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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Abortion Rate is Falling in the US--Probably Not Because of New Restrictions

Thanks to Shoshana Grossbard for pointing me to a story at FiveThirtyEightPolitics about the falling abortion rate in the US. Given the number of states that have recently been passing laws that make it harder for a woman in this country to have an abortion, it is interesting to see the analysis suggesting that these restrictions are not the likely reason for the fall in abortions:
Although it’s impossible to attribute the decline to a single factor, the data shows that better contraception — combined with a bad economy and a falling teen pregnancy rate — is largely responsible. Abortion rates did fall in many of the states with new restrictions, but they also dropped in others, such as New York and Connecticut, where access to abortion is relatively unobstructed. In fact, some of the states with the biggest declines — Hawaii, Nevada and New Mexico — have enacted no new abortion laws in recent years, suggesting that something other than reduced access is spurring the trend.
Experts cited in the article suggest that restrictions are unlikely to limit the number of abortions. Rather, they delay the timing of the abortion by making it more difficult for a woman to figure out where she can go for an abortion. 

The reason for the fall in the abortion seems to be what any reasonable person would hope for--a drop in the likelihood of a woman getting pregnant when she didn't want to have a baby. This may reflect a combination of economic uncertainty causing women to be more careful about using effective contraception along with the greater availability of contraception as a result of the Affordable Care Act. I was particularly struck by the theme of ambivalence when it comes to getting pregnant--something I have been talking about for a long time:
Elizabeth Ananat, an associate professor of economics at Duke University who studies the economics of fertility, said the data also contradicts the notion that more women are rejecting abortion and choosing to stay pregnant. “If women’s attitudes were really shifting, we should see the birth rate go up,” she says. “Instead, birth rates are falling, too.” ....“People think of pregnancies as being either planned or unplanned, but there’s sometimes some middle ground there, some ‘let’s see what happens,’” she said. “People’s ambivalence tends to evaporate during a recession, and they’re more careful about birth control use because they’re more certain they don’t want to get pregnant.”
An important lesson here is that policies such as trying to restrict aboriton tend to work best if most people are behind them. I have never talked to anyone who thinks that an abortion is preferable to contraception, but a majority (slim, but still a majority) of Americans believe that it should be a woman's right to make the choice about having an abortion, since contraception does not always work as it should. 

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