Feature

Abortion: Why is it on the decline?

There was big news about abortion last week, said Mary Carmichael in Newsweek.com. But like everything related to this explosive issue, there was little agreement about what it meant. The Guttmacher Institute . . .

There was big news about abortion last week, said Mary Carmichael in Newsweek.com. But like everything related to this explosive issue, there was little agreement about what it meant. The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health research group, released a study showing that American women had fewer abortions in 2005 than in any year since 1974. The number of abortions fell to 1.2 million, a decline of 25 percent since the peak year of 1990. “But the report is far more complicated than the basic statistics suggest. Yes, abortions are down, but it’s unclear why.” Pro-lifers say more women are keeping their babies because they’re “better informed” about when life begins. Pro-choice groups say that better education about birth control and new contraceptive methods, such as the morning-after pill, have helped prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. If that is the case, then the fact that fewer women are having abortions is “news that both sides of the issue might welcome.”

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, said Tracy Clark-Flory in Salon.com. The main reason there are fewer abortions may be that slowly but surely, the right to choose has been whittled away. Roe v. Wade is still on the books, but a series of restrictions at the state level, from parental-notification requirements to mandatory waiting periods, have made it harder and harder to exercise that right. And then there’s the crucial matter of availability. “A shocking 87 percent of U.S. counties don’t have an abortion provider,” meaning women often have to travel hours to get the help they need. Even where the laws aren’t overly restrictive, said Deborah Kotz in U.S. News & World Report, anti-abortion fanatics still try to scare off patients with their aggressive protests, while doctors face death threats. “No wonder fewer and fewer are doing abortions.”

Pro-choice zealots should stop looking for a villain in this story, said Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune. Abortion is down today because “the great majority of Americans, even many who see themselves as pro-choice, are deeply uncomfortable with it.” Feminists of the 1970s were focused mainly on their own freedoms, but more women are pausing to consider that “the death of a fetus is a real death” and therefore has moral implications. Indeed, since 1992, the proportion of Americans who favor “abortion on demand” has dropped from 34 percent to 26 percent. Clinics are closing all right, because demand for them is drying up. “The prevailing view used to be: Abortion may be evil, but it’s necessary. Increasingly, the sentiment is: Abortion may be necessary, but it’s evil.”

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