Abortions down, births up ­ what could be wrong with that?

Some people will find those trends depressing,
but they’re not going with the flow.

by Michael Harmon
January 18, 2008
Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

I suppose you can’t blame a pro-life activist organization for considering it “stunning” that the number of abortions in the United States in 2005 had dropped 8 percent in the previous five years — and a full 25 percent since 1990.

True, those figures are good news. Especially considering their source, the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which once was affiliated with the nation’s largest abortion “provider,” Planned Parenthood.

The AGI report said that, even though Americans were aborting babies at a rate of 1.6 million a year as of 1990, by 2005 the total had dropped to just a bit more than 1.2 million.

Put in more direct terms, in 2005 we only wiped out a number of human beings roughly equivalent to the population of the state of Maine, as opposed to the rough equivalent of the state of Nebraska.

But the National Right to Life Committee’s news release called the news “wonderfully encouraging,” and it is, there’s no doubt about it — as long as you’re one of those Americans who think that killing babies is a bad thing to do.

However, let’s examine why the NRLC is so optimistic, and why that welcome upbeat message still sounds a bit off to me.

Yes, the optimism is justified: As the NRLC notes, the news that the abortion total is dropping went “hand-in-hand with a decrease in the abortion rate and the abortion ratio.”

That is, in 2005, there were 19.1 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44. In 1981, the abortion rate reached a high of 29.3 and did not drop below 25 until 1994.

Further, the ratio of abortions per 100 pregnant women (minus miscarriages) also declined, from 30.4 in 1983 to 22.4 in 2005.

This means that the decline is real, not just the artifact of a decrease in the total number of women of childbearing age.

Though the AGI offered a number of explanations for the trend, including “better contraceptive use” and “lower levels of unintended pregnancies,” it also concluded that “more women (are) carrying unintended pregnancies to term.”

Why might they being doing that? The NRLC points to polls done by the Gallup organization in the mid-1990s that concluded that the campaign to ban partial-birth abortion (in which a baby is pulled from its mother’s womb up to its neck, its skull is punctured and its brains vacuumed out) had a strongly positive effect on Americans’ views on the issue.

Curious, I logged on to the Gallup site to see what people were saying now. I’ve often said that polls are snapshots of opinion, not set in concrete, and the site showed that attitudes had in fact changed since the 1990s.

The major summary page (www.gallup.com/poll/1576/Abortion.aspx) revealed some interesting things.

First, both opponents and supporters of abortion can find results that reflect their views there. But let me cite a section labeled “The Bottom Line”:

“Americans support restrictions on abortion that, if enacted, would make abortion less accessible than it is today. But there is scant evidence the public is anxious to see these changes made.
Few call the issue a priority, and when asked in general terms about changing abortion laws, most Americans seem opposed.”

However, the site also says, “Yet, when they are asked whether abortion should be legal in all cases, most cases, only a few cases, or no cases, more than half choose one of the latter two categories.”

So people “opposed” to changes in the law also want the law changed to make abortion legal in only “a few” or “no” cases.

Perhaps the person who wrote this ought to go back and look at the data again. People may want to preserve abortion for the so-called “hard cases,” but there’s lots of room to protect life though law. And each successful change creates another swing in opinion — which, remember, isn’t set in concrete.

Meanwhile, another story was breaking this week. Under the headline, “Against the Trend, U.S. Births Way Up,” The Associated Press reported that the total number of U.S. births came in at 4.3 million in 2006, the highest number since 1961.

Since people — by their creativity, labor and mutually enriching presence — are our greatest natural resource, that’s unalloyed good news.

So is the fact that “the United States has a higher fertility rate than every country in continental Europe, as well as Australia, Canada and Japan.”

Still, next Tuesday is the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that permitted abortion anytime for any reason. So, my heart and my prayers will be with the hundreds of thousands of people rallying for life this weekend.

But as good as this week’s news is, it remains horrifyingly true that those to whom a little baby’s life is entrusted by the Creator still snuff it out 1.2 million times a year — nearly 50 million times since Jan. 22, 1973, the date Roe was decided.

So I will wait until the day human life is welcomed in fact and protected by law, from conception until natural death.

Then, when I lift a glass to say, “L’Chaim!”, that toast will have its full meaning restored.

M.D. Harmon is an editorial writer for the Portland Press Herald, and he is a Deacon serving at Prince of Peace CEC in Sanford, ME. He can be contacted at: mharmon@pressherald.com

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