Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17: The state of abortion rates

By
Opinions Columnist
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Abortion. This word has been the spark of fiery debate for decades, but a study released last week by the Guttmacher Institute leaves politicians’ effectiveness in pressing the issue in question.

The study concludes that abortion rates are at an all-time low since 1973.

The causes for this decline are rooted in matters other than direct politician-to-politician combat, including the recession, increased prevalence of birth control and evolved feminism. This suggests that the politicians vehemently bickering over the affair are hardly beneficial or constructive. Politicians should stand back from the issue because other factors are influencing abortion rates more effectively.

Independent of political affairs concerning abortion, the decline appears to be a byproduct of the recession. This is evident from the revealing 13 percent dive that abortion numbers took between 2008 and 2011.

During this time, couples were suddenly faced with a major hindrance to starting or expanding a family: They were not financially equipped. For victims of unemployment, supporting a child was simply no longer an option. For those who remained employed, the risks were too high as homes were foreclosing rapidly and jobs were dropping like flies.

It became plainly not an option for couples to support a family — ergo, they were forced to stop trying. Rachel Jones, the lead author of the study, remarked that “the decline in abortions coincided with a steep national drop in overall pregnancy and birth rates,” according to the study’s press release. It follows that the need for abortions would flounder if the stakes were higher and pregnancy were something to be avoided.

Similar repercussions have occurred in past times where the economy was unstable. The percentage drop in abortion rates appears to be a function of the extent of the economic crisis and its duration. With this logic, it is safe to say the drop in abortion rates this time around is a ramification of the state of our economy and the length of the crisis.

Another cause of the decline is proven to be heightened use of birth control nationwide. As more women are using more successful birth control, they are sidestepping pregnancy altogether.

By this reasoning, it is reasonable to assume that Obamacare is facilitating this phenomenon, as it has dramatically increased the accessibility to these quality contraceptives. It is not false to say that the trend is indeed the doing of certain politicians. The Affordable Care Act in no fashion imposed any restrictions on abortions — rather, the improved attainability of birth control is likely serving to preempt the need for abortion in the first place.

One may also argue that the abortion slump is the result of newly enacted state-level restrictions. If this were true, then yes, politics would be having a tangible effect on women and abortions in this fashion. But it’s simply not the case. There is statistical evidence that general birth and pregnancy rates have dipped, which accounts for the lower abortion rates.

Further, the decline has swept through the entire country, even though some states have imposed more restrictions than others. Some states have banned abortion altogether, some have placed constraints on abortions depending on stage of pregnancy and others have imposed no new laws surrounding the issue at all. The decrease in all states alike suggests that the restrictions are not influencing the abortion rates.

An additional source of the decline may be the result of heightened feminism. Women’s rights were directly addressed in the State of the Union recently, as President Obama discussed the upsetting gap in men’s versus women’s pay. Obama stating that “women deserve equal pay and equal work” opens a new forum for equality discussions; women are continuously growing away from the domestic stereotype and into their own, self-determined realm.

They have more opportunities occupying their focus than did the ’70s generation. Young women currently constitute half or even the majority of university populations, something that was not the case in the ’70s. In many cases, a teen’s next step in that era instead of attending college was finding a man. I understand this was not the 17th century, but there is some truth to the stereotype.

There has been a change in the average woman’s role in society’s eyes over the years, which was directly acknowledged in the recent State of the Union. This may suggest that in some places, childbearing and abortions are gradually losing the importance and urgency they once held, allowing the rates to drop.

It is clear that politicians themselves have had little influence on this decline directly through their incessant quarreling and their attempts at imposing restrictions on abortion. While they may be involved in health care debates as a whole, they have not had any proximate success in curbing abortions in the country. Politicians should sit down and take themselves out of the argument, because other factors are affecting the abortion rates more effectively.

 

Megan Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17 can be contacted at megan_grapengeter-rudnick@brown.edu.