Down, Parental Involvement Laws Effective
Randall K. O'Bannon, Ph.D.
government reports show the number of abortions continuing to
decline during President George W. Bush’s second term. This comes on
the heels of a report by the Guttmacher Institute (GI) trying to
cast doubt on the effectiveness of parental involvement legislation.
The numbers appear to tell a different story.
Data from the CDC
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released its “Abortion
Surveillance—United States, 2005” report on November 28, 2008. It
showed a continued downward trend in both the number and rate of
abortions. Among the 47 states and two metropolitan areas (New York
City and Washington, D.C.) tracked by the CDC, there was a 2.3%
decline (19,075) in total abortions between 2004 and 2005.
always, the CDC’s figure (820,151) underreported the total number of
abortions, because there may be several hundred thousand abortions
from California, New Hampshire, and Louisiana, which did not report.
California and New Hampshire have been missing from CDC figures
since 1998, making national CDC totals too low. However, the data
from the reporting states are still useful for spotting trends and
tracking abortion demographics.
abortion rate for 2005—the number of abortions for every 1,000 women
of reproductive age (15–44)—was 15. This is the lowest figure since
1973, the year Roe was decided. The abortion ratio—the number of
abortions per 1,000 live births—at 233, was also lower than any year
since Roe. The trends on the CDC’s abortion rate and ratios have
been down or stable nearly every year since about 1987, when the
rate was 24/1,000 and the ratio was 356/1,000.
percentage of abortions performed on teens (17.1%) reached its
lowest level ever in the CDC tabulation. When abortion was first
legalized, teens accounted for nearly a third (32.7%) of the total.
That percentage has dropped nearly every year since. The biggest
drop came between 1988 and 1990, when it fell 2.9%.
who were not married accounted for 83.1% of the abortions. Most of
the abortions tracked by the CDC were to minorities: 36.9% to
African Americans, 20.3% to Hispanics, and 9.0% to “other” (may
include some Hispanics). Somewhere between 43% and 45.6% of women
had had at least one previous abortion. (The status of 2.6% was
“unknown.”) In addition, 59% of women having abortions had already
had at least one live birth.
abortions are still done surgically by curettage (87.1%), but an
increasing number employed some “other” procedure (12.1%). For the
CDC, “Other” includes chemical abortions using abortifacient drugs
such as RU486 and methotrexate. Nearly two-thirds (62.1%) of
abortions were done at eight weeks gestation or less, the highest
figure ever recorded by the CDC. This indicates that more women are
using methods such as RU486 or manual vacuum aspiration employed
earlier in pregnancy.
Guttmacher on Parental Involvement Laws
headline of the Guttmacher Institute’s March 11, 2009, press release
regarding its latest study claims that “Parental Involvement Laws
Have Little, If Any, Impact on Abortion Rates.” What the study
itself reveals, however, may be a different story.
study, “The Impact of Laws Requiring Parental Involvement for
Abortion: A Literature Review,” looked at some 29 studies attempting
to measure the impact of parental involvement laws somewhere in the
time frame between 1983 and 2008. The majority looked at how a given
policy or state law impacted the likelihood of a teen having an
abortion. But some looked at the law’s impact on rates of child
abuse, STDs, teen sexual activity, birth rates, single motherhood,
or even abortion rates as a whole for women of all ages in all
measurement of multiple outcomes (some of them arguably tangential)
muddies the analysis to some degree, the conclusion that parental
involvement laws have little or no impact does not seem to be
supported by the Guttmacher Institute’s own data.
Of the 21
studies that dealt with teen abortion rates, 16 showed measurable
declines after the passage of parental involvement laws. The
remaining five offered ambiguous or inconclusive results. For
example, they measured the impact of parental involvement laws on
all teens, not just minors affected by the law, or they looked at
the impact on the rates on all women of reproductive age for the
whole country. No study in the GI comparison showed an increase in a
state’s abortion rates once a parental involvement law was passed.
report repeatedly tried to cast doubt on studies showing declining
teen abortion rates by arguing as it always does—that teens simply
go to neighboring states for abortion. This certainly happens in
some individual cases (and there is some evidence that clinics in
states with parental involvement sometimes refer teens to clinics
out of state without parental involvement).
effects remain when data from surrounding states are considered to
see if teens from one state have simply traveled to another. A 2006
study of Texas before and after its parental notification law went
into effect found teen abortion rates and birth rates dropping
dramatically among teenagers younger than 18. That study, by one of
the GI report’s authors, did look at the changes in the teen
abortion rates in neighboring states and even considered a teen’s
age at the time of conception to more clearly measure the impact. Of
that study, the GI report said, “The conclusion that the parental
involvement law caused some minors to continue their pregnancies is
abortion rates have been on a steady decline over the past 30-plus
years, during which time 37 states passed effective parental
involvement legislation. Clearly, teens are not simply driving out
of state to get their abortions elsewhere.
Guttmacher Institute’s argument that the strongest results were
found in a limited age group and that Texas is unique because of the
distances involved rings hollow. The law has clearly worked, and
lives have been saved as a result. And, even granting the
statistical limitations of some of the other studies, most in the GI
report yielded similar results.
to the GI report’s headline, both its own investigation and the
latest numbers from the CDC show that pro-life laws, policies,
education, and outreach make a tangible and positive difference in
the lives of mothers of all ages. Fewer teens are aborting, and
abortion rates and ratios for all women are lower than they have
been at any time since Roe.
one way of measuring our effectiveness. Another is just to look at
the next school bus full of kids, the next children’s choir, the
next little league game, the next ballet recital and realize there
are thousands more like them all across the country that wouldn’t be
here if not for your sacrificial efforts.