Empowering women to take control over their own bodies—not stripping them of that right—is the real path to lowering unwanted pregnancies and abortion rates, according to a new study released Monday.
Issued in a report by the Guttmacher Institute, the study's findings show that the national abortion rate in 2011 fell to its lowest since 1973 and that it was access to quality contraceptives, not draconian state-level laws restricting that access, which deserve credit for the decline.
"With abortion rates falling in almost all states," said Rachel Jones, lead author of the study, "our study did not find evidence that the national decline in abortions during this period was the result of new state abortion restrictions."
Rather, Jones continued, "the decline in abortions coincided with a steep national drop in overall pregnancy and birth rates. Contraceptive use improved during this period, as more women and couples were using highly effective long-acting reversible contraceptive methods, such as the IUD. Moreover, the recent recession led many women and couples to want to avoid or delay pregnancy and childbearing."
Beginning in 2011, state efforts to restrict abortion have surged, according to Guttmacher research. States enacted 205 abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2013, more than in the entire previous decade combined. "Over the past three years, we have seen an unparalleled attack on abortion rights at the state level, and these new restrictions are making it harder for women to access services and for providers to keep clinic doors open," says Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at Guttmacher. "As we monitor trends in abortion going forward, it is critical that we also monitor whether these state restrictions are preventing women who need abortion services from accessing them."
Women's health experts and reproductive rights advocates said the results of the research show the misguided approach by those trying to legislate away a woman's right to choose an abortion and a firm rebuttal against trying to limit access to contraceptives or reproductive health services.
“This report shows that rates of pregnancy dropped overall, and so did the rate of abortion," said president of Planned Parenthood Cecile Richards in response. "The report concludes that access to a range of birth control methods is playing an important role in reducing unintended pregnancy and decreasing the need for abortion. This report comes just as some politicians and corporations are trying to make it harder for women to get birth control by chipping away at the historic benefit in the Affordable Care Act that requires insurance plans to cover birth control without a copay."
The report also comes as the political fight over reproductive issues reaches a new boiling point as Republican-controlled state governments continue their assault on women's basic rights.
As the Washington Post notes:
Religious groups are locked in a closely watched battle with the Obama administration over new rules that require employers to offer birth control free of charge as part of their health insurance benefit packages. The Supreme Court will decide this year whether employers with religious objections may opt out of those rules.
State legislatures are preparing to push through another raft of restrictive laws, after a record-setting period that saw the enactment dozens of new regulations that critics say will impede women’s access to abortion.
The new laws include requirements that women undergo ultrasounds before obtaining abortions, as well as licensing and inspection requirements for abortion providers.
Nine states banned the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy, part of a national effort by abortion opponents to force the Supreme Court to revisit the legality of abortion.