The “Why” of Abortion Decline

United Families International 24 June 2015
This month the media reported that the rate of abortions in the United States has declined by 12% since 2010.  The latest U.S. abortion rate of 16.9 was the lowest recorded rate since 1973. In some states such as Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Oklahoma, abortions even fell more than 15%, and in the state of Utah, abortions have decreased by 16%. While this is all very welcome news, there is a great deal of controversy over the possible reasons why.

Abortion-rights advocates such as Planned Parenthood insist that the reason is “better access to birth control and sex education.” However, as Valerie Huber, president of the National Abstinence Education Association points out, if that logic held true, California would have lower abortion rates than other states. California has a more comprehensive sex-ed policy than most states, yet “the most recent Guttmacher analysis found California abortion rates to be more than 20 percent higher than the national average.”

Comprehensive Sex-ed Does Not Work
There is ample evidence that comprehensive sex education and contraception for teens are not effective in reducing teen birth rates or abortion rates.

For example, Dr. Monique Chireau of Duke University studied abortion rates in Britain, and found that “Despite 10 years of intensive efforts using typical prevention strategies including expanding sex education, increasing availability of contraception, increasing access to abortion (without parental consent) the teen birth rate continued to rise at 4% per year, and 50% of teenage pregnancies in Britain end in abortion.”

Another UK study discovered that comprehensive sex education in English schools “improved knowledge about condoms,” but “there was no significant effect on either pregnancies or terminations.”  The study followed the students until age 20, with the same results: no reduction in pregnancies or abortions. Today “Britain still has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe despite being one of the world’s biggest users of contraceptives.

In the United States, a 2012 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that contraception education and availability was not effective in preventing teen pregnancies. In fact, almost half of the teens who gave birth that year were “using contraceptives” when they conceived.

Coincidentally, two days before the abortion decline was announced this month, the CDC announced a shift in their position from years past, now urging monogamy and abstinence as “the most reliable protections.”

In the end, comprehensive sex education and contraception “prepares young men and women not for the fullness of friendship, intimacy and love, but for casual relationships and recreational sex.”  It does not protect them, it puts them at greater risk for physical and emotional harm.

On the other hand, abstinence education works. A landmark 2010 study by Dr. John B. Jemmott among urban middle-school students found that “abstinence-only education helped to delay their sexual initiation.”  Similar abstinence-education programs in African schools have seen an impressive 61% drop in teen pregnancies.

The Real Reasons Abortions are Declining in the U.S.
We believe that several factors are contributing to the decline in abortions, including good laws, good information, and good youth involvement.

Good Laws:

The Law is a Teacher.  As our friend Ryan T. Anderson explains, “Our laws shape our culture, and our culture shapes our beliefs, which in turn shape our behaviors.”  Pro-life laws teach individuals and communities that all stages of life from conception to natural death are valuable and worthy of protection.

Since 2010,  31 states have enacted a total of 231 laws discouraging abortion. Among them are laws requiring longer waiting periods, offering anesthetic for fetal-pain, and providing and explaining ultrasounds.  We believe that many of these laws are having a direct impact on women’s choices, by giving them more time, more disclosure, and more education.  Even “the CDC grants that, at least in theory, pro-life legislation like waiting periods, parental involvement and other regulations might have an impact on abortion rates.”

In addition, the National Right to Life Committee points out, “the debate itself affects not only the discussion of abortion in that state, but across the country.”   For example, in 2012, Utah passed a law requiring a woman to wait 72 hours before having an abortion. The next year South Dakota passed a similar law. In 2014, Missouri passed one, and just a few weeks ago North Carolina passed a 72-hour-wait law.

Good laws prompt other good laws, and help shape the way a nation thinks.

Good Information:

What a woman knew about her pregnancy in 1970 was different than it is today. With the availability of ultrasound and other technology, a woman can not only see an image of her baby, but can watch her baby moving and playing in the womb. This information is powerful!  Surveys show that anywhere from 78% to 86% of women who see the image of their unborn child before the abortion procedure choose not to go ahead with it.

Another important source of information for today’s young women is the internet. Online research is second nature to the millennial generation. They can easily find fetal development images, ultrasound videos,  4D ultrasound photos, photos of pre-birth babies during fetal surgery, babies in the womb learning to “cry in their mother’s tongue,” and evidence that unborn children can feel pain.

The web also provides actual videos of abortion procedures, as well as ways to connect with other women, many of whom have regretted having an abortion.

Access to good information can help a woman choose a better life for her baby and herself.

Good Youth Involvement:

Nationwide, the biggest drop in abortions has been among teens. “Teens accounted for nearly a third (29.2%) of abortions the CDC counted in 1980, but only 13.9% in 2011.”  This could be due in part to an overall decline in teen pregnancies and teen birth rates.

There is also a growing youth movement within the Pro-Life Movement — and “these youngsters are in many cases even more adamantly pro-life than their parents.”  A recent Washington Times headline announced, “Millennials bucking trends on abortion approval. Over half now say practice is wrong.”

Back in 2010, when pro-abortion NARAL president Nancy Keenan observed the March for Life in Washington DC, she was shocked at how many of the participants were young people.  She told Newsweek, “I just thought, my gosh, they are so young, There are so many of them, and they are so young.”  This youth-trend has continued, and this year nearly 2/3 of the crowd at the January 2015 March for Life appeared to be under 30.

Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life explains, “There’s an entire generation of women who saw a sonogram as their first baby picture. There’s an increased awareness of the humanity of the baby before it is born.”

Pro-life millennials are joining groups such as “Generation Life,” “Feminists for Life,” and “Students for Life.”  Many of this generation feel they are survivors of the sexual revolution, as expressed by twenty-eight year old Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life:

“The undeniable fact is that nearly a third of my generation was killed by abortion. We are missing brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, husbands and wives. But [we’re] determined to set it right. We’ve seen the ultrasounds of our siblings, Googled ‘abortion’ and seen the bloody images, and sat with a friend as she cried about her abortion. . . This isn’t our grandmother’s pro-life movement anymore: It belongs to this generation of survivors — to those of us who could have been legally aborted when we were in our mothers’ wombs, and survived.”


We believe that good laws, information and youth involvement have contributed to the decline in abortion rates throughout the U.S. But we can’t leave out the powerful impact of parents and religion.

Despite the strong pull of media and peers, “Parents are teens’ number-one influence against making poor choices when it comes to drinking, drug use, and sexual behavior.”  Parents, take heart!  You are still the most powerful force in your children’s lives.

Religious practices are also an important protection against poor sexual decisions.  Dr. Patrick Fagan, Director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) sums up a lifetime of research with, “the greater the level of religious practice, the lower the level of teen sexual activity.”

One clear example of the influence of parents and religion can be seen by comparing the abortion ratios of three counties within the state of Utah.  The abortion ratio (abortions for every 1,000 babies born) in Summit County is 143.5, and in Salt Lake County is 100.  But in Utah County, where there are many more practicing members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which opposes abortion except in cases of incest, rape, or the life of the mother), the abortion ratio is 22.9.

Please do not be swayed by the false assumption that comprehensive sex education and  easier access to contraception have caused the decline of abortions in America. They have not worked in the past and they will not work in the future.  Rather, we should continue to uphold pro-life laws, give women good information, and strengthen young people — especially through intentional parenting and regular religious practice.

Warm Regards,
Laura Bunker
United Families International President

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