[This article originally appeared in SALVO (www.salvomag.com) and is reproduced here with permission. – Ed.]
This week is, by almost any measure, a tough one for pro-lifers. Friday, January 22, marks the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which has claimed the lives of over 60 million children since 1973. Earlier this week, the movement lost Joe Scheidler, the “godfather of pro-life activism,” who quit his job in PR shortly after the passing of Roe to become an organizer for the pro-life cause. And Wednesday, the nation ushered in a radically pro-abortion administration in President Biden and Vice President Harris. Biden has promised to rescind the Mexico City Policy, which bars American dollars from being used by global healthcare facilities which either provide or refer to abortion services; restore Title X funding to abortion providers (like Planned Parenthood); restore the Obamacare contraceptive coverage mandate; and work with Congress to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion (through programs like Medicaid).
Needless to say, this is all evil and disheartening stuff, which may leave pro-life activists feeling like all the good they’ve managed to accomplish can be whisked away with the stroke of a pen—like Clinton’s infamous veto on the partial-birth abortion ban. And yet, a closer look at the arc of the past half-century should encourage pro-lifers. After Roe banned states from prohibiting abortion, the national abortion rate rose steeply, reaching its pinnacle at around 1980. Then, it started to decline, and has done so for the past 41 years. The rate reached a “historic low” in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available. What has been the reason?
There’s debate on that subject. The pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute says the causes are complex, but attributes most of the drop in recent years to overall decreases in pregnancy rates. A post by Michael J. New of the Catholic University of America at National Review offers some other insights. New summarizes arguments by the left that the abortion rate has dropped precipitously during Democratic administrations due to increased access to free contraception, and has plateaued or at least declined less during Republican administrations. A more careful examination of such claims, however, reveals some pretty big problems. First, the data that these arguments rely on is compiled by the CDC. There is no federal reporting requirement for states, and in any given year one or other state may decide not to report abortion numbers. An apparent “drop” in the national abortion rate during the Clinton administration, for example, is in fact due to California’s withdrawing from reporting abortion statistics in 1997 (the state hasn’t reported its numbers since). And while leftists also like to say that contraception has greatly reduced the number of unintended pregnancies, other research, says New, has maintained that the unintended pregnancy rate has in fact remained pretty stable. (And still other studies have found greater contraceptive intake may actually be associated with higher rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion.) “Good research,” summarizes New, “shows that an important factor behind this decline is that a higher percentage of unintended pregnancies are being carried to term. Pro-life efforts to enact protective laws, shift public opinion, and meet the needs of women though pregnancy-resource centers all deserve credit.”
Indeed, in spite of media and abortion advocates’ claims that pro-life legislation aimed at restricting abortion access isn’t “primarily” responsible for drops in the abortion rate, it would defy logic that a sharply decreased number of facilities and an increased number of state-level restrictions isn’t doing something. As National Right to Life Committee Press Secretary Laura Echevarria told the BBC, “If [state restrictions aren’t] having a huge impact then why is everyone in the abortion industry up in arms every time a law is passed?”
By whatever measure you use, though, and no matter how radically a new administration alters abortion law at the federal law, the American abortion rate is continuing to decline. The strokes of the pen of an incoming administration will likely be overturned in four or eight years, when American public opinion brings in another administration. But the efforts of the pro-life movement to restrict abortion access, counsel and aid women in need, and raise public awareness of the horrors of abortion , are all doing their work. Take heart, America. These next four years will bring their damage, but the larger work against abortion is doing its job.