Those who believe that every human, from the moment of conception, has a right to life have just received some welcome news.
A new report shows the U.S. abortion rate, having declined consistently over the years, now stands at its lowest level since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. This encouraging trend can be attributed, in part, to an increasingly pro-life electorate and the resulting success of state-level pro-life legislation.
The Guttmacher Institute (the former research arm of the Planned Parenthood Federation for America) compiles abortion data gathered by surveying abortion providers across the country. Guttmacher calculated that there were 926,000 abortions in 2014 — some 14.6 abortions for every 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. These figures contrast sharply to the all-time high abortion rate of 29.3 per 1,000 women in the early 1980s or the all-time high of 1.6 million abortions registered in 1990.
Of course, any discussion regarding abortion data requires an important caveat: Every report on this topic — be it Guttmacher or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual survey — presents only an incomplete picture because there is no mandatory abortion reporting system in the United States. The Guttmacher report acknowledges that only 58 percent of abortion providers contacted for the survey responded. But since previous reports faced the same data limitations, we can at least be confident in overall trends that clearly show the abortion rate consistently declining since 1973.
Why is the abortion rate declining? One factor is increasing pro-life sentiment across the country. For many Americans, their first picture was likely taken in the womb via ultrasound. Being able to see these images of themselves, their siblings, or their children underscores the undeniable humanity of the unborn.
Improvements to medicine and technology have shaped how we view children in the womb and their potential, especially in the face of a challenging prenatal diagnosis. And thousands of crisis pregnancy centers across the country have stepped up to provide services, education, supplies, counseling and compassionate options — including adoption — to women experiencing tough pregnancies who may feel that abortion is their only choice.
In 2015, Guttmacher found that states had enacted 231 abortion regulations in the previous four years. Last year alone, Americans United for Life reported that 43 states considered over 360 pieces of abortion-related legislation (the vast number of which were pro-life). The state-level legislation ranged from late-term abortion bans and “informed consent” provisions to tougher safety regulations for clinics.
There is a reason the states have proposed and passed so many pro-life laws in recent years. After all, pro-life legislators don’t just happen to assume office; it takes a supportive electorate to put them there. Year after year, Americans elect men and women to public office who are pursuing these policies that protect the health and safety of women and their unborn children.
The Guttmacher report argues that improved contraceptives (namely long-acting reversible contraceptives) and state legislation are factors in the findings, though the report noted that the relationship between state abortion rates and state restrictions is unclear. Clark Forsythe, acting president of Americans United for Life, argues that “life-affirming laws do have an impact on lowering the number of abortions, and with all the life-affirming laws passed since 2010, we have a reason to celebrate the number of lives saved and women protected” from the abortion industry.
There is no guarantee that the abortion rate will continue to decline. Policymakers should remain vigilant and continue supporting pro-life policies. Likewise, the pro-life community should continue to promote a culture of life that respects the inherent humanity and dignity of all people, both born and unborn.
Still, those who affirm that all human life deserves to be protected should feel encouraged. Over the past four decades, a higher proportion of women in America have been choosing life over abortion.
• Melanie Israel is a research associate for The Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society.