By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL Director of Education & Research
It is not unexpected, given news of a large recent overall decline in U.S. abortions and abortion rates, but it is encouraging nonetheless to see that the larger downward trend among all women is also being reflected in significantly lower abortion rates among teenagers.
The report, “U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions, 2010: National and State Trends by Age, Race and Ethnicity” was written by Guttmacher Institute researchers Kathryn Kost and Stanley Henshaw. The 28-page analysis of data shows declining pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates across the board among teens of all ages, races, and ethnic groups in the U.S., as a whole and in individual states.
Guttmacher, the one-time special research affiliate of Planned Parenthood that now serves as a research arm for the abortion and “family planning” industry, is not about to give any credit to pro-life legislation for a 2010 teenage abortion rate of 14.7 abortions per 1,000 women, “the lowest since abortion was legalize and 66% lower than its peak in 1988 (43.5/1,000 women).”
In a press release put out along with the report, lead author Kathryn Kost called the decline in pregnancy rate “great news.” She added,
“Other reports had already demonstrated sustained declines in births among teens in the past few years; but now we know that this is due to the fact that fewer teens are becoming pregnant in the first place. It appears that efforts to ensure teens can access the information and contraceptive services they need to prevent unwanted pregnancies are paying off.”
One can grant that all other things being equal, anything that, in theory, reduces the pregnancy rate–contraception, abstinence, disease, sterilization–would probably lower both birth and abortion rates. But what does a closer look at the numbers compiled by Guttmacher say?
If birth rates were down only because of increased abortion rates, or even if pregnancy and birth rates were falling faster than abortion rates that would not be good news.
But while showing real declines in teen pregnancy and birth rates, the data presented here indicate that something further is going on with regard to teen abortion than there just being fewer pregnancies.
The high for teen pregnancy rates was 1990 when there were 116.9 teen pregnancies for every 1,000 teens (aged 15-19 for Guttmacher’s statistical purposes). By 2010, the teen pregnancy rate had dropped by half (50.9%) to 57.4 per 1,000 teens. This means that while close to 12% of teens became pregnant in 1990, only about 6% did in 2010.
How about the teen birth rate? That dropped from a high of 61.8/l,000 teen births in 1991 to 34.4/ l,000 in 2010. That represents a decline of 44.3%, a somewhat smaller decline than the 50.9% seen for teen pregnancy, but still very, very substantial.
But notice that the teen abortion rate fell the most of all. The high (in both 1985 and 1988) was 43.5 abortions/l,000 teens. In 2010 it had dropped a whopping 66.2% to 14.7 abortions/1,000 teens!
Conclusion? That whatever the factors driving down teen pregnancy rates, something more is needed to explain why fewer teens are aborting and choosing to give birth to their babies.
Guttmacher does not wish to credit parental involvement laws (though it vaguely acknowledges “cultural attitudes toward sexual behavior and childbearing). But it seems hard to dismiss the impact of these laws and others such as waiting periods, informed consent, and the like.
We shouldn’t ignore the educational role of laws like the ban on Partial-Birth Abortions, which was debated and discussed for many years right in the middle of the time period the number of abortions declined. The way technology like ultrasound and a proliferation of fetology texts and videos made the humanity of the unborn more common knowledge should not be overlooked, either.
What other explanations are there? The springing up of so many crisis pregnancy centers (also known as Pregnancy Resource Centers) over this time frame, offering these teens positive and practical alternatives to abortion, also surely had an impact.
As we noted yesterday, states that have the most protective laws, such as South Dakota, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Utah, Arkansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Texas, have the lowest teen abortion rate (under 15). By contrast the rate of teen abortion in states with few or no limitations—such as New York, New Jersey—exceeds 40.
It is notable, though, for example, that none of the states with the higher abortion rates have parental involvement laws, while at least four of the top five in teen birth rates do.
The data here show that while declines have been seen across the board, there are still areas where there is more work to be done.
The abortion rates are down for all racial and ethnic groups, but are still significantly higher for minorities.
Even in 2010, the abortion rate for Hispanic teens, 15.3/l,000, was still nearly twice what it was for Non-Hispanic whites (8.5). The abortion rate for black teens was 34.5/l,000 was more than four times the rate for Non-Hispanic whites.
While abortion rates have always been higher for minorities, the decline among these groups since full racial and ethnic backgrounds began to be counted in 1988 was less substantial ( down 57% for blacks, down 60.7% for Hispanics) than it was for it was for whites (down 74.2%).
We see that what we have done over the last several years has made a difference. Teen abortion rates are down across the board, reaching the lowest levels ever recorded since abortion’s legalization.
The more they know about the development of the baby, the more they know about abortion and alternatives to abortion, the more they talk to their parents, the more teens choose life. Under the circumstances, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the generation hit hardest by abortion may be the most pro-life generation since Roe.