Michael new misses the big question: is pregnancy help the chief reason abortion ratios are falling?Read Now
(I have offered the following article, a response to an article in National Review by Michael J. New of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, to National Review on January 24.)
Michael New’s January 19th article in National Review Online, “The Best Metrics of Pro-Life Progress,” rightly notes that abortion numbers are falling, which is encouraging for all of us who want to see the end of legal abortion in America. Before we celebrate, however, we should perhaps reconsider the best metric of success. If you measure the rates of abortion for every 1,000 women aged 14 to 44, as he does, the numbers drop significantly – more than 50 percent fewer in 2014 than in 1980. The problem with this, however, is that it does not take into account declining fertility in America. Raw birth numbers have been dropping for decades; one would expect abortion rates to fall as well. It’s more helpful, from a pro-life point of view, to know what proportion of all pregnant women choose abortion from year to year (excluding those who miscarry). If the ratios of abortions to live births go down, we know that more women are not seeking abortions, and we can look for possible reasons.
And go down those ratios have. From the peak of 36.4 per 100 live births in 1984 they have fallen steadily to 18.8 in 2015, a drop of 48 percent (CDC data). The decline is profound and continuous. This rules out some explanations from the start. Dr. New rightly dispatches Planned Parenthood’s claim that increased use of contraception, and the right kind of contraception, is largely responsible for fewer unintended pregnancies, and thus for the decline in abortion numbers: rates of unintended pregnancy over the years don’t back it up. His claim, however, that abortion numbers have fallen because of protective laws or changed hearts and minds needs closer examination. Academic research, he says, “shows that a variety of pro-life laws, including public-funding limits, parental-involvement laws, and properly designed informed-consent laws all reduce the incidence of abortion.” The question is, By how much? When we tally the reduction in abortion ratios that one would expect to see for these measures (which he has documented in his research), we get a total reduction in abortion ratios of 4.7 per 100 live births. The total reduction in abortion ratios from 1984 to 2015 was 17.6, however. (And this comparison assumes that these laws were all passed at some point in all of the CDC’s reporting states, which is not the case.) These laws save lives, and would save more lives if they were passed everywhere, but they are not driving the continuing drop in abortion ratios.
His second reason for the decline, changed hearts and minds, is intriguing, because it must be true in some sense, as women decide whether to abort or carry to term. If there is such a change, however, it is not reflected in public opinion polls. For years now, many have heralded polls ostensibly showing that the younger generation is more pro-life, or that more people consider themselves “pro-life.” Yet researchers from the American Enterprise Institute, who conduct an annual survey of previous polls on abortion, still report that there has been no significant shift in public opinion since the early 1970s. About 20 to 30 percent of the population are pro-choice, the same proportion are pro-life, and about half are in the middle. In May 2016, 29 percent of respondents to a Gallup poll said abortion should be legal in all circumstances, 50 percent said it should be legal in some circumstances, and 19 percent thought it should be illegal in all circumstances. “Substantial numbers of people tell the pollsters that abortion is an act of murder. They also say that the decision to have an abortion should be a personal choice.” (People may want to think of themselves as “pro-life,” but we can believe that there has been a true shift when a majority says that abortionists should go to jail.)
Perhaps, however, women who find themselves pregnant, and didn’t intend to be, are changing how they think of abortion and childbirth. There is ongoing discussion about “intention” among the technocrats who push “family planning” to women at risk of unintended pregnancy. They are challenged by the discovery that not all women plan these things or want to plan them. A woman who is taking some precautions not to become pregnant can actually be happy to find out that she is, especially if she is supported by her partner or those around her. (Those who focus on intention and planning seek to translate a woman’s imagined unhappiness with a future possible pregnancy into a plan for her fertility, that is, to make her over in their own image.) It may be that we are seeing the effects of fairly large-scale, social-psychological changes relating to pregnancy, abortion and childbirth, that we simply cannot discern.
In any case, Dr. New ends his list with “taking care of the material needs of pregnant women.” Here he is really on to something. In fact, the number of new pregnancy help centers has grown continuously while abortion ratios have declined. Heartbeat International, one umbrella organization for such centers, counted 23 new centers opening in 1973; by 2017 over 1,720 new centers had opened. (This is a partial count, as there are currently over 2,750 such centers. Some offer emotional, moral, spiritual, and practical help, some also provide limited obstetrical ultrasounds, and a smaller number are maternity homes.) The biggest one-year increase in centers recorded by Heartbeat was in 1985, the year after abortion ratios reached their peak, according to the CDC.
In a 1992 book, Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America, Marvin Olasky suggested that abortion rates in the latter half of the 19th Century (almost double ours, incidentally) declined largely because of Christian philanthropy, especially maternity homes. It is quite likely that we are seeing the same thing today with pregnancy help centers.
The key role of the centers has been confirmed here in Pittsburgh, where Vision for Life has been running modest ad campaigns for local centers since late 2010. Abortion ratios from 2000 to 2010 averaged 32.6 per 100 live births in Allegheny County. From 2011 to 2017, the last year for which we have the numbers, the average was 26.2, a 20 percent decrease. (Of course, abortion ratios are falling everywhere. The difference, however, between the two periods for all other Pennsylvania counties was only 7 percent.) The effect of advertising is not surprising: a Charlotte Lozier Institute study in 2014 found that 54 percent of women either did not know if there were centers in their communities, or thought that there weren’t any. When women know about the centers, more of them choose not to abort.
We can’t prove (yet) that pregnancy help is the main thing driving the drop in abortion numbers in the U.S., but it is certainly the chief candidate for study. One thing we can assume: increased advertising for local centers will bring those declining numbers down further.
Chris Humphrey, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Vision for Life - Pittsburgh
Good News again this year!
There’s good news in the most recent Pennsylvania Abortion Report for 2017. Abortion numbers for the State have fallen again: 2.8% fewer than the year before (from 30,881 to 30,011). (All statistics come for the Pennsylvania Dept. of Health’s annual Abortion Reports. The interpretation is ours.)
Abortions to Pennsylvania residents only (as opposed to all abortions, including those performed on women from out of state) fell a little further – by 3.4% (from 29,214 to 28,234). In the ten years from 2008, when abortions reached their peak, to 2017, abortion numbers for residents have fallen 24.1% in PA.
Allegheny county gets mixed reviews
But The Abortion Ratio For Residents has fallen
What’s really important, however, are abortion ratios, that is, the number of abortions per 1,000 live births. Why? Because pregnancy rates are falling anyway. From 2008 to 2017, births in Pennsylvania went down 11,310, or about 8%. In this case, the question becomes, “Are abortion numbers going down relative to declining birth numbers?” This is the abortion ratio. If the number of abortions per 1,000 live births is lower from year to year, then we know that fewer women who were pregnant chose abortion each year.
Abortion numbers and ratios for Allegheny County residents went down 24% since we began advertising in 2011.
What else do we learn from the PA report?
Black women had 43% of abortions performed in PA, something that should exercise the hearts and minds of anyone who cares about the black community. As they are about 13% of the population, they are over-represented by two times in the abortion statistics. If black lives matter, then this has to change. Black pastors need to step up, and reassure women that God can and will forgive sexual sin -- the child is His good, natural gift -- and that He gives us sexual boundaries because He loves us.
88% of women who aborted in Pennsylvania in 2017 were unmarried. We know apart from the Report that women who cohabit are most at risk of abortion.
Over 61% of women who aborted had one or more previous live births. In other words, moms with one child or more were more likely than women with no children to have an abortion. It’s very likely that finances and the state of their relationships played a big part in these decisions.
When we put this together, we get the following picture: a woman (in many cases black), between the ages of 20 to 24, cohabiting, with one or more children. We know from other research that, as a group, the women most likely to abort when they discover that they have an unintended pregnancy are those in households with 200 to 300 times the federal poverty level. Though very poor women abort, too, more often it is those for whom pregnancy has complicated their lives: the boyfriend is threatening to leave, or he has lost his job; she can’t give up her job without losing their accommodation; and so forth. The problem is not one that can be solved simply with money. These women, and all women thinking about abortion, need to hear from the people at the pregnancy medical centers that they can make it, that they don’t have to abort, that God will provide and that they can trust in Him. She already has a child within her; killing him or her is no solution.
Repeat abortions (a woman’s second, third, fourth or more) accounted for over 47% of the total abortions to residents.
The best news here, however, is that first-time abortions in PA are in sharper decline than repeat abortions. From 2008 to 2017, first-time abortions declined 25%. Repeat abortions declined 20%.
What does this mean? With fewer first-time abortions each year, there will be even fewer repeat abortions in future, if the trends hold, which they should. This means that Big Abortion is facing a slow demise. When the number of clients showing up for abortions drops below a certain threshold, profitability is gone, and the abortionist has to shut down. That’s the future!
Many pro-life organizations make much of the evil of abortion, and there is no question that it is evil. But outrage and anger accomplish little, and there is much to encourage us: abortion numbers are falling, and they'll continue to fall. Advertising pregnancy help centers help them to fall faster, and that's our goal for the year ahead. We need to get the word out across America. We want to see more moms and babies saved from abortion in Allegheny County, in Pennsylvania, and in the U.S. May God help us as we do our best.
Chris Humphrey has been involved in pro-life activity of one kind or another since the late 1970s, when he first looked at the subject of abortion in seminary in Canada. He has an undergraduate degree in English (University of Toronto), and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in religious studies (McGill). He has had a varied career as a pastor, chaplain in a psychiatric hospital, editor of academic and instructional publications, semi-professional photographer, and home renovator. He is a husband of over 40 years to Edith (a Professor of New Testament), father to three girls, and grandfather to seventeen grandchildren. He lives and works in the Stanton Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh.