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On The Subject of Abortion: How Has Roe v. Wade Impacted Us?


It has been more than 50 years - what has changed?

Abortion. There is hardly a subject in America that incites more intense opinions. Pro or con, it is worth considering how the changes in the laws of our country have impacted our lives.

Prior to 1973 it was illegal in the United States for a woman to terminate a pregnancy except in California and New York. The decision in the case of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court based on the right of privacy overturned state anti-abortion statutes. In response many states moved to limit certain rights to abortion such as requiring parental consent for minors, spousal consent, waiting periods, required reading prior to an abortion, and the barring of state funding for abortions. Today abortion is legal in every state but not necessarily readily available. Some states have passed laws that would automatically make abortion illegal again should Roe v. Wade ever be overturned.

Surveys by Public Agenda show both American men and women lean toward the belief that abortion is morally wrong, not significantly different from reported views in 1973. However, more than half of respondents said they did not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. Public opinion surveys on abortion from the late 1980s to the 2000s found few changes in Americans' views over the time period.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1973 the abortion rate was 14 per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44. The number of abortions peaked in 1990 with a rate of 24 per 1,000. From that high, the CDC reported the numbers have declined through the 2000s and stabilized in the years since.

Between 2011 and 2017, the U.S. abortion landscape changed significantly. As documented by the Guttmacher Institute’s periodic abortion provider census, all the main measures of abortion declined, including the number of abortions, the abortion rate and the abortion ratio. The declines are part of trends that go back decades.

  • The number of abortions fell by 196,000—a 19% decline from 1,058,000 abortions in 2011 to 862,000 abortions in 2017.
  • The abortion rate (the number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44) fell by 20%, from 16.9 in 2011 to 13.5 in 2017.

"Given the large decreases in the total number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions from 2011 to 2012, in combination with decreases that occurred during 2008–2011, all three measures reached historic lows." -CDC

Today the majority of abortions occur in the court-sanctioned first trimester with six percent done after 15 weeks of pregnancy. With the advent of emergency contraception, the birth control pills taken up to 72 hours after sex, the number of abortions has dropped since 1998.

Still, opinions in the U.S. remain divided. In 1975, a Gallup poll found 54 percent thought abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances; 21 percent thought it should be legal in all circumstances; and 22 percent thought it should be illegal. In 2003, another Gallup poll saw these numbers shift to 57 percent; 24 percent; and 18 percent, respectively. Still, polls show 65 percent of Americans don’t think the government should interfere with access to abortion.

Abortion rates among minorities have followed the overall downward trends since 1973. Still, black women have consistently had the highest rates, followed by Hispanic women. Access to and effective use of contraceptives have the most significant impact on the rates among minorities as well as women who are young, unmarried and living below the poverty line. Guttmacher Institute researchers published information in medical journals in 2007 and 2008 suggesting geographical access to medical services and the inability to afford prescription contraceptives as the primary factors in unintended pregnancies and abortions among minority groups.

In 1998 Steven Levitt, a professor of law at the University of Chicago, and John Donolhue, an economist at Yale University, published “The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime” in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. In it they suggested the link between the legalization of abortion in 1973 and the reduction in crime between 1992 and 1995 in America, as well as in Canada and Australia where abortion was legalized at the same time. The authors argue that in states where abortion was made legal earlier, such as California and New York, crime rates in fact were reduced earlier. From the paper:

“More interesting and important is the possibility that children born after abortion legalization may on average have lower subsequent rates of criminality for either of two reasons. First, women who have abortions are those most at risk to give birth to children who would engage in criminal activity. Teenagers, unmarried women, and the economically disadvantaged are all substantially more likely to seek abortions [Levine et al. 1996]. Recent studies have found children born to these mothers to be at higher risk for committing crime in adolescence [Comanor and Phillips 1999]. Second, women may use abortion to optimize the timing of childbearing. A given woman’s ability to provide a nurturing environment to a child can fluctuate over time depending on the woman’s age, education, and income, as well as the presence of a father in the child’s life, whether the pregnancy is wanted, and any drug or alcohol abuse both in-utero and after the birth. Consequently, legalized abortion provides a woman the opportunity to delay childbearing if the current conditions are sub optimal. Even if lifetime fertility remains constant for all women, children are born into better environments, and future criminality is likely to be reduced.”

So, does it make a difference when it comes to the number of abortions that occur whether it is legal or not? According to recent World Health Organization studies, in countries where abortion is broadly legal, there are between 36 and 47 abortions performed annually per 1,000 women, ages 15 to 49. And in countries where abortions are prohibited altogether, there are between 31 and 51 abortions annually per 1,000 women, on average. Not much of a difference, but actually fewer where it is legal, probably due to overall more available health care.

The moral, religious, and cultural reasons for people to hold fast to their opinions about abortion will not be impacted by this information. Studies, statistics, and polling results in the years to come will give more or less credence to the information provided here. One fact that cannot be debated is the number of women's lives that have been saved due to legalization of abortion.

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Number of deaths due to abortion:




Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on March 10, 2020:

Yes, here we go again...and there is the Trump administration...and there are children in what are essentially concentration camps...and there is the Coronavirus. Very depressing. Very tragic

Thank you again for an excellent and well-written article.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 05, 2020:

Here we go again Supreme Court.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on January 22, 2019:

On this anniversary of Roe v. Wade it is possible to surmise that true "Pro-Lifers" should advocate for abortion to remain legal is America. The statistics show it has resulted in fewer lives lost.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on December 31, 2018:

So many Americans sold their souls for a couple of supreme court appointments because of this issue, it behooves me to send this article out again.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on January 21, 2018:

The anniversary is tomorrow. With all that is going on right now, will anybody notice?

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on January 23, 2017:

So . . . please consider this probability. If abortion ever becomes illegal in this country again, it is very unlikely babies won't continue to die. They will because there will always be means to end unwanted pregnancies. What will change back to the way it was when abortion was illegal before? Women will die. Already, men are not held accountable for unwanted pregnancies. Women are. Do they have to die as well?

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on February 05, 2016:

phadast7: Thanks for the thoughtful comment, which is really a contribution to this article. I have my own opinion about abortion - that I have never heard another person share, so I'll continue to keep it to myself. But I appreciate hearing yours.

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on February 05, 2016:

Very well-written. You have laid out the issues, concerns, and changes over time quite well. The current categories and labels are inadequate (certainly not your fault), because I think there are many people like me who would say they are both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. ~~~~~~ I believe we are far too casual about abortion in America and abortion should be relatively infrequent, and should not serve as another method of birth control. Abortions have declined and I would like to see them decline even more because people are careful and we increasingly value the sanctity of life. ~~~~~~ However, those beliefs and feelings must develop in individuals and cannot be legislated by the nation, states, or churches, so I am very much Pro-Choice. No woman should be forced to bear a child against her will -- the outcomes are often tragic for the child and the mother. There has to be a Third way that combines the values of the two current positions. Thank you for a balanced and informative article.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on January 26, 2016:

Thanks for your comments. This hub doesn't take a side, it's just an update on the issue. But I appreciate your comments.

Charito Maranan-Montecillo from Manila, Philippines on January 26, 2016:

Thank you for this very informative piece, Kathleen. I come from a country where abortion is not legalized. Sorry, but I'm pro-life. I firmly believe in protecting the unborn. In my opinion, I find it unfair for a helpless and innocent child's life to be terminated - all because of a teen/unmarried woman's carelessness! It has been proven that life begins at conception. I think teenage girls / unmarried women- who are suddenly impregnated out of wedlock - should opt to have their newborn babies adopted if they can't raise them. It grieves me all the time to see a mother kill her own flesh and blood in her womb, thus depriving the unborn child the opportunity to enjoy a good life.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on April 09, 2014:

Just updated some stats in this hub if anyone is interested. :)

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on July 27, 2012:

I'll second that! One of the best byproducts of The Journey was finding a bevy of new writers! I've been a friend of phdast7 since high school, and followed a few of the others. phdast7 brought me into the collaborative and I'm indebted to her for her reference. Wouldn't have missed it for the world.

sligobay from east of the equator on July 26, 2012:

I've been reading Nellieanna and Vincent Moore (aka Saddlerider) for years. I've been following several of the 'sweet sixteen' also. Arb is a very creative writer and poet and I've just caught up on three more of his Hubs since we completed our Journey. Arb's format was so different and unique that he should apply for a patent. LOL

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on July 26, 2012:

Sligobay: Thanks for taking the time to read some of my hubs and for commenting. I'm taking your advice on the title to this one although my purpose is not to bring the crazies out of the woodwork but to generate a discussion of the different aspects of this volitile issue. Yours are very interesting. You'll find in most of my work the reporter coming out in me. I try to tell both sides and let the discussion go where it will.

I also found The Journey to be an amazing experience, especially in getting to know so many wonderful people who also happen to write. But then, that's the HP experience, isn't it? Hope to take a closer look at all 15's work in depth as the days progress.

sligobay from east of the equator on July 26, 2012:

Hello Kathleen. It was great working with you on the Journey: A look at aging. Each of our questions and our responses make me feel that all of the contributors have learned so much about each other that we have become friends and colleagues. I thank Arb for his inspiration and being the catalyst for this project. This Hub ought to be teaming with comments. The word "abortion" is not included in the title. Many are clueless about the name of the Supreme Court decision.

I consider the study which you cite to be junk science and pure speculation. It is an example of arriving at a conclusion and then building the cause and effect to build an argument. Any number of things can be chosen as the cause of statistical drop in crime rates; mandatory sentencing guidelines are just one. I don't consider the "culling of the herd" to be one.

The world population is seven billion persons. My review of the stats estimates that abortion has reduced the world population by twelve and one half percent or by one billion persons. Does this statistic suggest that abortion has reduced world hunger? I don't think so. This is an excellent report about the study and its unscientific conclusions.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on February 26, 2012:

Thanks Mikeroper for the read and the comments. I'll keep an eye on your writings too.

Mikeroper on February 25, 2012:

I find this writing very thought provoking. I believe if I were to vote in the Roe vs Wade bill, I would vote to keep it legal for abortion. I disagree with abortion as a moral issue, however; being a man and not being in a position to choose according to my body, it seems only befitting to allow women "at least" the choice. The government needs not to dictate morality. Good work, nice read.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on February 13, 2012:

Thanks for the encouragement and congrats on a Hub of the Day. I've had a lot of affirmation on Hub Pages, but never had a Hub of the Day! I'll take a look.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on February 08, 2012:

Thanks Gypsy Willow for your comments. This is a subject with many influences on society - both intended an unintended.

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on February 08, 2012:

This is probably the most controversial subject in the United States. Your point about children most likely to end up criminals is one I'd never considered. There are many women who are desperate to end their pregnancies and will take desperate measures. The last thing a country needs is back street abortionists. Definitely food for thought. I was never in the position to consider abortion because I had the means to care for a child but there are many who are not. Excellent hub.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on February 03, 2012:

Thanks for the comments - you make some valid points, especially about the two ends of the spectrum never agreeing.

Wayne Brown from Texas on February 02, 2012:

Roe vs. Wade essentially boiled down to "a woman's right to choice". The perspective taken simply from the pregnant woman's perception. In doing so, the ruling ignores the question as to when "life begins"...a fetus vs. a living being. The two points are at opposite ends of the spectrum thus agreement will likely never be reached. Sadly, we have progressed from Roe vs. Wade offering "legalized" abortion to the use of partial birth abortion under the umbrella of that logic. I would think that those in the majority opinion (57% against overturning Roe vs. Wade) are of that mind mainly because they do not want to see the proliferation of illegal abortion clinics in the back alleyways of our cities and towns. Sadly, all of it ignores the "right of the child" to life. Thanks for sharing. WB

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on February 02, 2012:

Ya know, I'm with you there on the comments. But, often the ones that don't have comments are the ones that people like to read and "ponder". I had one of those - no one commented and then suddenly it was hub of the day. Who in the world knew? Don't worry, though. It's well written and thought-provoking.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on February 02, 2012:

As usual, I have no idea which of my hubs will generate response. I was certain this one would, and you are my first comment in a week. Maybe it's because I didn't take a side on this topic. Thanks for confirming for me that it did publish!

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on February 02, 2012:

I, too, read Freakonomics. Great read and interesting food for thought. It's interesting to see that public opinion hasn't changed as much as I thought here in the States. Voted up and interesting.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on January 28, 2012:

There are always unintended consequences to any major step we take as a society. They aren't all bad - though it seems they usually are. Would love to hear more of your discussion.

Phil Plasma from Montreal, Quebec on January 27, 2012:

We read Freakonomics in our book group a few months ago and discussed exactly this. Here in Canada, well, in Quebec most especially, we are very much in the pro-choice camp.

It is interesting how things haven't really changed significantly in such an amount of time. It surprises me, actually, I've always thought that pro-choice was the more progressive stance, and with each passing decade we are progressing. Voted up and interesting.

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