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A new study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, a private research group that supports abortion rights, has found that in 2011, the rate of abortions dropped to a level last seen in 1973.
Study authors say anti-abortion laws were not a significant factor in the decline of abortions rates. Study co-author Rachel Jones joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to explain the research findings.
Americans United for Life, a group apposed to abortion calls the conclusions of the study “strained.” (Read the group’s full statement here.)
The study, “Abortion Incidence and Service Availability in the United States, 2011,” is available online here and will appear in the March 2014 issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.
On criticism the study downplays the impact of anti-abortion education and laws
“They’re trying to argue that more women who got pregnant, fewer of them were choosing to have abortion. But if that were the case, we would expect to see an increase in the birthrates. And what we actually saw was a substantial decline in birthrates as well, a 9 percent decline in birthrates over the same time period. So it wasn’t just fewer women having abortions, it was fewer women getting pregnant.”
On what she believes caused fewer pregnancies and fewer abortions
“The best available evidence suggests that more women were using highly effective contraceptive methods such as the IUD, and so this is likely a contributing factor to the decline in abortion, as well as to the decline in births. The anti-choice people, they don’t support, they don’t promote access to contraception and sometimes they try to impede it, so again, they don’t get credit for this decline.”
On a shift in medical versus surgical abortions
“One the things we monitor in this study are types of abortion procedures — so there’s surgical abortion and there’s early medication abortion, which is done with the drug mifepristone, also known as RU46. And one of the findings from this study is that even while the total number of abortions was declining, reliance on early medication abortion was increasing.”
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. And there's been lots of reaction today to that new study showing a sharp decline in the number of abortions in the U.S., researchers finding that in 2011, rates dropped to a level last seen in 1973, when abortion was first legalized in all 50 states.
The study was conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, a private research group that supports abortion rights. The authors concluded that new laws restricting abortion were not a significant factor in the decline of abortion rates, partly because many of those laws were passed after their study was conducted.
But Americans United for Life, a group opposed to abortion, disagreed. They say the study understated the impact of anti-abortion education and laws. Dr. Rachel Jones co-authored the study. She joins us from the Guttmacher Institute, where she's senior research associated. Dr. Jones, welcome.
RACHEL JONES: Thank you so much for having me, Robin.
YOUNG: And take up that criticism first. Carole Joffe, an historian of abortion at the University of California San Francisco, told the New York Times that while the effects of anti-abortion drives might be hard to quantify, they may have effectively stigmatized abortion. You say what?
JONES: I agree with Carole that the anti-choice folks have certainly increased the stigmatization of abortion, but they don't get credit for this decline. So first off, you know, we had a 13-percent decline in abortion between 2008 and 2011. And I think they're trying to argue that fewer women - you know, more women who got pregnant, fewer of them were choosing to have abortions.
But if that were the case, we would expect to see an increase in the birth rates, and what we actually saw was a substantial decline in birth rates, as well, a 9 percent decline in birth rates over the same time period. So it wasn't just fewer women having abortions, it was fewer women getting pregnant.
YOUNG: And so what's your conclusion as to what's leading to both?
JONES: Right, so the best available evidence suggests that more women were using highly effective contraceptive methods, such as the IUD, and so this is likely a contributing factor to the decline in abortion, as well as to the decline in births. The anti-choice people, they don't support, they don't promote access to contraception, and sometimes they try to impede it. So again, they don't get credit for this decline.
YOUNG: Well, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that states across the country passed 44 laws tightening regulation of abortions between 2008 and 2010, when you did the study, another 62 laws in just 2011 alone. And you did note that at least some of these laws combined to force the closure of clinics that would not only perform abortions but give women advice about prevention.
JONES: Well, so in the study itself, we didn't find any strong evidence that any of the laws implemented during the study period explained the decline in abortion or the change in abortion providers. The important caveat to that is that, you know, the laws that were implemented in 2011, many of them didn't go into effect until later in the year, and so we wouldn't necessarily be - see them reflected in statistics for 2011.
But of course, you know, moving forward we're going to be monitoring if and to what extent these types of restrictions are impeding access to abortion services.
YOUNG: Are all abortions, all kinds of abortions, reduced?
JONES: So one of the things we monitor in this study are types of abortion procedures. So there's surgical abortion, and there's early medication abortion, which is done with the drug mifepristone, also known as RU-486. And one of the findings from this study is that even while the total number of abortions was declining, reliance on early medication abortion was increasing.
YOUNG: And just to be clear, you're not referring to the morning after pill, which is not an abortant, it's a prevention.
JONES: Right, the morning after pill is a type of birth control. It prevents a pregnancy from occurring. Early medication abortion is used to end an existing or diagnosed pregnancy.
YOUNG: Within the first nine weeks.
YOUNG: So what else do you conclude from your study?
JONES: Well, so the take-home for us is that the abortion rate declined 13 percent over a relatively short period we regard it to be a potentially positive thing since it seems that, again, the best available evidence suggests that increased access to highly contraceptive methods was contributing to this decline. And so anything that can help women, you know, plan their pregnancies and avoid unintended pregnancies is a good thing.
YOUNG: So pretty much you are concluding that the best way to reduce abortions is to prevent them in the first place. And just to underscore it, you're also talking about more foolproof, long-term contraceptives perhaps leading to this decline in abortions.
YOUNG: And just to underscore it, you're also talking about more foolproof, long-term contraceptives perhaps leading to this decline in abortions.
JONES: Right, so again in the more recent study, again, the best available evidence suggests increased reliance on highly effective methods such as the IUD. Our hope is that this increased reliance on methods such as the IUD and these other highly effective methods will continue to increase, especially now that the Affordable Care Act is starting to be implemented, more women are going to have health insurance.
One important factor with health insurance now is that women don't have to pay out of pocket for their contraceptive methods, and so hopefully again that will make hormonal methods and prescription methods more available to more women.
YOUNG: Rachel Jones, senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute, the private research group that supports abortion rights and has come out with a new study showing a decline in abortions between 2008 and 2011. Dr. Jones, thanks so much.
JONES: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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