Our Perspective: New study investigates factors driving record low abortion rate

The U.S. abortion rate [2014] dropped significantly to 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44, surpassing the previous record low in 1973 when abortion was legalized nationally. 

A study published on Jan. 17 by the Guttmacher Institute researched the 14% drop in the U.S. abortion rate between 2011 and 2014. Guttmacher explains that primarily contraception and fewer unintended pregnancies accounted for the decline in the abortion rate. Further, the study explained new abortion restrictions, mainly enacted at the state level, did not paly a large role in reducing abortions. This study stands in complete contradiction to the antiabortionist movement, which works to reduce abortion incidence and oppose wide accessibility of contraceptives.

As news of the decrease spreads, antiabortion groups and policymakers will likely attribute the decreasing rate to their regressive agenda and various new restrictions on abortion services. "[Anti abortionists] will credit their own efforts for the decline, and deny or minimize the role of contraception in helping to reduce unintended pregnancy and, thereby, women’s recourse to abortion,” the study says. False antiabortionist claims such as these, threaten women’s health and rights by justifying increased restrictions and downplaying the role contraceptives play in reducing unintended pregnancies and abortion rates.

In the current political climate, where reproductive rights are facing a large uphill battle, it is crucial lawmakers understand the empirical evidence supporting contraceptives and the actually consequences of abortion restrictions. Here’s the evidence lawmakers need to know:

The Guttmacher Institute study explains that 22 states enacted 47 new abortion restrictions, intending to restrict a women’s ability to receive an abortion. Combined, these 22 states accounts for only 38 percent of the total abortion rate decline. In contrast, 28 states and the District of Columbia did not put any new restrictions in place. These 29 jurisdictions accounted for 63 percent of the total abortion rate decline, and, of the 29 jurisdictions, all but three saw a decline in abortion.

The only restrictions to make a noticeable impact on the abortion rates were “Targeted regulations of abortion providers,” commonly known as TRAP laws.  TRAP laws are regulations not designed to increase patient safety, but instead are laws designed to make it extremely expensive or impossible for providers to comply with the regulation, typically resulting in the forced closure of clinics. TRAP laws are often challenged legally and overturned the courts. While TRAP laws likely contribute to the overall reduction in abortions, “they cannot explain all of it,” the study concludes.

The study explains that the majority of abortion restrictions do not prevent a large number of women from obtaining an abortion. History proves restrictions do little to stop women from receiving an abortion. Throughout history, women have overcome abortion restrictions by seeking unsafe, illegal abortions and traveling thousands of miles to receive legal abortion services. State restrictions hinder but do not stop women from receiving abortions.

The Trump administration and the new, majority republican, Congress has the power to “reverse progress in empowering women to meet their childbearing goals, including avoiding unintended pregnancy,” the study said.

Eventually lawmakers will have to ask themselves, what is the right way to reduce abortions? The answer, as this study supports, is not increase abortion restrictions. But, instead, the answer is supporting comprehensive sex education and increasing access to contraceptives. 

by Allison Buffet

Allison Buffett is from Chicago, Illinois. She is currently a junior at Tulane University pursuing a degree in Political Science with a coordinate major in Social Policy and Practice and a minor in Public Health. Her research interests focus around healthcare policy. She believes thoughtful healthcare legislation has the potential to improve women’s access to affordable, high quality, and crucial healthcare services. She is looking forward to advancing her healthcare policy knowledge as a Policy Intern at Lift Louisiana. She is excited to work towards Lift Louisiana’s mission of empowering women to shape the course of their own lives by having access to reproductive health information and care. ​

Our Perspective contributions are written by the interns from Tulane University working with Lift Louisiana to advance reproductive health, rights and justice.

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