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Do Pro-Life Policies Increase Abortion Rates?


Perhaps most revealing, a spring poll from Gallup found that about 1 in 4 Americans, particularly voters who oppose abortion rights, see abortion as a sort of personal litmus test. Fully 30% of people who consider themselves "pro-life" say they would only vote for a candidate who shares that view compared to 19% of people who consider themselves "pro-choice."

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For many American voters, this one issue is a crucial litmus test because they believe that voting for pro-life candidates saves the lives of unborn babies. But would overturning Roe v. Wade save lives?

"...abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women seeking it."


Whether we vote Republican or Democratic does appear to have an impact on these rates, but not in the way people think.

Rates by President

Abortion has been declining rapidly in America since the early 1980s but has declined more under Democratic than Republican presidents. When Ronald Reagan was president, there were 24 abortions per 1000 women. That fell to 23 under George Bush. During Bill Clinton's presidency, the rate dropped from 23 to 16.2, an almost 7 point drop. When George W. Bush left office, the rate had dropped to 15, a little over 1 point drop. Under Barack Obama, it took another big drop down to 12.5, a 2.5 point decrease. Rates dropped during both Republican and Democratic administrations, but declines were greater when Democrats held the White House.


However, reporting on rates fluctuates from year to year, since reporting is voluntary and not all states report every year. As a result, the data isn't complete. Still, despite what many people assume, restrictive laws don't necessarily lead to fewer abortions while easing access doesn't necessarily increase them.

"Some states that passed abortion restrictions between 2014-2017 actually saw increases in abortion rates. And in several states that opened new clinics, abortion rates went down."


Why Do Rates Drop More Under Democratic Administrations?

Donald Trump's ban on U.S. assistance to aid groups that provide family planning may answer the question of why rates decline at a slower pace when Republicans are in power.

"The study in the medical journal The Lancet suggests that the Mexico City policy has actually increased the rate of abortions by about 40% in the countries studied — likely because the funding ban caused a reduction in access to contraception and a consequent rise in unwanted pregnancies."


Republican policies may have the effect of increasing unwanted pregnancies, which leads to more abortions. Abstinence-only sex education has no impact on when young people start having sex, but it does lead to decreased usage of condoms and birth control. Republican policies often limit access to birth control as well.

Democratic policies like comprehensive sex education and easier access to birth control result in fewer unwanted pregnancies, which leads to fewer abortions.

Women Find Ways Around Bans

When accessing the procedure becomes more difficult, women facing unwanted pregnancies don't simply throw up their hands and say, "Oh, well, I better have the baby." Instead, they often find other ways to end a pregnancy, such as seeking out illegal providers. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 75% of women who terminate pregnancies are poor. And 59% already have at least one child. Women who can't afford a child, or in many cases another child, will often do whatever it takes to end a pregnancy that could be financially ruinous.

Romania provides a case study of what can happen when women don't have reproductive rights.

"In 1966, the leader of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu, outlawed access to abortion and contraception in a bid to boost the country’s population. In the short term, it worked, and the year after it was enacted the average number of children born to Romanian women jumped from 1.9 to 3.7. But birthrates quickly fell again as women found ways around the ban. Wealthy, urban women were sometimes able to bribe doctors to perform abortions, or they had contraceptive IUDs smuggled in from Germany.

Yet Romania’s prohibition of the procedure was disproportionately felt by low-income women and disadvantaged groups...many Romanian women turned to home and back-alley abortions, and by 1989, an estimated 10,000 women had died as a result of unsafe procedures."


There are many life and deaths issues that aren't always a priority for single-issue voters

There are many life and deaths issues that aren't always a priority for single-issue voters

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2020 LT Wright

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