February 26, 2024

Which part of “legal, safe and rare” don’t you agree with?

This week’s news that the abortion rate in the US has fallen to its lowest level in 40 years – since Roe v. Wade – was welcomed by both sides of the abortion debate. But they immediately began to fight over why it had declined. Broadly speaking, there are two explanations.

The first, offered by the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion think tank which produced the statistics, is that more young women are using long-term contraceptive devices and medical abortions.

The second is that 40 years of incremental restrictions on abortion and pro-life activism are finally beginning to bear fruit. As statistician Priscilla Coleman notes, “Nationally, the abortion rate declined by 13 percent, with particularly steep declines in mid-western states that enacted laws during the study period, regulating service provision and reporting (e.g., Kansas down 35 percent and South Dakota down 30 percent).”

The Guttmacher Institute insists that these laws are not having much impact. But this doesn’t square with complaints from the abortion clinics for whom it lobbies.

As we report in a story below, abortion providers in the northeastern US are incensed at the behaviour of Stephen Bingham, a doctor who runs a network of shoddy clinics in at least six states which have poor standards and bad business practices. “The more expensive and inaccessible that abortion becomes,” one provider told the New York Times, “the more it creates a space for a [Kermit] Gosnell or a Brigham to operate.”

My impression is that the abortion industry may be caught in a vicious circle of decline. Slowly growing support for the pro-life cause eventually brings about stiffer laws, despite Roe v. Wade. An unfavourable legal climate makes abortion an unpopular speciality for competent doctors and shonky operators step in to fill the gap. This tarnishes the image of abortion and makes it possible for politicians to enact even more restrictions.

My feeling is that abortion in the US is on the skids. What do you think? 

Michael Cook
Abortion is declining in the US. Why?