Abortions down, babies up
The birth rate has soared while the abortion rate has taken a sharp downward turn. That sounds like good news. Is it?
First, the abortion rate. Both the pro-life and pro-choice advocates are pleased that the number of U.S. abortions have reached their lowest rate since 1974. Both, not surprisingly, have their own explanations for the decline.
Pro-life advocates are claiming the decline is a direct result of pro-life laws such as parental notice and informed consent. Makes sense—except that some of the states with the biggest abortion rate declines do not have restrictive abortion policies. Oregon, for instance, had the second largest abortion rate decline — 25% from 2000 to 2005. And it’s considered the “least pro-life state” by at least one pro-life organization.
The pro-choice side credits the decline in abortions to increased access to emergency contraception. Not only are there fewer abortions, but more are occurring earlier in pregnancy, with 90% occurring in the first trimester, which indicates that women have become better informed of their options. (More abortions were administered via medication, as well. )
Still, with abortion access becoming more of a challenge for women throughout the U.S., one has to wonder if this decline is entirely good news. The U.S., after all, still has the highest unintended pregnancy rate of any developed country. Considering that the rate of teen pregnancies also increased for the first time in 15 years, and that 37% of all U.S. births are to single mothers, the decrease in abortion rates could mean an increase in unwanted pregnancies carried to term. At this point, it’s not clear what factors are at play.
Now, about those babies. It was announced this week that 4.3 million babies were born in 2006—the highest number since 1961. This increase has officially been declared a “boomlet.” (That’s a mini-boom, for you laypeople out there. It’s too early to declare this an official boom.) Once again, those on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum have taken their stands on the issue. According to the Feminist Majority Foundation, the increase in births was caused by dramatic cutbacks in family planning funding and abortion access. (Didn’t we hear something about a decline in abortion rates? Sounds familiar.)
According to the Catholic News Agency, another reason for the boomlet is “better economic opportunities for American mothers returning to work.” (And what would those be, exactly?) The CNA adds that “cultural” reasons may be at play, as certain regions of the U.S. are more “accepting” of children. People in the South and Midwest, for example, adore their offspring, while here in the Northeast, we loathe babies. Pudgy, horrible, delicious babies.
According to the Associated Press, the increased number is mostly due to a larger population, including a larger Hispanic population—a group that accounted for one-quarter of all U.S. births. In addition, they cite four fairly depressing factors accounting for the rise: a decline in contraceptive use, a drop in access to abortion, poor education, and poverty.
Economists say that this rise in population is good news. It means that we won’t have to face the labor shortages that come with a dwindling population. But surely the increased number of children born don’t just represent labor-providing hordes. Surely their quality of life means something. (Right?) If these children face lives of hardship and poverty, or neglect and abuse from parents who didn’t want them, it’s hard to see what reason there is to celebrate. No one, of course, can determine how much these children will suffer, but right now, the odds don’t seem to favor far too many of them.
Teen pregnancies on the rise
Birth Rates are Increasing Dramatically