A recent report by the Guttmacher Institute reported that abortion rates in the United States had hit its lowest levels since 1973, and that the rate also declined in Arkansas by dropping from 13.6 abortions per every 1,000 women in 1991 to 7.6 abortions for every 1,000 in 2011.
Even though conservatives may want to point to an increase in restrictions for abortions in some states across the South and Midwest for the decline, the report said data would not back the assertion.
"While the study did not specifically investigate reasons for the decline, the authors note that the study period (2008–2011) predates the major surge in state-level abortion restrictions that started during the 2011 legislative session, and that many provisions did not go into effect until late 2011 or even later. The study also found that the total number of abortion providers declined by only 4% between 2008 and 2011, and the number of clinics (which provide the large majority of abortion services) declined by just 1%."
The report also noted that abortion is “a common experience.”
“At current rates, about one in three American women will have had an abortion by the time she reaches age 45. Moreover, a broad cross section of U.S. women have abortions. 58% of women having abortions are in their 20s; 61% have one or more children; 85% are unmarried; 69% are economically disadvantaged; and 73% report a religious affiliation,” noted the report.
The Guttmacher Institute advocates for “reproductive health and rights,” and supports access to abortion.
ABORTION REDUCTION DEBATE
Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right to Life — a pro-life group based in Little Rock — said she believed groups like her's were responsible for the drop.
"I think the pro-life movement as a whole should get some of the credit. We have been focusing on education over the last 40 years about the development of the unborn child during the first eight weeks (of gestation). Most abortions are done in the first trimester and many women are told it's just a clump of cells and that's just not true."
Director of Marketing and Communications Susan Allen of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which has offices in Fayetteville and Little Rock, did not credit the drop to the pro-life movement, but instead credited the accessibility of birth control for the drop.
"We believe the decline in abortion is largely due to improved access to contraception, and more effective methods of contraception — both of which reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy,” Allen said.
Allen pointed to the increase in the use of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) as being more effective than other birth control methods, which she said is likely a contributing factor in the abortion rate decline.
"LARCs are some of the most effective forms of birth control," she said.
ABORTION RESTRICTION ISSUES
While the study stated restrictions have not been a contributing factor in the drop in abortions, it did note that Arkansas has several restrictions on abortions. Among them, according to Guttmacher.org, are:
• A woman must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion and then wait until the next day before the procedure is provided;
• Health plans that will be offered in the state’s health exchange that will be established under the federal health care reform law can only cover abortion when the woman's life is endangered, rape or incest, unless an optional rider is purchased at an additional cost;
• The parent of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided; and
• Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest.
Mimms said a restriction that pro-life groups have pushed for in other states and which is simply optional in Arkansas is requiring women seeking abortions to see an ultrasound of the fetus.
"It's not required in all states, but in Arkansas we give them the option to see (an ultrasound). I've heard that the people that are outside the abortion center here in Little Rock, they ask the women to ask (their abortion provider) to see their ultrasounds. They've then come out holding the ultrasound (image) and have changed their mind. That is a great resource to be able to see the truth."
It's a point that Allen disputed, adding that an increasing number of abortions are taking place by medication instead of physical procedures, thereby eliminating any chance of individual women seeing an ultrasound of the fetus.
"Abortion restrictions do nothing to reduce abortion, they only make a woman's access to it more difficult," she said. "This new Guttmacher report underscores the need for a woman to have information and access to her full range of options, in consultation with a medical provider and without political interference. Similar to national trends, we have seen increase in the rate of medication abortion, which currently accounts for nearly 60% of the abortions Planned Parenthood of the Heartland provides. Medical abortion is a safe and effective method early in the pregnancy."