As abortion rates drop across the US, experts are quick to point out that laws have nothing to do with it
According to data released this week, abortion rates have sharply declined in the United States ever since the historic Roe vs Wade was decided in 1973. Earlier this year, many states seemed to be in a twisted race to get restrictive abortion laws passed, citing pro-life beliefs. However, according to the report released by the Guttmacher Institute, laws have very little to do with this decline -- it is actually better access to contraceptives.
The Institute, which is the only agency that aims to count all abortions done in the United States, found a total of 862,000 abortions were performed in the US in 2017, which is a considerably down from its previous 2014 report of 926,000 or the 2011 report that showed the number to be just over a million. Evidence suggests that it is because fewer women are getting pregnant in the first place. When looking at the trend from 2011 to 2017, it becomes clear that abortion restrictions weren't the reason why they were not being conducted.
It's a common reproductive health experience
Dr. Herminia Palacio, President, and CEO of the Institute told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) that one of the most important findings that one can take away from the report is that abortion was found to be a common reproductive health experience in the United States.
"Abortion restrictions—whether or not they lead to fewer abortions—are coercive and cruel by design, and intended to impose a heavy emotional and financial toll on anyone seeking an abortion," she said in a statement adding that lowering the number should not be the goal. Instead, "policy should focus on supporting patients’ health and rights, regardless of how it affects the abortion rate.”
The Institute also analyzes changes in the abortion rate against state policy. In its report, data showed that there is a growing divide between accessing abortion services based on where a pregnant woman is on the map, said Dr. Rachel Jones, who is a Guttmacher's Principal Research Scientist.
"Individuals in the Midwest and the South already have to deal with burdensome abortion restrictions, and these inequities are getting worse," she noted adding that it would be women from economically weaker sections of these states that would be hit the hardest.
Accessing abortion would require a woman to take time off work, pay for transportation and temporary stay, along with money to pay for childcare. It comes down to what one can or cannot "afford". "As the number of restrictions increases, those inequities grow too," she said.
National Women's Health Network Executive Director Cindy Pearson agrees. She thinks that there is a need for policymakers to understand women's experiences that would actually help them. The burden of politically-imposed requirements like mandatory ultrasounds and waiting periods make it much harder than it should be. "We have to look beyond numbers to fully understand women's experiences, and create policies and programs that meet their needs," she told MEAWW.
Anti-abortion policies are not the main driver, but still inflict harm
The report found that the number of abortions fell by 19 per cent from 2011 to 2017, while the abortion rate fell by 20 per cent, from 16.9 percent in 2011 to 13.5 percent in 2017. As for the abortion ratio, which is the number of abortions per 100 pregnancies ending in either abortion or live birth fell by 13 per cent, from 21.2 per cent in 2011 to 18.4 per cent in 2017. However, this decline is nothing new.
As for clinics, the study found that there were 808 clinical facilities providing abortions in 2017, which is a 2 per cent increase since 2014. However, in the Midwest and the South, they have decreased by 6 and 9 per cent respectively. With policymakers trying to shut down clinics some states may only have one clinic open.
Missouri could become the first state with no abortion clinics after the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services refused to renew its license with a Planned Parenthood clinic in St.Louis unless its doctors agreed to interviews about what it says are "deficient practices". There is an urgent need to prevent these clinics from shutting down, urged Toni Van Pelt, President of National Organization for Women (NOW).
But this data does not count the past two years when reproductive policies have been changing rapidly and drastically. As Van Pelt notes, "Missouri had three clinics providing care in 2017 and since then two have closed. We know that the bill passed in Missouri was not to protect women’s health – because women are safest when they have access to affordable, available abortion care not when clinics have their hands tied or are forced to close."
Nationally, the abortion rate has been declining since 1980 in almost every state, along with birth rates say the researchers. If the birth rate had gone up along with this drop in abortions, abortions restrictions would have been the main driver. The data also shows no clear pattern linking the two.