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NRL News
Page 5
April 2009
Volume 36
Issue 4

Abortions Down, Parental Involvement Laws Effective
By Randall K. O'Bannon, Ph.D.

Recent 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.

Abortion Data from the CDC

The 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.

As 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.

The CDC’s 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.

The 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%.

Mothers 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.

Most 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

The 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.

The 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 states.

While the 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.

The GI 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).

But the 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 persuasive.”

Teen 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.

The 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.

Seeing What Works

Contrary 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.

That’s 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.