Monday, October 31, 2005

Abortion in America

Recently a group of progressives, operating under the think tank Third Way, made headlines with their new study, The Politics of Polarization. It was intended to be a wakeup call to fellow Democrats, urging them to abandon a number of myths in order to start winning elections and appealing to moderates in the center.

Who are the folks behind Third Way? According to their website, "The management team of Third Way, and its sister organization, the Third Way Institute, is composed of political entrepreneurs who have served in senior positions in Congress and the Clinton Administration and also have extensive experience running successful national advocacy groups."

What then is their purpose? "Third Way is a new and unique political organization: a strategy center for progressives. Third Way develops policy and communications products to help senators and other progressive leaders better advance their values in red states and counties where progressive ideas have lost resonance."

They have now released an "issues brief" on the issue of abortion: The Demographics of Abortion: The Great Divide Between Abortion Rhetoric and Abortion Reality.

One of their goals is to put "the right on defensive." Far from feeling defensive, however, I found their study to be very illuminating and very well put together, and highly recommend it to all who are concerned about abortion. It has five parts:

Part I: Who Has Abortions?
Part II: Why Do Women Have Abortions?
Part III: When Do Women Have Abortions?
Part IV: Where Do Women Have Abortions?
Part V: What Does It Mean To Be Pregnant and Unmarried?

Most of us know that since 1973 (the landmark year of Roe v. Wade) there have been 40 million abortions in America. But if you are like me, that number has become an abstraction. One of the most helpful things about reading this brief is to see that number broken down. 1 of every 3 American women will have an abortion by the age of 45.

What follows is an outline and recap of their study:

Part I: Who Has Abortions?

1. More than 1 in 5 pregnancies end in abortion. (Typical year = 4.1 million live births, 1.3 million abortions, 900,000 miscarriages. 21% of all pregnancies end in abortion, 14% in miscarriage, and 65% in birth. When miscarriages are factored out, one in four of the remaining pregnancies end in abortion.)

2. Abortion rates in the U.S. have been steadily declining. (All-time high was 1.6 million in 1990; the latest year available for info, 2000, showed the number at 1.3 million. From 1995 to 2002, the number of teens having sex declined. Also during this time period, contraceptive use was on the rise.)

3. 75% of all abortions are to women under 30. (Median age = 24. Nearly 1 in 5 abortions are performed on teenages. 1 in 3 are performed on women between ages 20 and 24. 1 in 4 are performed on women over 30.)

4. Most women who have abortions are unmarried. (Less than 1 in 5 are married.)

5. When a teenager becomes pregnant, abortion is a likely result. (For girls under 15, there are 8 abortions to ever 10 live births. For girls 15-19, there are 4 abortion to ever 10 live births.)

6. Women who have abortions tend to be low income, but that could be a factor of their age rather than their poverty status. (Only 1 in 5 cite inadequate finances as a reason for seeking an abortion.)

7. Whites account for the most abortions, but relative to their population, Blacks and Hispanics have a disproportionate share of abortions. (Whites are 69% of the national population and have 41% of the nation's abortions. Blacks are 12% of the population and have 32% of the abortions. Hispanics are 13% of the population and have 20% of the abortions.)

8. There is a vast gap between the rhetorical positions that religious leaders take on abortion and the actual practices of the laity in those religions. (Catholics are 24% of the population and have 27% of the abortions. Protestants are 49% of the population and have 43% of the abortions. 13% of those having abortions are self-described Born-Again or Evangelical Christians.)

9. At the time most women have an abortion they already have a child. Half have had a previous abortion.

Part II: Why Do Women Have Abortions?

"Reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies by 10% would eliminate more abortions in three days than would banning late term abortions over the course of a full year."

1. Half of all pregnancies are unplanned; most unplanned pregnancies lead to abortion.
(For every 100 pregancies in America, 52 were planned and 48 were unplanned. Among the unintended 48%, the percentage of abortions to live births is 54% to 46%.

2. Very few abortions are performed because of fetal abnormalities, health of the mother, rape or incest. (3% cite fetal abnormalities; 3% cite health; 1% cite rape or incest.)

3. There is no single dominant reason that women choose to have an abortion, but there is one overwhelming factor: the pregnancy was unplanned.

4. When a teenager has an abortion, parents are often a factor in the decision. (30% of minors seeking abortion attributed their decision in part to the fact that their parents wanted them to have an abortion. Parents of pregnant daughters favor abortion over childbirth 4 to 1.)

Part III: When Do Women Have Abortions?

1. Roughly 9 out of 10 abortions are performed in the first trimester. (88% occur within 12 weeks--the end of the first trimester.)

2. The reason most women give for having an abortion after 16 weeks was not realizing they were pregnant.

3. The most likely person to have a later term abortion is a girl under age 15.

Part IV: Where Do Women Have Abortions?

1. Though abortion rates are generally lower in culturally conservative states, they are still very high.

2. Most abortions occur in the state where the woman lives.

3. It is unclear whether strict parental consent laws have an impact on teen abortion rates. (9 of the 10 states that attract the most out-of-state abortions have moderate to strict parental consent laws.)

Part V: What Does It Mean To Be Pregnant and Unmarried?

1. There is no correlation between out-of-wedlock births and abortion rates.

2. The ratio of teen abortions to adult abortions is the same in states with strong, moderate, and weak parental consent laws.
("It is quite possible that if teens were forced to notify
parents of a pregnancy, abortion rates would go up, not down.")