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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Why the Abortion Rate Dropped

The Alan Guttmacher Institute tells us that the abortion rate has reached an all-time low. They attribute this drop to:
  • better contraception, 
  • a lousy economy (incentive to use better contraception), and 
  • definitely NOT to new laws prohibiting certain kinds of abortion.
Pro-life groups attributed the drop:
  • directly to the laws passed over the last twenty years, 
  • the controversies caused by graphic descriptions given during recent prosecution of abortionists like Kermit Gosnell and 
  • new medical technology which allows people to see inside the womb and understand the horrors of abortion.
Who is right? Since I was teaching a critical thinking class this semester, I took the problem to my college students as a case study in examining factors that might contribute to an increase or decrease in abortion rates. So, here are the list of factors we came up with:
Is pregnancy rate up or down? How long?
Is sexual activity up or down? How long?
chastity and virginity pledges
STD fear
Is contraception use up or down? How long?
Physical: Condom, IUD
Chemical: Pill, patch, ring, shot (Depo)
Surgical: Vasectomy/ligation/hysterectomy
Is fertility rate going up or down? For how long?
Man:woman ratio in those subpopulations?
Relation status (married vs. single)
Science (e.g., ultrasound, heartbeat, fingernails (Juno))
Genetic predispositions in parents
genes for violence/psychopaths: spreading or not?
Genetic  abortions
Sex selection abortions
Down’s and other anomalies
Cultural anomalies (e.g., deaf parents sometimes abort normal children)
Religious factors (e.g. Jewish vs. Muslim vs. Hindu vs. Christian)
Laws inhibiting or encouraging
Are laws cause or effect?
What states are showing drops?
Clinic vs hospital vs telemed (at home)
Geographic distribution of clinics
Where is US population versus clinics? (cf. schools closing )
Number and location of abortionists (cf. surgical vs. chemical abortions – can one abortionist do more if most are chemical as opposed to surgical?)
cost of children: is cost same today as 1980 (cell phone cost isn’t)
low income vs. high income
Welfare Benefits
Cultural predispositions
child abuse
partner abuse
drug abuse
Political disposition
Feminism rise or fall (number of women working)
Has the definition of pregnancy changed?
Has the definition of abortion changed?
Is it an abortion if the child died in utero?
Has the definition of person changed?
Cosmetic surgery advances
Electronic interaction
Distraction from sex (texting, Facebook, games, cf. Japan’s drop in birth rate)
Replacement (porn)
Now, there may be more factors, but this is what roughly a dozen people came up with in an hour. I had the students choose and research a factor of their liking to see if they could find a positive or negative correlation to the abortion rate since 1973.

And here's the thing about abortion in America. The abortion rate hit an all-time high in 1980, but the raw number of abortions hit an all-time high in 1990. Both the rate and the raw number of abortions began a long, steady decline in 1990 that has been essentially constant for roughly the last 25 years. The Washington Post chart is listed here, flipped on its side so it's easier to compare with other charts.

So, for a positive correlation, I would want to see a curve that starts out low, peaks in 1980, stays relatively high until 1990 (perhaps with the little dip in the mid-to-late 1980s) and then a long, steady decline after 1990.

Over the last several days, I looked at every chart I could find: welfare, race comparisons, fertility rates, incarceration rates, mental health rates, immigration rates, welfare rates. Nothing matched. The closest I got was this chart on violence in America (see below). Notice the murder rate: it peaks in 1980, has a dip in the mid-1980s, rises to a 2nd peak in 1990, then begins a long, steady decline. The match isn't perfect, but it has interesting characteristics that are close to providing a positive correlation.

Remember, correlation is NOT causation. The incidence of shark attacks at a beach correlates very nicely with how high ice cream sales are at the same beach, but this does not indicate that sharks like to have their dessert served along with the entree. In the case of the shark, a third factor comes into play. More people are at the beach and in the water when it is hot. More people means more ice cream sales and more possibility of shark attack. Correlation is not causation, but it may indicate that some common factors are in play.

The match between murder and abortion is nice, but ultimately, it doesn't make very much sense. Would a woman really have an abortion simply because someone she knew got murdered? It is quite possible that something in the culture encouraged general violence in those years, but I couldn't see a mechanism for causation. I've heard a lot of reasons given for abortion. I've never heard a woman say, "Yes, I had an abortion because my lover/friend/neighbor got murdered."

But then I ran into this.

When I first saw the graph, I missed it. As you can see from the chart, women aged 40-44 don't get pregnant much. They make up less than 3% of the births in any given year, so it's not like they contribute much to the abortion rate through the abortions they have. I ignored it the first time I looked at it.

Then I looked through all the charts again. Hmmm....  The curve matched so very, very well! It's nearly a perfect inverse correlation. When women 40-44 have babies, the abortion rate for all women is low. When this age cohort stops having babies, the abortion rate for all women is high. When they begin to have babies again, the abortion rate for all women drops. The years match almost perfectly, the correlation is beautiful.

And then I realized it makes an enormous amount of sense. The women in this age cohort are the mothers of the adult women who are actually having babies. These women are the cultural leaders in the feminine world. When older women value children, their daughters have grandchildren. When these older women do not value children, their daughters abort the grandchildren.

The celebrities of the 1980s didn't have or celebrate their pregnancies. The 40-year old celebrities of the 1990s and 2000s do. The baby bumps of these older celebrity women are doing a lot more to curb the abortion rate than the prosecution of Kermit Gosnell (of whom 9 of 10 Americans have never heard).

And this is exactly what the Catholic Church has always taught. What you teach the children doesn't matter nearly as much as what you teach the adults. Even adult children mirror and reflect back the values of their middle-aged parents.

Educating or using contraception or abstinence, passing laws or not passing laws, welfare or wealth, none of it matters. What matters? The culture leaders: the 40-50 cohort. Convince them that abortion is a bad idea, and abortion drops. That's the only way to win. Get the parents.

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