Michael New

Roe and public opinion at 40

Michael New

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Much has been written about this from a pro-life perspective. But especially interesting is the manner in which the mainstream media has chosen to cover this anniversary. With few exceptions, the mainstream media seems to represent a very pessimistic pro-choice movement.  Many Beltway abortion-rights supporters are doubtless pleased with the reelection of President Obama.Yet the January 14 Time magazine cover story, Sarah Kliff’s January 14 Washington Post article, and, to a lesser extent, Gail Collins’s January 10 New York Times column all suggest that supporters of abortion rights are increasingly worried about the future.

The pro-choice movement has good reason for pessimism. These articles show that pro-lifers have developed some legislative strategies that have been quietly effective at lowering the incidence of abortion. More important, pro-choice groups are publicly admitting that they are having trouble engaging young people. When NARAL president Nancy Keenan announced her resignation in May 2012, she expressed concern about an “intensity gap” among young people. Indeed, NARAL’s own survey data indicated that young pro-lifers seemed to see the abortion issue as more important than young supporters of legal abortion. Other survey data supports this: The General Social Survey (GSS) has been asking the same battery of question on the legality of abortion since the early 1970s. During the 1970s and 1980s, young adults were significantly more “pro-choice” than average. However, surveys taken between 2000 and 2006 show that the Millenials are actually the most pro-life demographic cohort. An additional survey taken by the Polling Company this summer found that young people often feel more comfortable restricting abortion in certain circumstances than older Americans do.

Furthermore, during the past 20 years the number of abortion providers has significantly declined. It seems that few young physicians are interested in performing abortions. As a result, foundations sympathetic to legal abortion have created programs and recruit and train the next generation of abortion providers. But according to an article which appeared in The New York Times Magazine in the summer of 2010, these efforts are not bearing much fruit. Many of the physicians who go through these programs do not become abortion providers. Furthermore, those that do provide abortions seem to prefer the safe confines of either a big city or a university campus to rural environs.

Pro-lifers coming to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life this weekend should hold their heads high. We have done a good job overcoming many of the obstacles imposed on us by the Supreme Court’s ruling. Roe not only legalized abortion on demand and made abortion policy resistant to change, it also changed society’s sexual and cultural mores in such a way as to make subsequent restrictions on abortion more difficult to enact. It gave abortion rights mainstream political legitimacy. Moreover, it created a national network of abortion providers with a financial interest in easy access to abortion. Overall, through creativity and dedication, we have done well overcoming many of these challenges.

Of course, the 2012 election was a disappointment.  However, as I often remind pro-lifers, electoral politics is important, but it is not the only game in town. The pro-life movement has become increasingly entrepreneurial, strategic, and innovative. And we have to work harder and smarter than our opponents. After all, the government does not pay us to protect unborn children. Similarly, we have little support from elite institutions in academia, the media, and the entertainment industry. Older initiatives such as sidewalk counseling, local pro-life chapters and crisis pregnancy centers continue to do invaluable work. However, newer outreach efforts including Students for Life of America (SFLA), the Silent No More Campaign, 40 Days for Life, and LiveAction films have already produced very impressive short-term results.  Overall, it should come as no surprise that our opponents are concerned. And I have every confidence if we stay the course, victory will someday be ours.


The Detroit News’ biased abortion coverage

Michael New
Michael New

Last week, the Detroit News ran an article about abortion trends in the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan. It found that abortion numbers were increasing in Detroit while falling elsewhere in the state.  In general, abortion trends tend to get very little coverage from the media.  As such, it was heartening to see the paper cover this important topic.

That said the coverage was extremely biased. Twice the article mentioned that legal abortion is a “safe” procedure. In reality, there is a substantial body of public health research which shows that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer and a range of psychological problems, and, more important, that both late-term abortions and multiple abortions significantly increase the risk of these health problems.

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Additionally, everyone quoted in the article assumes that cuts in contraception programs have increased the abortion rate in Detroit and that contraception coverage through the Affordable Care Act will reduce the incidence of abortion. However, academic studies of free contraceptive programs in Britain, Scotland, and San Francisco found that these programs all had little impact on the incidence of abortion. Also, a study conducted by the University of Michigan’s Population Studies Center in 2011 found that increases in the price of oral contraceptives on college campuses resulted in less sexual activity and no significant change in the unintended pregnancy rate.

In reality, there are other factors that could be causing an increase in Detroit’s abortion rate. Some research shows that a slowing economy results in more abortions, and demographic shifts may be playing a role as well.  Unfortunately, the Detroit News chose to focus on contraception instead of thoughtfully considering other factors that might be causing the unfortunate rise in abortions.

Reprinted with permission from National Review.


Politico spins poll results to make Dems’ abortion views appear mainstream

Michael New
Michael New

Last week Politico released the results of a poll of likely voters in competitive states and congressional districts. The results of their questions about abortion were interesting. Nineteen percent stated that they favored abortion on demand while only 11 percent favored banning abortion in all circumstances. The remainder favored two other categories where abortion would remain legal with some limits in place. These results were consistent with a body of survey data on abortion. Incremental pro-life laws enjoy broad support, but strong majorities think abortion should be legal in hard-case circumstances.

However, Politico’s analysis of this survey question was misleading. In their May 19 articlePolitico took the two most permissive categories — right to an abortion and right to an abortion with a few exceptions — and said that these positions were representative of the Democratic party’s stance on the issue. This is shocking news to anyone who follows pro-life politics at the national level. Of the four positions listed in the survey, abortion on demand most accurately represents the Democratic party’s position at the federal level.

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Indeed, when incremental pro-life laws are introduced in the House or Senate, they typically receive the support of few Democratic elected officials. For instance, no Senate Democrat is currently co-sponsoring the 20-week abortion ban and the only Democrat to publicly announce he will vote in favor of the bill is Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.). Less than a third of House and Senate Democrats voted in favor of the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (CIANA) in 2006, and less than a third of Senate Democrats voted in favor of the partial-birth-abortion ban in 2003.

Politico deserves credit for commissioning a poll that allowed respondents to express their views on abortion in a nuanced manner. That said they, like countless other media outlets, work overtime to present the Democratic party’s position on abortion as both popular and mainstream.

Reprinted with permission from National Review.


Why is the abortion rate falling? Maybe fewer women want abortions

Michael New
Michael New

The Guttmacher Institute’s report finding a recent reduction in the abortion rate has generated a considerable amount of media coverage, drawing analysis not only from Guttmacher but by Andrew Sullivan and writers for The New Republic, Slate, and Bloomberg Businessweek. Most of these commentators appear to have a vested interest in giving pro-lifers as little credit as possible for the recent decline in the abortion rate, but the theories they offer are either problematic or incomplete. Below is a quick summary of the explanations put forth by various analysts as to why the abortion rate declined by 13 percent between 2008 and 2011:

  1. The slow economy: In their report, Guttmacher theorizes that the slow economy made people more determined to avoid pregnancy and more consistent in their contraception use. However, the 2007–09 recession did not result in a similar abortion decline — making this explanation seem unlikely. 
  2. The recovering economy: The recession officially ended in 2009 and there is some evidence that abortion numbers fall when the economy is doing well. That said, the recovery has been sluggish and times of even stronger economic growth did not result in similar abortion-rate declines.
  3. Contraception use: This theory has been put forth by both Andrew Sullivan and William Saletan of Slate. However, in their report, Guttmacher acknowledges contraception use did not increase between 2008 and 2011. Moreover, gains in contraception use do not always result in reductions in the unintended-pregnancy rate. In fact, that rate has remained fairly steady over the long term — despite increases in contraception use.
  4. Declines in the fertility rate: It is true that the fertility rate declined between 2008 and 2011, and this is likely part of the story. But it’s not clear why the fertility rate declined, and the abortion rate fell faster than the birthrate between 2008 and 2011 – so the declining fertility rate is not the whole story.
  5. Pro-life laws and abortion clinic closures: Guttmacher does acknowledge that certain laws, such as Louisiana’s informed-consent law, likely played a role in that state’s abortion decline. They also acknowledge that the reduction in the number of abortion facilities is playing a role in the declining abortion numbers in some states. That said, abortion rates fell in places where no substantial pro-life laws were passed and the number of clinics remained the same.

Interestingly, none of these analysts is willing to consider that shifts in public opinion on abortion may be playing a role. May of 2009 was the first time that a majority of Americans identified themselves as “pro-life” in a Gallup survey. “Pro-life” has outpolled “pro-choice” six out of nine times since the spring of 2009. The relationship between public opinion toward abortion and abortion rates is not well-researched, but it’s a theory that merits more attention from analysts.

Media outlets have paid considerable attention to the abortion decline that occurred between 2008 and 2011, but have generally given less attention to the fact that the abortion rate has declined by 35 percent since the early 1990s. This suggests the debate has shifted toward pro-lifers: It’s true that contraceptive use has increased since the early 1990s, but that was increasing well before the abortion rate started to decline. More important, data from both Guttmacher and the National Center for Health Statistics shows that the unintended-pregnancy rate has remained fairly stable since the mid 1990s. 

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Since the abortion rate is falling while the unintended-pregnancy rate is stable, a higher percentage of women facing unintended pregnancies are choosing to carry their children to term. Data from the Department of Health and Human Services support this, pro-lifers should take heart in it. 

Regardless of what mainstream-media analysts may say, declining abortion numbers provide evidence that pro-life efforts to change the hearts and minds of women facing unplanned pregnancies are bearing fruit — and, more important, saving lives. 

Reprinted with permission from National Review Online.


U.S. abortion rate is at its lowest level since 1973, but why?

Michael New
Michael New

This week the Guttmacher Institute released a report based on their census of U.S. abortion providers. It contains abortion statistics up to the year 2011 — meaning this report contains the most recent data on the incidence of abortion in the United States. Overall, the news is good for pro-lifers. The abortion rate declined by 13 percent between 2008 and 2011, and it fell in 2011 to its lowest point since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. The decline was fairly consistent across states. In only six of the 50 states did the number of abortions increase between 2008 and 2011, and all geographic regions in the United States saw a decline in the abortion rate.

To a certain extent, pro-lifers need to take these figures with a grain of salt. Guttmacher obtains its abortion data by doing a survey of known abortion facilities. They try to be thorough. However, by their own admission about 21 percent of abortion facilities refuse to take part in the survey. Also, according to their figures, around 4 percent of abortion facilities closed between 2008 and 2011. The abortion figures contained in this report are also limited. Guttmacher does not provide a demographic breakdown of the women seeking abortions. They also do not provide any information about the percentage of abortions that occur after 20 weeks gestation.

Furthermore, Guttmacher’s analysis of the abortion decline is weak. Since the decline was fairly consistent across states, they argue that the decline was not caused by the recent increase in state-level pro-life laws. However, they do acknowledge that certain laws, such as Louisiana’s informed-consent law, likely played a role in that state’s abortion decline. They also do acknowledge that the reduction in the number of abortion facilities is playing a role in the declining abortion numbers in some states.

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That said, Guttmacher fails to provide a compelling explanation for the overall abortion decline. They suggest the slow economy may have caused people to engage in less sexual activity. However, their report indicates abortion rates were fairly stable from 2005 to 2008 and started to decline as the recession officially ended in 2009. Unsurprisingly, they suggest contraceptives may be playing a role, but acknowledge that there has been “little improvement in contraceptive nonuse . . . in recent years.” Guttmacher’s own research on the unintended-pregnancy rate does not extend to 2011 — but does find that the unintended-pregnancy rate has remained fairly stable over time.

Guttmacher also fails to even engage the question of public opinion. Since the early 1990s, there has been an increase in pro-life sentiment and a decrease in the abortion rate in the United States. However, these trends have been more pronounced in some regions of the country than in others. Specifically, the South and Midwest have seen both greater increases in pro-life sentiment and larger decreases in the abortion rate than the rest of the country. Six of the nine Gallup polls taken since May 2009 show that people are more likely to identify as “pro-life” than “pro-choice.” It is disappointing, but unsurprising, that there is no mention of this in Guttmacher’s analysis.

Reprinted with permission from National Review Online.


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