By Dave Andrusko
The best news is the straightforward fact that in 2013 the fewest number of women in Utah had abortions than at any time since 1977. These encouraging results came about even though the number of women in their childbearing years has doubled in the intervening 36 years.
Utah Department of Health’s Maternal and Infant Health Program reported that 2,893 women had abortions last year–only 4.6 abortions in every 1,000 women. While generally a confirmation of longstanding trends, the results also raise some intriguing questions.
Among other pro-life provisions on the books, in 2012 Utah was the first state in the nation to enact a 72-hour period of reflection. That three-day period does not begin until the mother has a face to face meeting with an “abortion provider.”
National Right to Life President Carol Tobias explained that the impact of pro-life legislation in Utah is making the difference it was designed to make. She told the Salt Lake Tribune
The legislative efforts of the right-to-life movement, and significantly, the resulting national debate and educational campaigns surrounding pro-life legislation should not be minimized when discussing the decline in abortion numbers.
The Tribune’s Matt Canham went into considerable detail in his story. Under the heading “numbers,” he wrote that Laurie Baksh, with the Utah Department of Health’s Maternal and Infant Health Program,
has watched the statistics closely. She’s seen that from 1997 to 2008 Utah’s abortion rate was relatively flat, hovering around six abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age, which is 15 to 44 years old.
That rate dropped to five in 2011. And it fell to 4.6 in 2013, the most recent data published by the state health department.
The rate was 7.2 when first calculated by the state in 1975 and it reached a high of 11.1 in 1980. Through the years, Utah has always been far below the national level.
Canham also addressed an explanation that pops up frequently: that abortions go down during economic downturns, the latest which began in 2008 and which has been slow to recover. Baksh told Canham
They are probably working a little bit harder not to become pregnant because now is not the time.
But Canham looked deeper. He wrote
It is just a theory driven by the calendar: When the economy took a nosedive, so did abortions. Statistics, though, don’t show similar drops during previous economic downturns in the early 2000s or the 1980s.
In Utah, the decline in the number of abortions came not from unmarried women having fewer abortions. The numbers were virtually identical in 2011 (1,821) and 2013 (l,838).
The explanation is the behavior of married women, according to Canham.
Abortions among married women actually spiked in the last few years, jumping from 762 in 2008 to 987 in 2011, then fell back to 705 in 2013. This recent reduction in married women having abortions is the reason that Utah saw its abortion rate drop to a record low in 2013.
The 72-hour informed consent law, passed in 2012, was sponsored in Utah’s House of Representatives by Rep. Steve Eliason. According to Canham
He said the point was to offer “a cooling-off period,” during which he hoped women who felt pressured to get an abortion by a husband or boyfriend would be able to reconsider.
“I will make no excuse for policy that helps reduce the number of abortions,” he said. “In this case though, it wasn’t the situation where, like other states, you are trying to restrict access to clinics. It simply makes sure there’s informed consent.”