The rate of decline in abortions slowed during President Bush’s first term, but abortions did not increase, contradicting earlier and widely quoted claims by a Baptist ethicist.
Glenn Stassen of Fuller Theological Seminary in October wrote an opinion piece claiming abortions, which have declined since the 1980s, were creeping back up under Bush. Based on data he could find from 16 states, Stassen estimated that about 50,000 more abortions occurred in 2002 than would have been expected if abortions had continued to decline at the rate they did during the Clinton presidency.
In the article, carried by Sojourners and EthicsDaily.com, Stassen contended that despite Bush’s pro-life stance, his economic policies had ironically caused abortions to rise due to factors such as lost jobs and lack of health insurance.
Democrats, including John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean, repeated Stassen’s claim.
Stassen’s surprising findings prompted the Alan Guttmacher Institute to investigate. After studying 46 states, AGI estimated that the number of abortions in the United States actually declined by 0.8 percent between 2001 and 2002, rather than increase.
“It takes time for political decisions to be reflected in the statistical data, so it is too soon to tell what the impact of Bush administration policies will be on U.S. abortion rates,” said Sharon Camp, president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute.
Stassen issued a statement saying the AGI figures “are significantly better than what I could have obtained seven months ago.”
“The data show that the dramatic decline in number of abortions of the ’90s to 300,000 fewer abortions per year has now stalled almost to a stop,” Stassen said. “My initial study thought it had actually reversed. We will watch to see what happens in the next few years.”
After it was legalized nationwide in 1973, the U.S. abortion rate peaked in 1980. From 1990 onward, the rate declined substantially. Between 1992 and 1996, abortions declined by an average of 3.6 percent a year. Between 1996 and 2000 the decline slowed to 1.2 percent a year.
The annualized decline between 2000 and 2002, according to AGI, was 0.9 percent a year, “suggesting that the last two years reflect a continuation of the trend of the late 1990s, albeit at a slightly slower rate of decline.”
The report says it is hard to explain changes in the abortion rate without more data. Abortion may decline because fewer women experience unintended pregnancies, due to factors like availability of birth control, sex education or abstinence. Or it could be because greater numbers of women with unplanned pregnancies are giving birth, either by choice or because they lack access to an abortion provider.
Stassen said part of the AGI report, which notes that from 1994 to 2000 the abortion rate actually increased among poor women and women on Medicaid, supports his conclusion that the financial condition of mothers is an important factor in their having abortions.
It also fits, he said, with an increase in infant mortality in 2002, the first since the Centers for Disease Control began reporting that statistic in 1940.
“When the financial condition of mothers declined, and the number of persons without medical insurance increased by several million, and many neighborhood clinics and emergency rooms closed, infant mortality rates increased,” Stassen said. “We will be watching to see if this also happened in 2003 and 2004.”
According to an AGI report in January 2003 on abortion trends between 1973 and 2002:
–White women account for the majority of abortions, but abortion rates are highest among blacks and Hispanics.
–Poor and low-income women account for more than one-half of U.S. abortions.
–More than 80 percent of women having abortions are unmarried, and more than half have been mothers.
–Many women seeking abortions have had one previously.
–Nearly 90 percent of abortions occur during the first three months of pregnancy.
–The number of U.S. abortion providers rose until 1982 but has declined ever since. About one-third of women live in a county with no abortion provider.
–While the abortion rate rose after legalization before beginning to decline in the 1980s, deaths of women from abortion declined radically after legalization in 1973.
Even with the decline extending into 2002, nearly one pregnancy in four (24.2 percent) ended in abortion, according to the new AGI study.
Stassen’s earlier claim that abortions were rising was challenged by the Annenberg Political Fact Check, a non-partisan “consumer advocate” dedicated to reducing deception and confusion in U.S. politics.
Associated with the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, the group said Stassen’s “broad conclusion wasn’t justified by the sketchy information he cited.”
Democrats nevertheless seized on the report.
As recently as May 25, Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean claimed on “Meet the Press” that abortions have gone up 25 percent since Bush became president. That’s far more than Stassen’s original estimate, which would have been an increase of less than 4 percent. Annenberg asked the DNC where Dean got the figure but did not receive a reply.
Another recent report by Annenberg debunked a multimillion-dollar ad campaign by Republicans blaming Democrats for the fact that “courtrooms sit empty,” delaying justice “for thousands of Americans.”
“In fact, there are now half as many judicial vacancies as when Bush took office,” the report concludes. “And of the 46 federal judgeships that remain vacant, Bush has named only 16 replacements.”
Statistics also show that cases are typically decided more quickly now than they were in 1999, when it was Republicans who were opposing Clinton’s judicial nominees.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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