No one is certain why the abortion rate is falling. The Guttmacher researchers admit that this question is “beyond the scope” of their study. Nevertheless, they speculate that increased contraception use is responsible for the decline, and claim they found “no indication” that pro-life laws limiting abortion played any role. This is par for the Guttmacher course; even their mission statement demands universal contraception access and abortion-on-demand, and much of their work is in support of those goals. Michael New has already poked holes in Guttmacher’s theory that contraception played the most prominent role in the decline, but many in the media are still reporting as fact Guttmacher’s suggestion that pro-life laws were not part of the equation.
In fact, the Guttmacher study reveals strong indications that laws restricting abortion played a significant role in reducing the abortion rate nationwide – regardless of whether the lead researchers “found” those indications. The report lists 22 states that, during the period studied (2008-2011), enacted new or expanded regulations on abortion. In these 22 states, whose combined populations amount to roughly half the United States, the abortion rate fell by 15 percent in three years. Meanwhile, a decline of only 8.7 percent was reported in states that didn’t enact new abortion regulations. That’s a pretty big difference!
Of course, as the Guttmacher researchers acknowledge, not all abortion regulations are created equal. For example, Alabama’s only new regulation was a change in how abortions are reported to the state; it is unclear how this could reduce the abortion rate. Arkansas’ ban on partial-birth abortions is also unlikely to measurably reduce the abortion rate, both because partial-birth abortions are very rare and because abortionists are able to work around the ban using different abortion procedures. Moreover, many of the restrictions were passed in the final year of the study, often going into effect so late that, in the words of the Guttmacher report, “they would not be expected to have reduced access to services during the study period.” When we restrict our analysis to only the twelve states that passed substantial restrictions on abortion before 2011, the effect of pro-life legislation becomes even stronger: despite a couple of outliers, the decline in those twelve states was 17 percent overall — nearly double the rate of decline in states that failed to enact abortion restrictions.
I agree with the study’s conclusion that there is a vital need for more research on the impact of pro-life legislation. However, given the authors’ failure to recognize significant data that was staring them in the face, I have to wonder whether the Guttmacher Institute is up to the challenge. Until then, pro-lifers struggling to save unborn lives in legislatures around the country should celebrate the fact that their victories appear to be contributing substantially to America’s long breakup with the Culture of Death.