Laws and Local Factors Have Major Impact
By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D. NRL Director of Education & Research
Earlier this year, we were all delighted to find out that abortions, abortion rates, and abortion ratios had dropped to levels not seen since the early 1970s. The good new meant a drop of 2% in just one year.
Before we go further, here is the caveat that we offer every time. Unlike the CDC, Guttmacher has data from all fifty states and access to more abortionists, so numbers are more complete and its abortion totals are always significantly higher. The CDC’s reports, though, the latest being “Abortion Surveillance — United States, 2014,” are published more frequently and provide more information on the details and demographics of these trends, thus giving us some better idea of some of the factors that may end or extend the decline.
In addition to the fewer abortions, the CDC’s abortion rate for 2014 was 12.1 abortions/1,000 women of reproductive age (15-44 years). That is lower than any other rate the CDC has recorded since the Supreme Court legalized abortion.
The CDC abortion ratio, which measures the number of abortions for every 1,000 live births, was 186, again, lower than any ratio the CDC has found since 1973. Both long and short term statistics show not only are fewer women becoming pregnant but among those women who did become pregnant there are fewer abortions.
To reiterate, over the long term, the numbers of abortions, the abortion rates and the abortion ratio are down in virtually every state. Most states showed drops in most years going back over the past two decades or more. While most of the decreases were modest a few states had profound declines.
It is also true some states saw increases over the numbers in the CDC’s report for 2013, but these were generally only a few dozen or at the most a couple of hundred more.
States with Significant Single Year Shifts
CDC figures for 2014 show declines in 28 reporting areas, and another 20 showing increases.  For the most part, the number of abortions rose or fell by modest amounts. However a handful of states saw big drops or increases. Unless noted otherwise, all increases/decreases are from 2013 to 2014.
The number of abortions in Texas dropped by a whopping 9,020. Abortions fell by 2,278 in Illinois and 2,030 in Ohio. In New York, there were 1,335 fewer abortions while in Tennessee there were 1,843 fewer abortions.
Some of this is simply a function of being a large state with a large volume of abortions from the beginning. But there are other reasons. It is also important to note that a few smaller states, such as Montana and Rhode Island, saw diminishing numbers that were significant for them.
A look at the abortion rates and ratios shows that declines in some of the bigger states drops were for reasons more than just their size. New York’s rate drop was just 0.4, a hair over the national 0.3 drop. However their abortion ratio (as noted the number of abortions for every 1,000 live births) dropped by a huge 143 abortions.
Illinois’ abortion rate drop (0.9 fewer abortions/1,000 women of reproductive age) was three times the national rate drop. Its abortion ratio fell 17. Ohio’s abortion rate drop (-0.9) was also three times the national rate drop and its abortion ratio fell 15.
Tennessee and Texas saw huge drops in their abortion rates (drops of 1.5 in the abortion rate for TN, and 1.8 for TX) as well as significant drops in the abortion ratio (a decline in the abortion ratio of 26 for TN and 28 for TX).
As noted, a few states moved the other direction.
Why are some up and others down?
Given the mixed numbers and wide geographic variations, it’s difficult to determine any single broad explanation for all states.
The overall trend, thankfully, is down, as it has continued to be for nearly all these states for the last couple of dozen CDC reports. That should never be forgotten when we look at any one year.
The mixed results from 2013 to 2014 are likely explained by unique local factors that came into play.
The case of Texas
While abortions were down significantly in Tennessee, Illinois, and Ohio, much of the national attention focused on Texas. The abortion industry raised a ruckus when the state passed safety regulations on clinics in 2014, claiming these were going to close clinics across the state. Clinics did indeed close in Texas, and abortions dropped considerably. But as NRL News Today explained in a number of posts, abortion clinics in Texas were closing not just before the 2014 law took effect but before the law was even passed!
To be sure the portion of the law dealing with safety regulations may have been responsible for some closures. But the closer analysis we provided showed that a different part of the law addressing the chemical abortion drug protocol probably had a greater impact on state abortion numbers. Once that passed, many clinics stopped offering the method. That portion of the law was not challenged at the Supreme Court, nor, by the way, was Texas banning the abortions of pain-capable unborn children.
If anything, an earlier law passed by Texas in 2011 that disqualified abortion business affiliates from participating in the state’s Women’s Health Program may have been a bigger factor in there being both fewer clinics and fewer abortions than the 2014 law.
Up in Michigan and New Jersey
The case of Michigan highlights the significance of the role that abortion performing and promoting groups like Planned Parenthood play. Though the number of abortion clinics in Michigan fell from 41 in 2011 to 29 in 2014, Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest and most aggressive abortion chain, increased the number of abortion performing locations from one to six from 2010 to 2016.
New Jersey? According to the Guttmacher Institute, the number of abortion performing facilities in New Jersey went from 24 in 2011 to 41 in 2014. Most of those were clinics that began offering chemical abortions.
Learning Something from North Carolina’s “Increase”
From North Carolina, we learn that a recorded numerical increase does not necessarily mean that there was an actual increase in the number of abortions.
In North Carolina there was a recorded increase of 1,785 abortions in just one year’s time. Sometimes such things can happen if the abortion industry opens up big new shiny abortion clinic or a good piece of protective legislation gets bottled up in court, but the explanation here appears to have been, in large part, just better reporting.
If you go to the state’s vital statistics page for “Reported Pregnancies,” you will read the following message: ‘The number of induced termination of pregnancy [abortion] forms submitted to the State Center for Health Statistics (SCHS) was underreported from 2011-2014. Please use caution when interpreting abortion and pregnancy numbers and rates from 2011 to 2014.”
When the new assistant secretary took office at North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in 2015, he noticed there were some clinics reporting abortions to department’s licensing regulators but not to the state’s center for health statistics., giving the state conflicting official counts.
Beginning that year, a more concerted effort was made by the statistics department to obtain these counts, with more intensive follow-up for the stragglers.
Though the new policy officially kicked off in 2015, it actually affected the last few months of 2014 as the state was still processing data from the previous year. The state’s heightened scrutiny thus appears to have resulted in the counting of several hundred abortions in the last part of 2014 that probably would not have been recorded in 2013.
On paper, this looks like a big increase for 2014, but that may be somewhat of an illusion created by improved reporting.
What does it all mean?
Nailing down all the factors that contributed to the rise or fall of abortions in any particular state can be very difficult. Many factors, large and small, can cause abortions, abortion rates, and abortion ratios to tick up or down. Again, we need to remember the overall trend is downward.
In its own analysis, the CDC declared
“Multiple factors influence the incidence of abortion, including access to health care services and contraception; the availability of abortion providers; state regulations, such as mandatory waiting periods, parental involvement laws, and legal restrictions on abortion providers; increasing acceptance of non-marital childbearing; shifts in racial/ethnic composition of the U.S. population; and changes in the economy and the resulting impact on fertility preferences and access to health care services.”
Some of these we have definitely seen come into play. Parental involvement laws apparently prompted teens to discuss their unintended pregnancies with their parents rather than to try to cover them up with clandestine abortions. Safety regulations closed some clinics while others states saw abortion expand when they added clinics with chemical abortions. Efforts to prevent state funding from going to organizations that perform abortion led to some closures.
But above all else, the megatrend is that fewer women are becoming pregnant and fewer among those who do are choosing to abort.
How much of the drop in demand is due to legislative efforts by pro-lifers passing laws make abortion’s risks and reality plain, how much is due to education which makes knowledge of the humanity of the unborn child common, how much is due to outreach which makes realistic alternatives to abortion accessible, is hard to quantify precisely.
But abortions and abortion rates and ratios are down across the board, and more pregnant moms are choosing life for themselves and their unborn children.
And that is very good news, indeed.