Obamacare Not Responsible for U.S. Abortion Decline

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In November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its Abortion Surveillance report for 2013. It showed that the abortion rate in the U.S. continued its steady decline. In the 46 states reporting data for both 2012 and 2013, the overall number of abortions fell by almost five percent. The decline was widespread, as the number of abortions fell in 41 of the 46 states that reported data for each of these two years. In fact, the U.S. abortion rate has declined consistently since it peaked in 1980 – falling by over 40 percent since that time.

Most of the coverage and analysis of abortion trends tends to produce more heat than light. There is a substantial body of academic research which shows that public funding restrictions, parental involvement laws, and properly designed informed consent laws all reduce abortion rates. Furthermore, good data from the Guttmacher Institute shows that since 1994, a higher percentage of women facing unintended pregnancies are carrying them to term.

However, these facts and figures get relatively little attention from the mainstream media. Instead, many commentators reflexively credit contraception for the U.S. abortion decline. Now it is true that some measures of contraception use have increased. However, the unintended pregnancy rate has remained fairly stable over the years. As such, it is unlikely that contraception use is playing a major role in America’s long term abortion decline.

This year, however, some commentators on the left are putting a different spin on the abortion decline.  They are arguing that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act is responsible for the reduction in the abortion rate. Amy Sullivan, a pro-life leaning Democrat who writes for Yahoo News, tweeted that the Affordable Care Act was “the largest abortion reduction effort in U.S. history.” Similar arguments have been put forth by both Liz Birge writing for dailykos.com and the editorial board of the Portland Press Herald. In her tweets, Sullivan argues that the 2013 abortion decline was due to the fact that the Affordable Care Act increased access to health insurance plans which cover contraception.

That said, there are several flaws with Sullivan’s analysis. First, the timing of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act makes it unlikely it had anything to do with the 2013 abortion decline. Many states did not vote to expand their Medicaid program until midway through 2013 and some of these expansions did not formally take effect until 2014. Additionally, several states have not expanded Medicaid at all.  Furthermore, the Healthcare.gov website where people could purchase health insurance through state based exchanges did not go online until October 2013.

Also, the five percent abortion decline in 2013 was consistent with the abortion decline in previous years. Indeed, according to the CDC, the U.S. abortion rate fell by around 5 percent in both 2011 and 2012. Finally, a number of studies have found that a very small percentage of sexually active women who do not use contraception cite either cost or lack of access as the reason.  Considering that there are already programs in place to subsidize contraception for low income women, it is unlikely that the Affordable Care Act did much to increase contraception use.

That said, the Affordable Care Act, may actually have lowered the abortion rate, but not in the way that Sullivan, Birge, and others think. The unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act led to large Republican gains in many state legislatures in both the 2010 and 2014 election cycles. That has made it easier to enact protective pro-life laws.  For instance, in 2013 Texas enacted legislation which required all doctors who perform abortions to maintain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and all abortions to be performed in hospital-like surgical facilities. In one year, the number of abortions performed in Texas fell by 14 percent. Unfortunately statistics on the efficacy of pro-life laws receive scant attention from the mainstream media.

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Michael J. New is a Visiting Associate Professor of Economics at Ave Maria University and an Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

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About Author

MICHAEL J. NEW, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan – Dearborn. He is also an Adjunct Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the Research and Education Arm of the Susan B. Anthony List. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Dartmouth College, Dr. New received a master’s degree in statistics and a doctorate in political science from Stanford University in 2002. Before coming to Michigan, Dr. New worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard-MIT Data Center and later taught at The University of Alabama. Dr. New researches and writes about the social science of pro-life issues. He gives presentations on both the positive impact of pro-laws and the gains in public support for the pro-life position. He is a frequent blogger on National Review Online's "The Corner." Dr. New's study pro-life legislation was recently published by State Politics and Policy Quarterly. Four of his other studies on the effects of pro-life legislation have been published by the Heritage Foundation and another study was published by Family Research Council in 2008.

4 Comments

  1. ” Considering that there are already programs in place to subsidize contraception for low income women, it is unlikely that the Affordable Care Act did much to increase contraception use.”. Is that reasoning not a contradictions in Catholic teaching? Consider the contraception plight of “The Little Sisters”.

    The AHC, Obamacare must be popular when one considers that there are 20 million low income Americans that had NO coverage before. Glad you mentioned the Republicans. Trump, not one, campaigned on repealing AHC. With a swipe of his pen it would be gone. Then after the election he “walked back” on one of his many false offers to “make America Great Again”. As if we were not great. He was foolishly turned lose by his advisers to a point where Rudy Giuliani began to feel weary. His TV spots showed the effects of constantly buttressing the Donald. The decline in US abortions cannot be attributed to anything Trump has done or said.

    The question on abortion is, and has always been, striking a compromise among Christians. That level of agreement is very difficult, if not impossible. Reconciling our differences on a relatively simple matter like contraception seems daunting. If Roe v Wade is repealed the laws would change to make abortion a crime. Least of all placing a woman and her doctor under arrest for a medically determined abortion to save the mother’s life or health would not set well with Trump.

    • The teaching against contraception is within the context of a married couple looking to faithfully keep their physical intimacy both unitive and procreative. A person having sexual relations outside of marriage is already going against one teaching and already compromising on the full meaning of their act. I see it futile and harmful to hold up the teaching of avoiding contraception for persons engaging in intercourse outside of marriage. This is where one can be both faithful and practical. Practicing contraception does give one certain protections against disease and unwanted pregnancy. If one is stressing faithfulness, then one must honor ALL of the teachings and save sex for marriage and practice natural family planning within marriage. Otherwise, concern for preserving life and health argues that a person who ALREADY makes the decision to have sex outside of marriage is objectively better off using contraception both for themselves and for society. Again, one avoids contraception to obtain the full meaning of the act and this is already not possible if one is practicing the act outside of marriage.

  2. The level of duplicity on this website is astounding. Publish the headline for everyone to see: “Obamacare Not Responsible for U.S. Abortion Decline.”

    Only those who read all the way through the story get to this little gem: “That said, the Affordable Care Act, may actually have lowered the abortion rate…”

    Oh, and you fail to mention that prior to the Affordable Care Act, pregnancy was a pre-existing condition in 29 states.

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