Why Are There Fewer Abortions?

Birth Rate Single Women

This should be cause for major celebration on the pro-life side. Elizabeth Nolan Brown highlights a new CDC report finding that the abortion rate in the US fell steadily from 2002 to 2011, reaching its lowest level since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973:

Overall, there were 13.9 abortions per 1,000 women in 2011, down 5 percent from 2010. There were 219 abortions performed per 1,000 births, down 4 percent from the previous year. Analysts say the decline has less to do with abortion restrictions passed in various states than with the recession and an overall decline in pregnancies and birthrates.

Pointing to the chart above, Frum advances a theory to explain this decline. The increasing acceptance of single parenthood, he argues, has encouraged more unmarried women who become pregnant to carry their pregnancies to term:

Women who already have one or two children outside marriage may continue to choose abortion as a way to avoid a third or fourth. As the Guttmacher Institute notes, 61 percent of women who have abortions are already mothers. But the urgency of having an abortion to terminate a first pregnancy has clearly faded, as single parenthood has become the norm for non-affluent Americans of all races.

This is the fascinating irony of the pro-life movement. The cause originated as a profoundly socially conservative movement. Yet as it grew, it became less sectarian. Women came to the fore as leaders. It found a new language of concern and compassion, rather than condemnation and control. Most radically and decisively, the movement made its peace with unwed parenthood as the inescapable real-world alternative to abortion.

Max Ehrenfreund agrees with Frum’s analysis, but isn’t sure the pro-lifers had that much to do with it:

That might be giving the conservative movement too much credit. Public attitudes about abortion have held steady in recent years, even as the rate of births to unmarried mothers has continued its steep climb. It looks as though unmarried women are making decisions about pregnancies more or less on their own. Whatever the explanation, Frum’s conclusion seems sensible: the best way to get people to create and stay in families is with policies that make raising a family genuinely easier.