U.S. Abortion Rates Stall After Decades of Decline

A new study from the Guttmacher Institute reports that the U.S. abortion rates have stalled after a steady decline since 1981. While the 2008 rates are significantly below the 1981 numbers (19.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 as compared to 29.3 abortions for every 1,000 women), there has been virtually no change between 2008 and 2005.

The article suggests that among other reasons harassment against providers and clients has had a chilling effect on women accessing abortion and even contraceptive services. Here’s some statistics about harassment:

Exposure to antiabortion harassment was common among nonhospital abortion providers in 2008: Fifty-seven percent experienced at least one of six types of harassment (which includes picketing, picketing w/blocking or contact, vandalism, bomb, threats, picketing of staff’s homes, patient pictures posted on the internet). Picketing was the most common form of harassment (reported by 55%), followed by picketing combined with blocking patient access to facilities (21%). Internet harassment was assessed for the first time in this survey, and 3% of providers reported that protesters had posted pictures of patients on the Internet.

The overwhelming majority of abortion clinics—88%— experienced at least one form of harassment in 2008. Eighty-seven percent reported picketing; 42% reported picketing with patient blocking, and 21% cited incidents of vandalism. Nearly two-thirds of other clinics reported any type of harassment, but only 10% of physicians’ offices did so.

Harassment was also commonly reported by facilities that performed 400 or more abortions per year (89%). In 2000, when harassment was last assessed, 82% of providers with this size caseload reported at least one of five forms of harassment, which suggests a slight increase over this period….The incidence of harassment varied by region; 85% of providers in the Midwest and 75% in the South experienced any form of harassment, compared with 48% and 44% in the Northeast and the West, respectively. All types of harassment were more common among facilities in the Midwest and the South than elsewhere.

In the wake of the Arizona shootings, it’s important to take a look at how violence or threats of violence can affect behavior. Dr. Tiller was assassinated in 2009 so we don’t have data so show any correlation but it is suggested that these threats may over time reduce the number of providers which is problematic considering 87% of American counties do not have an abortion provider. It’s my hope that this can be a “teachable moment” for politicians, activists, and the general public to find more peaceful and effective ways to raise awareness of issues and to show more tolerance for those with who you disagree. I also hope that this provides further evidence to the government to more forcefully denounce these types of harassment and violence.

The study recommends increased access to contraceptive services to prevent unintended pregnancies which lead to abortions, while maintaining existing abortion services. One way would be to ensure birth control is covered under insurance and to allow women to access birth control without co-pays.

“In this time of heightened politicization around abortion, our stalled progress should be an urgent message to policymakers that we need to do more to increase access to contraceptive services to prevent unintended pregnancy, while ensuring access to abortion services for the many women who still need them,” says Sharon Camp, president and CEO of Guttmacher.

Let’s continue to fight fear with facts.

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