Pro-choice banners are flying, pro-life leaders are declaring victory, and Planned Parenthood supporters are dancing in the streets. Abortion rates have significantly declined across the country, and everyone — left, right, and center — is pretty sure they’re responsible for it.
According to a survey released by the Associated Press on Monday, abortions have dropped by 12 percent nationwide since 2010, and a clear pattern has yet to appear regarding this fundamental cross-country shift. Abortion rates have declined in both red states where the procedure is highly regulated and blue states were there aren’t as many restrictions in place.
For the pro-choice side, the AP report is an endorsement of states’ implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and increases in support for other family planning resources. The anti-abortion crowd, on the other hand, assumes that drops in abortion are directly correlated to stricter legislative regulation and greater awareness of the gift of life.
“Pro-lifers offer a variety of explanations, grounded in the direct and indirect impact of the undeniable fact that awareness of unborn life is an all-time high, which works hand in glove with the influence of hundreds of protective pro-life laws,” the National Right to Life, an anti-abortion advocacy group, wrote in a response posted to their website on Monday.
Pro-choice advocates beg to differ, attributing the drop to greater access to contraception, sex education, and other forms of preventative health care.
“Better access to birth control and sex education are the biggest factors in reducing unintended pregnancies,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement to the AP. “More restrictive abortion laws do not reduce the need for abortions.”
The survey results are based on recent, comprehensive state health department statistics collected in 45 states, excluding Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Wyoming and California, where officials do not compile this sort of information on a regular basis.
Louisiana and Michigan emerged as the only two states to see an increase in abortions between 2010 and 2014. Experts say that’s probably because women from Texas are traveling to Louisiana to have abortions, while women from Ohio are traveling to Michigan. Both Texas and Ohio have enacted some of the strictest abortion restrictions in the nation over the past several years, which has led multiple clinics to close.
Both Louisiana and Michigan have also enacted significant anti-abortion legislation, including mandatory pre-abortion counseling that includes information about fetal pain in Louisiana and potential psychological effects in Michigan. A mandatory 24-hour waiting period between the request for abortion and actual procedure is required in both states, while Louisiana additionally prohibits abortion procedures after the 20th week of pregnancy.
According to statistics compiled by the Population Institute in 2014, Louisiana failed to consider the majority of non-legislative requisites for promoting reproductive health, including failing to require emergency rooms to provide emergency contraception, declining to require sex education in public school curriculum, and refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Michigan, meanwhile, also failed to require the availability of emergency contraception in ER settings and lacks comprehensive sex education requirements.
Hawaii, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Nevada, and New Mexico distinguished themselves as five of the six states to see the greatest drop in abortion rates. None of these states have recently pushed forward any significant anti-abortion legislation; however, their efforts to expand access to family planning resources are also mixed.
Only Rhode Island and New Mexico required comprehensive sex education in school as of 2014, and only three require the availability of emergency contraception in emergency room situations. However, it is important to note that each of the five leading states have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which has been widely praised by the pro-choice crowd for its focus on increasing contraception availability.
The abortion rate has been declining for quite some time. Last year, it hit the lowest level since Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure in 1973. And as abortions continue to drop, the ideological divide over the root cause of that decline continues to widen, according to a recent report from the Guttmacher Institute.
“The philosophical divide over what constitutes effective and acceptable ways to further reduce the incidence of abortion in the United States has never been more stark. The rival policy approaches — one centered almost entirely on restricting women’s choices, and the other on supporting and expanding them — have now become mutually exclusive,” policy analyst Joerg Dreweke wrote in that report.
Even though it’s unclear exactly what’s contributing to the recent drop in abortions in each state examined by the AP, the correlation between increased access to contraception and a decrease in unplanned pregnancy has been significantly documented over the last two decades. Teen pregnancy rates have been dropping to historic lows, a trend that has been connected to the change in social norms surrounding contraception and increased birth control availability.
Adults are also poised to reap the benefits of increased access to effective birth control, largely thanks to the contraceptive coverage requirements in the Affordable Care Act. A recent study found that women are significantly more likely to choose long-term options such as intrauterine devices when co-pays and prescription charges are taken out of the equation. Now that Obamacare removes co-pays for all FDA-approved contraceptive methods, the numbers of unplanned pregnancies and abortions are expected to continue to drop.
Katelyn Harrop is an intern with ThinkProgress under the Center for American Progress Action Fund.