Earlier this week, a new report from the Guttmacher Institute highlighted a big drop in the abortion rate between 2008 and 2011. Researchers found that the most recently recorded number of abortions has fallen to the lowest point since Roe v. Wade, due mostly to a combination of the economic recession and increased contraceptive use. The news has inspired a rash of stories interpreting the data, attempting to parse what combination of factors should be credited.
According to one faith-based lobbying group, the steadily declining abortion rate also reveals something about Republican administrations’ efficacy at their stated goal of ending abortion. The American Values Network, a progressive religious group, broke down Guttmacher’s data by presidential term and found that Republican presidents aren’t exactly overseeing huge drops in the abortion rate:
There are some important caveats here. Of course, contrasting the national abortion rate with national administrations is overly simplistic. Access to reproductive health care is often determined on a state level, as local lawmakers attempt to impose barriers to family planning services and abortion clinics within their state’s borders. The abortion rate has also been closely tied to broader economic trends, although there are mixed opinions about whether economic downturns contribute to lower or higher rates.
Furthermore, the abortion rate isn’t necessarily the best measure from a policy perspective. Abortions are ultimately a result of the rate of unintended pregnancies, and whether women have access to the full range of reproductive health services they need to control their family size. Some portion of the population will always need access to safe, legal abortion — so the goal isn’t necessarily getting the abortion rate down to zero, but rather enacting the policies that give women the resources to decide when to have children. That includes efforts to support the individuals who have economic barriers to parenting.
Nevertheless, considering Republican lawmakers’ relentless crusade against abortion — an increasing number of GOP leaders have gone on the record to confirm they really do want to end all abortions — it’s perhaps worth considering the raw data on how they’re doing. At least by this measure, they’re not really succeeding.
That could be because Republicans often oppose the exact policies that would get the country closer to their preferred society with fewer abortions. GOP lawmakers have repeatedly resisted efforts to expand social programs that would provide support for struggling Americans who can’t afford a family; opposed putting taxpayer dollars toward family planning programs; and insisted on clinging to abstinence-only education programs that don’t equip young people with the tools to avoid pregnancy. It’s easy to see this play out time and time again on both a national and a state level.
For instance, deeply red Texas has some of the highest rates of teen and unintended pregnancy in the nation, and it’s not hard to see why that’s the case. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that over 1.6 million Texas women of reproductive age needed publicly funded planning services in 2010 — and the state’s dwindling number of clinics were only able to meet 25 percent of that need. Nonetheless, the state attempted to tackle that issue by launching an abstinence-only website that doesn’t include any mention of birth control. And Republicans in the state continue to have a singleminded focus on eliminating access to legal abortion. Last year, their exasperated Democratic colleagues urged them to study the research on what can actually lower the rate of unintended pregnancies.
The American Values Network, for one, isn’t mincing words about the implications of this kind of evidence. “Want to protect the unborn? Vote Democrat,” the group concludes.