Chart of the Day: Abortion rate fell to lowest rate in 30 years thanks to birth control

According to a new study from the Guttmacher Institute, the US abortion rate fell by 13 percent between 2008 to 2011, continuing a fairly consistent long-term downward trend and reaching its lowest point since 1973

US abortion rate over timeThe study didn’t included a detailed analysis of the reasons for the drop, which, for a pro-choicer like me, are obviously pretty key to determining if this is cause for celebration or not. If abortions are down because people have better access to effective birth control and comprehensive sex ed that gives them the information they need to prevent unintended pregnancies, awesome! On the other hand, we’re not cheering if this decline is due to folks being prevented–by financial barriers or anti-choice laws–from getting abortions they want and need.

The researchers have draw some conclusions though. Since abortion rates fell in almost all states, including those without many restrictions on the procedure, and the drop was mirrored by a decline in pregnancy and birth rates overall, lack of access probably played only a small part in the decline. The researchers credit much of decrease to the fact that young people especially are increasingly using very effective forms of contraception, like the IUD. If it seems obvious to you that birth control prevents abortion, let me remind you that most anti-choicers willfully deny that fact, which suggests their real concern is about sex, not “life.” Indeed, in a release, the anti-choice group Americans United for Life was quick to claim that the Guttmacher report didn’t give enough credit to anti-choice laws for the decline–and studiously avoids even mentioning the word “birth control.” After all, that might beg the question of why AUL, which regularly conflates contraception and abortion, has lobbied hard against the no co-pay contraception mandate.

However, it’s not all good news. The study also found that the number of abortion providers dropped by 4 percent and the number of abortion clinics fell by 1 percent during this time. As we’ve reported before, many recent clinic closures are directly due to anti-choice regulations. And while they may not have had a huge effect of abortion rates overall, in some individual states that had few providers to begin with, these clinic closures may have contributed to the drop. Furthermore, as a recent “chart of the day” so clearly illustrated, the huge spike in anti-choice state laws came between 2011 and 2013–after the period examined by this study–so it’ll be up to future research to figure out the full effect these new laws have had on access. And at that point, I’ll be more than willing to give credit blame where it’s due.

Maya DusenberyMaya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.

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