimates the ratio to have neither declined nor increased in 2001. The small difference is within the range of likely error, and thus the two reports do not actually contradict each other. The AGI estimates that the ratio declined very slightly in 2002, by 0.3 points from 24.5 to 24.2. This, too is within the range of possible error, especially if all 50 states and the District of Columbia were included.

I commend the honesty of the AGI study: They tested their methods by seeing how well these methods would have worked for estimating the data in 1997 based on the 1996 data. The result was an error of 1%. This is larger than their estimated decline in abortions for 2002 of 0.8%, and larger than their estimated change in abortion ratios for 2002 of 0.3. This amounts to a stall in the dramatic declines that happened in the 1990s, and is consistent with the slowing of the reductions in abortions ever since Aid to Families with Dependent Children was abolished and poor families have received much decreased financial security — now even further decreased under Bush policies. The Roman Catholic bishops warned at the time that this undermining of financial support for mothers would probably halt the decline in abortion rates or even cause them to increase. I believe they were right in their warning.

I based my estimates in October on the sixteen states whose data I could find then. Now, seven months later, and with their extensive data-gathering ability, AGI bases their results on 44 states. They say their results are only estimates, projections, but I believe their results are significantly better than what I could have obtained seven months ago. I affirm their methods and their study, and am grateful for their effort.

They excuse the size of their error in estimating 1997 based on 1996 data because the abortion decline in 1997 was about twice as steep as now, a decline of 1.9% then. This symbolizes what I have been saying: the decline in abortions is clearly stalling in 2001 and 2002 by contrast with the 1990s.

Other factors besides the rise in unemployment rates were also involved in the decline during the 1990s, such as more effective contraception methods and a moral climate less approving of abortions. These factors were still operating in 2001 and 2002, but their ability to reduce abortions withered for some reason.

The AGI report notes that from 1994 to 2000, the abortion rate actually increased among poor women and women on medicaid. This supports my conclusion that the financial condition of mothers is one important factor in their having abortions.

It also fits the CDC data showing that the infant mortality rate shockingly increased in 2002 for the first time ever in their reports since the reports began in
1940. When the financial condition of mothers declined, and the number of persons without medical insurance increased by several million, and many neighborhood clinics and emergency rooms closed, infant mortality rates increased. We will be watching to see if this also happened in 2003 and 2004.

AGI concludes: "It takes time for political decisions to be reflected in the statistical data, so it is too soon to tell what the impact of Bush administration policies will be on U.S. abortion rates." I agree. Now we will be watching.

We already know that abortion rates in Belgium and Holland, which have a strong social safety net, are around 6 per 1,000 women of child-bearing age, while the rates in the United States are around 23 or 24. I contend that we have something to learn from Belgium and Holland's more just support for mothers and babies, and their healthcare insurance for all citizens. We don't have to wait three more years for another study to know that.

Glen Stassen
May 25, 2005"
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7/09/2005 07:48:00 PM

Good to hear of some pro-life Dems. I've heard the argument before though that pro-lifers should focus on decreasing the number of abortions rather than decriminilising it. We need to do both.

In fact, decriminalising abortion would be one of the best ways to decrease the number performed? In Canada (where I'm from) there were less than 10 000 abortions performed before it became legal. Today - that we know of, over 100 000 are performed.

Even if that wasn't the case, criminalising the killing of human beings makes the point that it is wrong to kill innocent people. What kind of society would we left behind as Christians, if killing people still remains legal under our watch?    

8/02/2005 09:32:00 PM

Hey, I have a question about when abortion counts as murder. As I understand it, the reason we say an embryo has the same moral status as, say, Colin Powell, is because it has a soul, like Colin Powell. So, does anyone know what happens to the two souls when two embryos fuse, as often happens early in pregnancy? Does one die, meaning the surviving one committed murder, or do the souls fuse too, or maybe some people actually have two souls when they grow up? Also, what happens when an embryo twins? Does the soul split in half, or does it stay with one embryo and a new one gets created? Also, since we have a clear definition of when the soul enters the body -- at conception (except for the questions above, where it's not all that clear) -- do we have another clear definition of when the soul leaves the body? I've heard the Vatican says that this is at the time of brain-death. But that doesn't make any sense to me since the brain has nothing to do with the soul (obviously, since an embryo doesn't have a soul so how could the brain have anything to do with that). This all seems much more complicated than it seemed back in junior high, now that I've thought about it a bit.    

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