Looking for Common Ground on Abortion? You’re Standing On It

During his Administration, President Clinton said he wanted to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare.”  The pointedly anti-choice Bush Administration, allied with far right members of Congress, religious and political groups spent eight long years fighting to make it illegal.  Now, a new and more progressive Congress and Administration are working to repair the damage wrought by the war on sexual and reproductive health services while asserting it is time to put the “abortion wars” to rest.

But how will the warring sides make peace?   And what is the peacemakers’ ultimate goal?  To reduce unintended pregnancies, which in turn leads to fewer abortions while preserving a woman’s right to choose to terminate an unintended pregnancy should she be faced with one?   Or to reduce the incidence of abortion by further stigmatizing it, by casting doubt over women’s moral choices and making it more difficult for a woman to obtain one through indirect means to convince her otherwise?

President Obama’s public position is that he:

“understands that abortion is a divisive issue, and respects those who disagree with him.  [But] will make preserving women’s rights under Roe v. Wade a priority in his Administration”, and will oppose “any constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in that case.”

Meanwhile, ultra-right conservatives have not changed their position against a woman’s right to choose abortion.  But they go further: They also oppose proven prevention measures such as birth control and comprehensive sexual health education, continue to question the medically bright line between contraception and abortion, and are campaigning at the state level to restrict access to services and to redefine fertilized eggs as people.

In between those two poles a wide range of political actors across the spectrum have begun to advocate for a new paradigm now often framed as seeking “common ground” on “abortion reduction.”  Commentators like William Saletan of Slate.com writing in the New York Times and EJ Dionne in the Washington Post have pushed an “abortion reduction agenda.”  Individuals and organizations representing various religious denominations — including those who support a woman’s right to choose abortion and others who oppose it — have joined the search for common ground on “abortion reduction.”  White House advisors have begun using the term, and the President has created an Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships which lists among its key priorities

“supporting women and children, addressing teen pregnancy, reducing the need for abortion [and] encouraging responsible fatherhood.”

The head of the office, a young Pentecostal Minister named Josh Dubois, is holding meetings with faith leaders from both ultra-conservative and more progressive sides of the so-called culture wars in the search for common ground.

Getting beyond the political deadlock on abortion is important if for no other reason than that the political obstacles result in the denial to women of essential services.  But the current public discourse on “abortion reduction” is vague, distracts us from sound policy approaches and suggests a worrisome practice of stigmatizing women who do choose abortion or trying to “convince” them to choose otherwise.  It is a rubric based more on politics than on evidence.  And, it’s also a solution in search of a problem.

Like those car keys you find you overlooked in the first place you searched after tearing the house apart, the “common ground” supported unequivocally by both a strong base of evidence and the vast majority of the American public is right under our feet, and points toward well-proven policies and interventions aimed at keeping abortion “safe and legal” and making unintended pregnancy “rarer.”  Why is this different than “abortion reduction?”  I’ll explain.

But first the evidence.

The number and rate of abortions is and has been declining for some time:  All the talk about the need for “abortion reduction” implicitly suggests a crisis situation in which our country faces an increasing number of abortions.  But many of the most vocal spokespeople on this issue have either failed to examine the actual trend lines or are misrepresenting them.  On a recent segment of Hardball, for example, both the moderator Chris Matthews and his guest William Saletan perpetuated the myth of the need for “dramatic reduction” in the number of abortions.  Matthews asked:

“How we can possibly find some common ground on the goal… of dramatically reducing the number of people who choose abortions in this country?” 

Saletan later stated that a marker of success for Obama would be:

“If [he] can embark on an agenda of real abortion reduction,” and “actually achieve a reduction in the number after abortions.”

The fact is that both the number and the rate of abortions overall in the United States has been steadily declining since the 1980s.  And there is no reason it won’t continue to do so under an Administration and a Congress committed to expanding access to birth control and evidence-based sexual health education.  (See this excellent powerpoint on abortion trends in the United States by the Guttmacher Institute.)

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate in the US (the number of abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44) has fallen from roughly 29 per 1,000 in 1979 to between 18 and 19 per 1,000 in 2005.  The abortion rate among teenagers declined even more precipitously, from a plateau of about 43 per 1,000 between 1979 and 1989 to 20 per thousand in 2003.   Similarly, the total number of abortions has fallen from just over 1.6 million per year in 1989 to 1.2 million in 2005 and continues to decline.

Poor women make up more than half of those having abortions.  And the only group of women for whom the number of abortions has risen during this period were poor and low-income women (those living at less than twice the poverty level or less than $28,300 a year for a family of three) and women on Medicaid.  A Guttmacher analysis concludes:

“Over time, women having abortions have become increasingly likely to be poor, nonwhite and unmarried, and already have one or more children.” 

Today, abortion rates are highest among black and Hispanic women, and rose among Hispanic women over the past decade.

Poor women rely heavily on publicly funded contraceptive services, which prevent 1.94 million unintended pregnancies, including almost 400,000 teen pregnancies, each year.  These pregnancies would otherwise result in 860,000 unintended births, 810,000 abortions and 270,000 miscarriages.  So real access to birth control—knowing about it, being able to afford it, having the time and social capital to get to a place you can obtain it (including taking time out from work and using public transportation and finding a pharmacist that won’t refuse to fill your prescription) are key factors in access.  So too is a woman’s personal situation and whether she can safely advocate for her own right to use contraception.  Taken together, all of these are critical to being able to prevent an unintended pregnancy and hence a potential abortion.

Not surprisingly, the groups experiencing the highest rates of unintended pregnancy have the least secure access to contraception.  Of the 36.2 million women in the United States who expressed a need for birth control in 2006, 17.5 million were in need of publicly funded services and supplies, more than 71 percent of which were adults and the vast majority of which were already parents.  Yet in 2006, only about half (54 percent) of those in need of publicly funded birth control actually had access to services provided by Medicaid, Title X and other sources of government funding.

Lack of access is of course not the only issue, but also is linked to and exacerbated by other factors such as poverty, and high rates of domestic violence and sexual coercion, which, according to Black Women’s Health.com are in turn tied to:

“[U]nemployment and underemployment, poor schools, inadequate vocational skills and training, bad housing, the influence and use of drugs, and the density of liquor stores in the inner city [all of which] contribute to the problem of domestic violence."

Research indicates that violence against women by intimate partners is highest during the reproductive years and contributes to unintended pregnancy (through marital and partner rape and inability to negotiate contraceptive use), sexually transmitted infections, and poor maternal outcomes, among other issues. 

Yet instead of focusing first on access to contraceptives and health services, and the contributions of poverty and violence as core determinants in the number of unintended pregnancies among women in the U.S. or even on the conditions that affect women’s ability to access and use these methods, some prominent columnists have focused on “the morality of the left” and the morality of individual behavior and choices.  Certainly, there are people – women and men – who have sex without giving protection (of pregnancy or infection) a second thought.  The evidence suggests they are the exception, not the rule.  In fact, I would argue that lack of access to contraceptives and the deliberate conflation of contraception with abortion, as well as the deterioration of sexual and reproductive health education in the United States all have kept the rate of unintended pregnancies and hence abortions higher than they would have been even today.  However, the media often portray women as irresponsible, both directly and indirectly.   Writing in the New York Times, for example, Saletan, stated that:

“[I]n this country, the principal cause of abortions isn’t that we can’t get birth control. It’s that we don’t use it.”

Is Saletan suggesting that poor women, among whom rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion are highest, have all the access to birth control they need? The evidence clearly indicates otherwise.

Likewise, while Matthews talked incessantly on Hardball about those who “don’t use birth control” to prevent pregnancy, just a month earlier he compared the proposal in the original stimulus bill to provide states with waivers allowing them to greatly expand access to birth control under the Medicaid program to China’s coercive family planning policy:

"I don’t know. It sounds a little like China. […] I think everybody should have family planning and everybody believes in birth control as a right. I’m for — abortion is a right and all that. It’s all right. But why should the federal government have a policy of reducing the number of births?”

Actually, the point was to provide more women with access to affordable birth control to reduce unintended pregnancies, a proposal killed with the help of those like Matthews and others in the media who railed against it before he even knew what it was.

In the midst of this confusing and ill-informed cacophony of male voices pontificating on issues about which they appear to know little and understand less, and in a vaccum of media accountability, comes the “abortion reduction” debate.

What is an “abortion reduction” strategy?  And what is the end goal?  Half the number?  No abortions?  These are critical questions.  Using “abortion reduction” as the framework puts us right back in the place of stigmatizing abortion, instead of creating the conditions in which fewer unintended pregnancies occur in the first place, which as the data clearly show will lead to reduced numbers of abortions overall.  Moreover this framework suggests an unattainable goal that would require pressure and coercion.  Reduction to what externally imposed and acceptable number?  Abortion reduction implies the endpoint is to stop a woman facing unintended pregnancy from choosing an abortion–and leaves the door open to approaches that lead to the funding of crisis pregnancy centers (see Jessica Bearden’s excellent piece) and “adoption persuasion efforts” that actively seek to dissuade women from exercising their right to terminate a pregnancy in the moment.  In fact, an approach that increases stigma and uses even slightly coercive and/or medically-inaccurate counseling of women facing unintended pregnancy will backfire, causing women determined to end a pregnancy to seek abortions later than they otherwise might.

The term "abortion reduction" also is informed by a moralistic attitude toward the right to choose an abortion that does not accurately reflect the individual reality of the vast majority of women.  Not every woman who opts for fertility treatments has six kids at home and is seeking to bear octuplets and not every woman who has an abortion is someone at a loss to understand the moral dimensions of her choice.   Yet “common-ground” proponents, including Saletan, question women’s moral agency in stating that the incidence of abortion is:

“a shortage of cultural and personal responsibility,” and that “for liberals, [the new agenda] means taking abortion seriously as an argument for contraception.”  

After which he went on Hardball and agreed with Chris Matthews that, “birth control is the lesser evil."  I did not know birth control was "evil," and I am pretty sure that the more than two-thirds of the 62 million women ages 15 to 44 now actively using birth control weren’t aware of this either.  But by using this language unchallenged, these commentators feed misinformation and stigma and undermine rather than assist the end goal they claim to seek.

So how to reach common ground?  It is right in front of us.  It is a position strongly supported by evidence and well articulated in the original Democratic Party Platform, which asserted the Party’s Convention:

  • Strong and unequivocal support for Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay;
  • Opposition to any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.
  • Strong support for access to comprehensive affordable family planning services and age-appropriate sex education programs that empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives.
  • Support for increased access to health care and education to help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.


  • Strong support for women seeking to have a child through efforts to increase access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.

These efforts are further supported by those in other areas of the party platform seeking to address poverty, job creation, equity and reproductive justice. 

This common ground position is supported both by the evidence as well as by the vast majority of Americans who endorsed this platform in electing Barack Obama President, and who, polls show, agree that the woman herself must make the ultimate decision whether or not to bear a child; agree that the government should fund family planning and related services to those in need; and fully support evidence-based comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education.

So what we need now is pretty simple: The kind of leadership and straight talk based on the evidence and on the moral bedrock for women’s choices that only President Obama himself can now provide.  Given the hard evidence, and in the interest of reducing unintended pregnancies, the Obama Administration and Congress needs, at a minimum, to do the following:

  • Underscore that the United States is a pluralistic society in which people of many faiths are free to hold different views on and to personally practice their own beliefs in regard to birth control and abortion, but that the government’s moral, ethical and policy positions are based on evidence and on human rights.

  • Reiterate the evidence and support for the full range of efforts originally outlined in the party platform and start to put a coordinated plan into action. Women need access to basic reproductive health care from trusted and experienced sources.  As such, it is also critical that the President and the Administration make clear exactly what role the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives is playing in shaping a public health policy that clearly requires the leadership of the Departments of Health and Human Services and Education among others.  The President must also make clear what types of grants will and will not be funded through faith-based groups seeking to provide pregnancy-related services and to refuse to fund so-called "crisis-pregnancy centers" or abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

  • Assert publicly that federal policy will adhere to widely accepted medical definitions of pregnancy beginning after implantation, and that for the purposes of federal funding all hormonal methods of birth control including emergency contraception will be contained in the definition of “contraception.”  This statement from the Administration is critical to stemming the stream of misinformation and confusion around methods that, like emergency contraception, will help dramatically reduce unintended pregnancies.

  • Pledge to quickly close the gaps in access to basic reproductive and sexual health care according to income, race, and ethnicity, and to address the broader issues of poverty and inequity inherent in the reproductive justice agenda.

  • De-stigmatize sex and refrain from talking about the issue as “only within marriage."  Consensual sex between two mature individuals is normal, healthy and commonplace.  We need to ensure that “sex positive” approaches to rights and responsibility are the foundation of our strategy to ensure people act wisely when engaging in sexual activity.   President Obama can do this.

  • Reaffirm unequivocally that women are moral agents making their own decisions with respect to childbearing, birth control and abortion in conjunction with their families and their faiths.  The Institute for Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing puts it eloquently in stating that:

"Abortion is always a serious moral decision. It can uphold and protect the life, health, and future of the woman, her partner, and the family.   We affirm women as moral agents who have the capacity, right and responsibility to make the decision as to whether or not abortion is justified in their specific circumstances. That decision is best made when it includes a well- informed conscience, serious reflection, insights from her faith and values, and consultation with a caring partner, family members, and spiritual counselor.  Men have a moral obligation to acknowledge and support women’s decision-making."

  • And yes, talk to men about responsibility, but not just as fathers.  The Administration must focus on ensuring men see themselves as equal partners with women in sex, reproduction, and childrearing.  For everyone woman experiencing an unintended pregnancy, there is a man who did not use a condom.  It is not only “after” conception that men should become involved.

  • Finally, Congress and the Administration must push for quick passage of key legislation that expands choices and ensures access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health legislation, as well as ensuring expansion of Medicaid eligility for birth control, full funding of Title X and other programs, and deliberate inclusion within health care reform of reproductive and sexual health services.

These are among the first most important steps the President and the Administration can take not only to more effectively address unintended pregnancies in the United States, and ultimately the number of abortions, but also reduce the rate of sexually transmitted infections and other adverse outcomes resulting from lack of sexual and reproductive health education and services.  Will they make everyone happy?  No.  Let’s face it: there is no real common ground with those who decry abortion but undermine access to contraception and seek to limit women’s choices at every step.  But by taking these steps while also increasing individual and family wellbeing we will dramatically reduce unintended pregnancies and by extension abortions, and achieve all the gains we seek while protecting women’s rights.

The numbers and rates of abortions are declining.  These rates will continue to decline if we focus on securing women’s rights, closing the gap in access to services, providing universal sexual and reproductive health education based on evidence, engaging women and men as moral actors in their choices, and removing the social and political barriers to essential services. 

That’s not only common ground, it’s solid ground and proven ground.


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  • invalid-0

    A must read for everyone, loved it!

    • invalid-0

      Thanks so much—this was a terrific piece!

  • invalid-0

    Thanks Jodi for a really important piece. The Bush administration did a lot of harm in decreasing the space globally for women to negotiate their fertility choices – and a lot to increase the space for HIV/AIDS treatment.
    However these spaces never got together and we are now picking up the pieces of abortion and sterilization – at times forced or denied – and contraception forced at times too – not being addressed – in the HIV/AIDS treatment continuum.

    In the African region we look to advancing HIV/AIDS programming through a sexual and reproductive health and rights lens – for no matter how much money PEPFAR pours into a narrow definition of treatment – it makes no sense if it doesn’t acknowledge the context and lived reality of the feminized epidemic.

  • http://www.sfcg.org invalid-0

    Thank you Jodi for our thoughtful article and for knowing that there is indeed common ground to be found between pro-life and pro-choice advocates.

    The argument between the two sides rarely reflect that they can agree on anything, and these old arguments have not gotten us very far. We need a new way to approach this and a better way to deal with those who disagree with our opinions.

    Visit our blog to find our position on where the common ground may lie in this debate at http://sfcg.wordpress.com/2009/03/18/a-response-from-search-for-common-ground-about-the-abortion-debate/

    Best regards,

    Search for Common Ground Staff

  • http://www.ontheissuesmagazine.com/ invalid-0

    Jodi Jacobson makes many important points in her article. We at Ontheissuesmagazine.com would like to add that rather than search for “common ground” with those who have a proven history of opposing not only abortion but birth control, we need to stand firmly in defense of a woman’s unequivocal right to choose – without guilt or shame – whether or not to bear a child and in defense of abortion providers who make that choice possible. Rather than joining the chorus of making abortion “safe, legal and rare,” we should fight to make abortion safe, legal and accessible for all women.

    Merle Hoffman
    Publisher/Editor-in-Chief OnTheIssuesMagazine.com

  • invalid-0

    Enough of the bickering. We won’t get anywhere. The past proves it.

  • invalid-0

    Your idea of common ground for pro-lifers is that they should just give up and become pro-choice (and probably support government funding of abortion). That doesn’t sound very appealing.

  • invalid-0

    You are a guy I assume. We have to put up with rape molestation,not being able to go out at night alone,being beaten not being paid fairly….should I say more or do still think paying taxes is to much for you to handle..gee we pay taxes too for a stupid pointless war that a religious right W bush started boo hoo…

  • invalid-0

    To find “common ground,” it would be necessary for both “sides” to agree on the statement above: “Men have a moral obligation to acknowledge and support women’s decision-making.”

    It’s still all about controlling women and keeping them “in their place.”

    The reason it’s an issue is because a tax-exempt religious faction, not very scrupulous about separating preaching the gospel from preaching political endorsements, learned how to push their agenda through the power of the vote and the candidates they elected. Nothing will change until that changes.

    The “common ground” should be that everyone would vote for candidates who “support women’s decision-making” and their right to make decisions about their own bodies, just as men do.

  • invalid-0

    This is a great piece. I would be interested in more discussion of the role of government in funding abortion services for women who cannot afford them, especially in the current economic crisis.

  • http://www.phcsicare.com/ invalid-0

    Awesome article about abortion. I have a friend of mine and she is pregnant for almost 3 months as of now. Her boyfriend has gone like a dust and she said to us that she want to abort it. We encourage her not to do that, its because that is her choice before and it is a mortal sin. That is the risk of what they have done with her boyfriend and now she have to stand with it.

    Los Angeles and San Diego Caregiver

  • jodi-jacobson

    Thank you for the lovely note. Please feel free to share this and others of our pieces with those you think might be interested.

    Best wishes, Jodi

  • jodi-jacobson

    Dear Merle,

    First thank you for your comment. I agree. Women have the right and must have the access to choose to terminate a pregnancy without guilt or shame. I tried to say this in this article. I also agree that we need to make abortion safe, legal, and accessible, as I tried to point out by turning the issue around and focusing on making unintended pregnancies “rarer.” The fact is that the majority of abortions (90 percent) now take place before 12 weeks, and roughly half before six weeks. Contraceptives, including emergency contraception, must be made more available and affordable for all women.

    I think there are important arguments to be made for addressing the factors underlying high rates of unintended pregnancy in the United States, and to ensure women have full access to the means of practicing safer sex both for prevention of unintended pregnancy as well as infection.

    If we focus on this, rather than on abortion as the outcome, the number and rate of abortions will fall as a consequence of an expansion in choices in pregnancy prevention. But no woman should be denied access to abortion services. and I too applaud the work of providers throughout this country who work to serve women every day.

    So I would say we are in agreement, although perhaps that point did not come out as clearly in my piece as I thought.

    With all best wishes, Jodi

  • jodi-jacobson

    This is not so much my idea of "common ground" for pro-lifers. Rather it is an articulation of what the evidence tells us is overwhelmingly the case. Increased access to contraceptives, and efforts to destigmatize both sex and birth control will reduce the rates and numbers of abortions.
    Addressing inequity and providing other health services will promote women’s rights and improve the health of women and their families.
    The real issue here for me is not about the "pro-choice" side or the "pro-life" side, but rather the individual women in question, and the cumulative millions of women who need access to these services.
    Abortions will not go away. The majority of women in every religious denomination, including Catholics, use birth control and resort to abortion when they have an unintended pregnancy and can not bring one to term.
    However, I understand and hear your discomfort with the option. If by describing yourself as pro-life you also are opposed to contraceptive methods such as pills, IUDs, emergency contraception and other means of preventing pregnancy, then likely we can not find any common ground on this in the public space. I would argue, and have long argued, that you have every right to express and live by your own religious beliefs, and those should be honored and respected. But there is no right to impose those beliefs on others, and that is where this whole controversy lies.
    But to me this is beside the point, as I am looking at this whole conversation from the vantage point of the evidence, the needs of women in question, and the basic right to determine whether and when to bear a child.
    If you want to reduce the number of abortions, then you need to vigorously support birth control. Opposing abortions will not bring you any closer to the result you seek.
    With all best wishes, Jodi

  • jodi-jacobson

    This is an issue we have and will continue to cover especially with regard to health care reform.


  • jodi-jacobson

    Thank you for this comment. We are eager to start featuring your work on these issues in the next couple of weeks and will be in touch. You are right, and we are eager to bring these issues to light.

    As always, and a big hug, Jodi

  • invalid-0

    I guess not feeling guilty about the need for woman to not feel guilty in having an abortion abortion would be like being a nazi and not really caring what happens to the jews as their put on some train headed to some gas chamber….The german people didnt feel guilty about what the nazis where doing to the jews until the war was over and allied troops forced them to go to the concetration camps and witness the infanticide…how could someone hurt a child like singer Dolores Riordian sings in the Cranberries song the icicle melts….to see the there’s millions of woman of have had abortions already and for those woman to all of a sudden say abortion is murder would only reinforce the guilt they should have been feeling years ago when they had their own abortions and you think they want to feel that horrible about their own actions…no just keep telling these woman whon are unsure about abortions or want one that’s ok to have one so they can escape their own guilt of having one…I pray that no one ever needs abortion on here and if you need help please feel free to contanct me….

  • invalid-0

    One of his first actions when Hitler seized power was to close down the government-sponsored family planning clinics that the Weimar regime instituted, and implement an _across-the-board_ ban on _all_ abortions except to save the mother’s life.

    Now, the vandalism against clinics could far more accurately be compared to Kristallnacht.

    Dorry, Mr. “McDonlad”, Hitler is one of _yours_.

    • invalid-0

      Catseye – you can’t possibly be arguing that Hilter was guided by some over-riding moral authority, can you? I mean, really. That is one of the dumbest things I have read in a very, very long time. “Well, Adolf was pro-life because he banned family planning clinics.” There is a little problem with your post, as well as your logic: it was called the “Final Solution”. How, in the name of Mike, can you possibly equate moral authority with Hitlerian actions. You have totally missed the prior poster’s point: It goes like this:

      “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a communist;
      Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist;
      Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist;
      Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew;
      Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

      Please. If you are going to post something, get your facts, and your history, right!! Sheez!


  • paul-bradford

    Your stats on the decline of the abortion rate from 1979 until today are right on the money and I commend you for promulgating this information.  More people should know and understand these stats.


    There are some other stats people should consider, such as the percentage of pregnancies that end in abortion.  This percentage peaked at 30.3% in 1981 and has declined steadily until it reached 22.6% in 2005.  The abortion percentage rate for married women has been fairly flat since 1973 but it has fluctuated significantly among unmarried women, peaking at 66.4% in 1977 and dropping steadily afterwards.  The percentage dipped to 39.5% in 2005 (the ’05 figures are preliminary.  In ’04 the percentage was 40.7%)


    What shall we make of these figures?  A pregnant, unmarried woman is only half as likely to get an abortion today as her mother would have been in a similar situation.  Why should this be?  I can’t help but think that the Pro-Life movement has made great advances, since the late ‘seventies in doing what it has set out to do — which is to touch hearts, change minds and save lives.  What is the cause of this Pro-Life success?  Have Pro-Lifers found a way to coerce young women or have they been effective in persuading them?


    I’d be curious to know what the people on this board think of this development.  Is it a good thing that this percentage has gone down, or a bad thing?  It’s certainly remarkable that this rate has gone down so significantly even though abortion continues to be legal.  I suspect that today’s rate is even lower than it was in the last few years before Roe (when most abortions were unreported so accurate figures are difficult to adduce).  It is certainly a lot lower than it was in the first year of Roe (56.5%) 


    Fewer unmarried women are opting to abort.  More are choosing life.  How much has the Pro-Life movement and the ‘Culture of Life’ influenced these trends?  Someone with my philosophical bent would say that young women are being supported in making a moral choice despite inclinations.  But my point of view isn’t the only view possible.  Some might even argue that an unmarried woman facing a surprise pregnancy would be doing the moral thing if she saved the world the bother of being burdened by an extra child being raised by a single mother.


    I would consider it a good compromise if Pro-Lifers stopped threatening to use coercive, criminalizing techniques to lower the abortion rate and Pro-Choicers bought into the Clintonesque effort to make abortion ‘rare’.  Do you suppose that such a compromise would be acceptable?  Or are Pro-Lifers too married to strategies that are neither appropriate, feasible nor effective and are Pro-Choicers actually uneasy about the thought that the numbers I’ve sited can continue to go lower and lower?


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • otaku1960

     effective has probably been increased access to birth control. If the unwanted pregnancy is prevented, then there’s no need for an abortion. Despite the Bush Administrations funding for abstinence only programs, despite the attacks on contraception, birth control is working.

     But seriously, the notion the anti-abortion movement has succeeded in "touching hearts, changing minds and saving liives" is nothing short of ludicrous. Their only "advances" were to lobby for more draconian anti abortion (and  restrictions on contraception) laws which made it harder for women who chose abortion to excercise that legal choice. Too right that movement is fond of coercive strategies which are not effective.

     I’m pro choice and lower abortion numbers don’t bother me at all. I wager most pro choicers on this board aren’t uneasy either. Unless the lower numbers were obtained via coercive laws which made it harder for women to either use contraception or end an unwanted pregnancy.


    Your grievance shall be avenged.

  • invalid-0

    I think you’re missing something Paul. Perhaps you should consider the social context these women are in rather than patting yourself and other anti’s on the back for your efforts to “touch hearts, change minds and save lives”. It been demonstrated over and over again that anti’s care nothing for life after birth, it’s impossible to touch hearts while screaming insults at women accessing reproductive health and I don’t know of one person who’s mind has been changed from outside pressure or persuasion.

    The society women live in today for the most part accepts single motherhood. The scandal effect is gone. Women aren’t shipped away to homes to give birth and then have the baby ripped from their arms for a suitable MARRIED couple to adopt. Combine that with educated young women that can be financially independent or have supportive social networks. No more the social ostracism of the 50’s, 60’s, and even 70’s. Perhaps the availability of contraception has affected the abortion rates as well.

    Paul, there is no evidence your movement has anything to do with the lower rates and frankly, I expect a more nuanced view from you at this point. And lastly, abortion is every bit a moral as gestation.

  • paul-bradford

    You say, "if the unwanted pregnancy is prevented, there’s no need for an abortion."  I couldn’t agree with you more!  But that’s not what I was talking about, I was focusing on statistics regarding the disposition of a pregnancy that has already begun — so we begin at the point where both abstinence and birth control have failed.


    that movement is fond of coercive strategies which are not effective. 


    Ahhh!  I see, otaku, that you’ve made a false assumption — which is that the noisy Pro-Lifers are the ones who are affecting the abortion rate.  They’re not.  The zealots who hold prayer vigils outside of reproductive health care centers aren’t saving any lives — they’re just getting people worked up.  In fact, I think they probably cause abortions — because they tend to make people close their ears to the quieter, more rational Pro-Lifer who demonstrates a respect for life at every stage — not just the gestational stage.


    I challenge anyone to convince me that attempts at coercive tactics have ever prevented a significant number of women from getting an abortion.  You say what I’ve been saying all along which is that these tactics are "not effective".  Something other than coercion is going on and it’s having a big effect on the abortion rate.


    I’m very glad that lower abortion numbers don’t bother you at all.  I expect that they’re going to continue going down whether the Democrats are in power or the Republicans.  People, both men and women, feel a greater sense of obligation toward their unborn children than they did in the past — that’s not going to be influenced by politics.


    Women who believe that they would have an obligation to care for their unborn are not only less likely to have an abortion, they’re less likely to have an unintended pregnancy — but that’s fodder for another post.



    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • paul-bradford

    it’s impossible to touch hearts while screaming insults at women accessing reproductive health




    I don’t know of one person who’s mind has been changed from outside pressure or persuasion.


    A woman is unlikely to change her mind about the abortion question during the first few weeks after she discovers she’s pregnant.  My point is that a young woman in 2009 is more likely than a young woman in 1981 to feel that SHE doesn’t want to get an abortion — whether she feels that SOMEONE ELSE should be allowed to get an abortion is a separate matter.


    Attitudes about abortion aren’t formed when there’s an unintended pregnancy crisis– they’re formed before that and social mores are different today than they were thirty years ago.


    Paul, there is no evidence your movement has anything to do with the lower rates


    That all depends on what you mean by ‘your movement’.  If you’re referring to the people who are chanting slogans against Dr. Tiller in Wichita I’d have to agree with you.  If you’re referring to conversations that take place between friends and classmates over time I’d have to insist that there has been a movement toward greater concern for the unborn. 


    It been demonstrated over and over again that anti’s care nothing for life after birth


    People who care nothing for life after birth aren’t going to be very influential — but I would put to you that SOMETHING’S become influential.  You brought up the fact that situations for single mothers are better than they were in the past.  Don’t you think that that development is an example of Pro-after birth-Life attitudes?  The people who don’t care what happens after a baby is born aren’t making things any better for the single mother.  (I also happen to think that fathers are more supportive than they were thirty years ago and by ‘more supportive’ I mean more willing to be of help AFTER birth)


     I expect a more nuanced view from you at this point.


    From your lips to God’s ears!  I’m not nearly as nuanced as I’d like to be — but I’m learning all the time.  I suspect I would ‘appear’ more nuanced to you if I did a better job of clueing you into the fact that the Pro-Lifers you don’t like are Pro-Lifers I don’t like either. 



    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • otaku1960

    1)One reason the abortion rate is falling is because there are fewer unwanted pregnancies to abort.  I feel that is an important statistic to consider and I don’t buy the argument these are completely unrelated concepts.


    2) No, I don’t think I made a false assumption. Perhaps I should have clarified I was talking about the anti-abortion organizations which spend more time lobbying politically as opposed to those who blockade abortion clinics and harass women. History has proven again and again that bans on abortion or legal flaming hoops to abortion are NOT effective in the way said organizations intended them to be. Draconinan anti-abortion laws have utterly failed to [quote] "touch hearts, change minds and save lives."  [unquote]


    3) It may well be something other than coercive tactics, but you’d have a snowball’s chance in Hades of convincing me anti abortion groups have "made advances".  Groups like that are always regressive.


    4) [quote]…a greater sense of obligation towards their unborn children[unquote]. You’ve got to be kidding. That is a completely ludicrous statment.  I feel it’s more like women know they have an obligation to their already born children, so if they have access to bc, they will grab it with both hands and prevent unwanted pregnancies.


    Your grievance shall be avenged.

  • paul-bradford

     One reason the abortion rate is falling is because there are fewer unwanted pregnancies to abort.  I feel that is an important statistic to consider and I don’t buy the argument these are completely unrelated concepts.


    A good indication of how many "unwanted pregnancies there are to abort" is the pregnancy rate of unmarried women.  In 1973, this rate was 56.0 unmarried pregnancies per 1000 unmarried women of childbearing age.  This rate actually rose and continued to rise until 1991 when it peaked out at 92.2. Since then it’s been trending downward and was 78.3 in 2004 (the last year for which we have detailed records)


    From 1973 until 1991 there were more and more unmarried pregnancies to abort.  Since 1991 that number has been declining.  There are two factors which drive the pregnancy rate — frequency of coitus and conceptive effectiveness (which would be the opposite of contraceptive effectiveness).  There are two possible explanations as for why the pregnancy rate rose 65% between 1973 and 1991 and one of those explanations is that the birth control methods women were using in 1991 were 65% less effective than the methods that were being used in 1973.


    From 1991 until 2004 the pregnancy rate was declining which may have been due to increased effectiveness in birth control.  There is, of course, another explanation.


    The abortion rate, as opposed to the pregnancy rate, has been declining since 1981 which means that from 1981 until 1991 the pregnancy rate was rising as the abortion rate was declining.  There is only one possible explanation for that which is that the percentage of pregnancies terminating in abortion was dropping substantially.  This is true.  In 1981 that percentage was 65%, in 1991 that percentage was 51%.  Unmarried pregnant women were making different decisions in 1991 than they were making in 1981.


    When one woman makes a decision it’s an individual matter.  When the population of the entire country makes decisions that are significantly different than the ones they had been making it’s a social trend.  There has been a significant trend away from abortion and toward carrying a pregnancy to term — this trend was evident even when the pregnancy rate was increasing.  Because behaviors are changing we know that attitudes are changing.


    If we have evidence that attitudes are trending away from abortion and toward birth you might want to give a name for this trend —  I call it a ‘Pro-Life’ trend.  If you don’t like the term I use you are welcome to come up with a different term.  I’d be interested in hearing what you choose to call it. 


     History has proven again and again that bans on abortion or legal flaming hoops to abortion are NOT effective in the way said organizations intended them to be. Draconinan anti-abortion laws have utterly failed to [quote] "touch hearts, change minds and save lives." [unquote]


    Otaku, why do you and I spend so much time talking about the things we agree on?  Hearts are being touched, minds are being changed and lives are being saved but they’re not being saved by "bans on abortion" or "legal flaming hoops to abortion" or "Draconinan anti-abortion laws".  I have a lot of reasons to be opposed to coercive techniques for stopping abortion but the most important reason I’m opposed to them is that they’re ineffective.  Whatever voices or influences are encouraging the social trend that I’ve been describing have been influences that treat women as intelligent, rational beings whose choice has to be respected.  People who come from this perspective are the ones who are "changing minds".


      Groups like that are always regressive.


    The regressive groups aren’t ‘making advances’.  Do you know who is actually influencing public opinion?  It isn’t the torch wielding, pitchfork brandishing crowd.  What’s having an effect is the quiet testimony of people who respect life in its entirety. 


    You dispute my notion that the attitude shift we’ve been noticing — as behaviors have been trending away from abortion and toward childbirth — is due to ‘a greater sense of obligation toward the unborn’.  Maybe you’re right.  Maybe women are opting not to abort due to motivations that are selfish or banal, but can you really call it ‘ludicrous’ for me to suspect that the reason women are enduring their pregnancies through to the end is that they care about the well being of their children?



    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

    • otaku1960

       This discussion is going nowhere. You can believe America is trending "pro life". But I still maintain better access to birth control is the main (not the only reason,just the MAIN) reason for the drop in the abortion rate.

       <blockquote>Maybe women are opting not to abort due to motivations that are selfish or banal, but can you really call it ‘ludicrous’ for me to suspect that the reason women are enduring their pregnancies through to the end is that they care about the well being of their children?</blockquote>


      That almost  sounds like an insult, as it stops just short of implying women are frivolous about pregnancy. A study published by Guttmacher related the most compelling reasons women abort. Those turned out to be the woman’s concern for the well being of the children they already had, or the children they would have in the future.




      Your grievance shall be avenged.