Jami430 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

September 18, 2019; Workforce, New York Times, and Washington Post

Abortions in the US are at their lowest levels in the United States since Roe v. Wade in 1973, but the reasons for this are inconclusive enough that both sides in this debate are claiming victory. One thing appears to be clear, however, there is no correlation between the wave of new state restrictions and the rate of abortions.

“Abortion rates decreased in almost every state, and there’s no clear pattern linking these declines to new restrictions,” said Elizabeth Nash, senior state policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute, which issued the findings in a report and policy analysis on Wednesday. The Washington Post says the report puts the 2017 rate at 13.5 per 1,000 women aged 15–44, relative to 14.6 in 2014 and 16.9 in 2011. Of the 862,320 abortions that year, around 39 percent were “medical,” meaning induced miscarriages through drugs rather than the use of surgical procedures.

Speaking to the New York Times, Nash says that “if restrictions were the main driver across the board, we’d expect birthrates to increase.”

In four of the states that enacted new restrictions between 2011 and 2017—North Carolina, Mississippi, Wyoming and Georgia—abortion rates actually rose. More than half the decline in the number of abortions during that time happened in states that did not pass restrictive abortion laws, she said.

The reasons for this drop may rest more with better access to contraceptives and fewer women becoming pregnant than with the restrictions on abortions and abortion providers passed in the last few years by state legislators. The use of long-term birth control methods (intrauterine devices and implants, now covered under the Affordable Care Act) may also account for the decrease. There is no simple way to tell.

Anti-abortion groups have discredited the Guttmacher report, saying the Institute is known for its support of a pro-abortion agenda. Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel for Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion organization, stated, “I’m sure that there are many factors that have contributed to the decline.”—Carole Levine