As Texas celebrates this week a federal appeals court decision to uphold some of the most stringent provisions of the state’s abortion law, which consequently will shut down all but eight clinics in the third largest state, The Associated Press coincidentally released a survey at the same time that shows national abortion rates continue to decline by 12 percent since 2010. Pro-lifers are staking claim to this decline, saying that the reasons for it are because of a shift in the societal mindset resulting in women carrying to full term, and that tough laws should equal fewer abortions. On the other side, pro-choice/abortion advocates say it’s because there is better access to contraceptives and safe sex education. As the debate heats up, it’s important to consider some facts so that as we move forward, we can stick with plans that work and toss the rest.
First, the pro-life position that this shift in the societal mindset leading women to carry their babies to full term. When looking at birth rate statistics, there is nothing in particular that supports this notion. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the birth rate — average number of births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 — was on the decline from 69.3 in 2007 to 62.5 in 2013, the most recent data available. From 2012 to 2013, it declined less than 1 percent; while practically nominal, it’s not on the rise. So the notion that those who would have otherwise had an abortion carried instead to full term doesn’t make sense.
Second, another pro-life stance, that tough abortion laws mean fewer abortions. It’s understandable one might believe that if access to safe abortions has been cut off, that women wouldn’t choose dangerous alternatives, but rather just carry to full term. But there is no evidence of that either. For instance, in the Lone Star State, the overall birthrate from 2000 to 2011, the most recent data available, has been declining.
Third, the pro-choice viewpoint, with regard to access to birth control, all signs indicate that with the advent of birth control, general fertility rates have been on the decline. Since 1912, when the modern birth control movement began, the fertility rate, the average number of children per woman, has been on the decline, from an average of 3.3 in 1911 to 1.9 in 2011, according to National Center for Health Statistics.
Fourth, another pro-choice opinion is that sex education works. While Texas Gov. Rick Perry touts abstinence-only programs as the reason for the recent drop in teenage birth rates in his state, the fact remains that Texas’s average teenage birth rates — 46.5 per every thousand teens in 2013 — are the fifth highest in the nation, behind Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and New Mexico, and it has the highest rate of repeat births in 2013 among teenagers ages 15 to 19, according to a 2014 report in the Texas Tribune. The high rate overall is said to be the result of lack of sex education programs, according to Dr. Janet Realini, president of Healthy Futures of Texas, a nonprofit that works to prevent teenage pregnancy. The national average in 2013 was 26.5. On the other hand, the teenage birth rate in California, which has implemented sex education programs for years, was 23.6.
While some may be skeptical when it comes to statistics, we hope that when it comes to birth control and abortion rates, more people will hold on to the facts, better understand human sexuality and the inherent drive to procreate, and make sound, evidence-based education a priority when it comes to curtailing less than ideal social issues.