Abortions down dramatically across blue and red states

Both abortion-rights and anti-abortion activists cheer the findings by the Associated Press, but they differ on what's behind the trend.

Tamir Kalifa/AP/File
Abortion-rights advocates fill the rotunda of the State Capitol in Texas as state senators wrap up debate on sweeping abortion restrictions in 2013.

Across both red and blue states in America, fewer women are having abortions, according to a new survey by the Associated Press.

Abortion rates dropped 12 percent nationwide during the past five years, the report found. The news is cause for celebration among both abortion-rights and antiabortion activists, who each claim that their tactics are behind the drop.

Antiabortion advocates say that more women are gaining an understanding of the humanity of a fetus – and so are choosing not to terminate their pregnancies. Abortion-rights advocates say the decline is linked to a decrease in the number of unplanned pregnancies thanks to easier access to contraception and sex education.  

What is clear, however, is that the trend does not appear to be linked solely to the spread of strict antiabortion laws in many red states – making abortions harder to get. In fact, five of the six states with the highest declines – Hawaii, New Mexico, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Connecticut – have not passed any recent laws to restrict access to abortions.

Yet abortions are also down in some of the states that have passed antiabortion laws. Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Oklahoma, saw abortions drop by more than 15 percent.

Though the trend so far appears to defy any one reason, it is significant. The number of abortions has reached a historic low in recent years. Already in 2011, the United States abortion rate had reached its lowest point since 1973, with 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights research group. 

Since 2011, abortion laws in many states have changed dramatically.

Some 267 abortion restrictions have been passed in 31 states, Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute told AP. In 2015, more than 300 new regulations have been proposed in 45 states, The New York Times reported.

Some of the new measures include bans on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and requirements that doctors who perform abortions at clinics also obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals – a higher standard that forces some clinics to close.

The new laws have led to the closure of about 70 abortion clinics in 12 states since 2010, according to AP. Texas, Michigan, and Arizona have seen the most abortion clinics close, with Texas’ total dropping by half.

The fact that the abortion rate dropped more in other states suggests that restrictive laws are not necessary to reduce abortions, abortion-rights advocates say.

"Better access to birth control and sex education are the biggest factors in reducing unintended pregnancies," Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told AP. "More restrictive abortion laws do not reduce the need for abortions."

Only two states saw a significant increase in abortions: Michigan and Louisiana. While both states did pass restrictive abortion laws, data suggest they have become magnets for women coming from neighboring states where abortion clinics have closed.

Michigan, for example, saw an 18.5 percent rise in the number of abortions between 2010 and 2014. Advocates on both sides agree this is because women are arriving from Ohio, where four abortion clinics closed in recent years. According to Michigan's health department, abortions for nonresidents jumped from 708 in 2013 to 1,318 in 2014, AP reported.

Antiabortion advocates in Louisiana attributed the rise to women arriving from Texas and Mississippi.

Hawaii experienced the biggest drop: 30 percent since 2010. Some abortion-rights advocates credit the state’s policy of teaching sex education in public schools, including information to help teens avoid unplanned pregnancies.

Changes to health insurance and the spread of more affordable contraception is also a factor, they add. Some forms of long-term contraception, such as hormonal implants, are now accessible to low-income women through the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid.

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