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NRL News
Page 3
July/August 2009
Volume 36
Issue 7-8


By Wanda Franz, Ph.D.

The fact that Roe v. Wade is still the Court-imposed law of the land makes some pro-lifers lament that we haven’t made any progress.  They are too pessimistic.  We are really facing two tasks:  One is to undo Roe v. Wade.  The other is to change women’s attitude about abortion.

The first is very difficult because the Supreme Court declared abortion to be a constitutional right.  This right can only be removed by the Court itself or by a difficult and cumbersome constitutional amendment.

On the second front, namely changing women’s attitude about abortion, there has been considerable and sustained progress.  There are statistical data for the period from 1973 to 2005.  Let’s look at them as they are displayed in the three graphs, because they show that, over time, women have resorted to abortion less and less.

Figure 1 shows the overall trend from 1973 to 2005.  During that period the number of women of child–bearing age (officially, ages 15 to 44 years) rose continually.

Figure 1

The number of yearly abortions rose steeply during the 1970s; but then stayed nearly unchanged during the 1980s, even while the number of women of child-bearing age kept rising.  After its peak in 1990 at 1.6 million abortions, it began a steady decline to 1.2 million in 2005—a drop of 25%.

A more important statistic is the abortion rate, the number of abortions per 1,000 women of child-bearing age.  It shows what women actually do with regard to abortion: it is a measure of the “popularity” of abortion, so to speak.  This number rose quickly during the 1970s; but it then reversed course in 1980-81 at 29.3 and declined by over 33% to 19.4 in 2005.

Figure 2

This is a very important point: as the number of women of child-bearing age rose, fewer and fewer women resorted to abortion.  In fact, had the abortion rate not decreased, but simply stayed the same as in 1980-81, there would have been 50% more abortions in 2005: 1.8 million instead of 1.2 million.  In 2005, alone 600,000 lives were saved because of this attitudinal change in the pro-life direction.  Cumulatively, about nine million lives have been saved from 1980 until today!

The abortion rate began to slow down in the 1970s with the enactment of the Hyde Amendment that denied federal funds for abortion.  By 1980, the pro-life movement had asserted itself strongly. The campaign electing Ronald Reagan as president mobilized new segments of the right-to-life community.  Since 1980 numerous pro-life laws on the federal and state level have been debated and passed, drawing attention to the horrors of abortion.  Women who had had abortions regretted them and joined pro-life ranks.  And, quite importantly, ultrasound imaging educated pregnant women about the humanity of the child in the womb.

Figure 3

The decline in abortions would have been even more dramatic if it had not been for the rise in repeat abortions as seen in Figure 2.  At the peak in 1990, there were 1.6 million abortions altogether.  Over 700,000 of those were repeat abortions; that is, these women had had at least one previous abortion.  Apparently, a segment of women is still looking at abortion as a means of birth control. Repeat abortions rose steadily from 1973 to the 1990s.  Now they account for over 45% of all abortions.  Fortunately, even repeat abortions have declined since their peak

If we factor out the rate of repeat abortions, we see that the abortion rate for the first abortion showed the most encouraging decline: a drop of nearly 47% over the period 1979-80 to 2005, as we can see in Figure 3.  In fact, even the rate for repeat abortions has declined since its peak in the early 1990s.  Clearly, women have become more pro-life in their actions with regard to abortion.  And you have had a great part in this wonderful development.

The challenge for pro-lifers is to hold on to these gains and expand them.  Unfortunately, the health care reform plans of the Obama administration and the pro-abortion leadership in Congress threaten to undermine these pro-life gains:

The health care bureaucrats and the courts would require insurance coverage of abortion on demand.

The health care bureaucrats would impose expanded access to abortion on demand through the abortion clinic mandate.

The health care bureaucrats would impose key provisions of the proposed “Freedom of Choice Act” through the “backdoor” of health-care reform.

The bureaucrats’ health-care “reform” would result in federal funding for abortions and nullify pro-life state laws perceived to be in conflict with health care reform.

You and I must do everything to prevent any anti-life provisions in a health care reform plan.  There must be specific and explicit prohibitions against mandating and funding abortions and invalidating existing pro-life laws.  Call your congressman and your senators at 202-225-3121.