Abortion rates are going down -- except in states where access is most restricted

Michigan & Louisiana are the only states that saw more abortions. But the bump isn't from their own residents

Published June 8, 2015 3:02PM (EDT)

  (AP/Beck Diefenbach)
(AP/Beck Diefenbach)

Abortion rates across the country have declined significantly in recent years, according to a new report from the Associated Press. And, as is invariably the case with anything having to do with abortion, there is little consensus about what's going on.

Let's start with what the AP discovered:

Several of the states that have been most aggressive in passing anti-abortion laws — including Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Oklahoma — have seen their abortion numbers drop by more than 15 percent since 2010. But more liberal states such as New York, Washington and Oregon also had declines of that magnitude, even as they maintained unrestricted access to abortion.

Nationwide, the AP survey showed a decrease in abortions of about 12 percent since 2010.

One major factor has been a decline in the teen pregnancy rate, which in 2010 reached its lowest level in decades. There's been no official update since then, but the teen birth rate has continued to drop, which experts say signals a similar trend for teen pregnancies.

Unsurprisingly, there's a divide between pro-choice and anti-choice activists when it comes to explaining the drop in abortion rates. Reproductive rights advocates claim the reduction is due to increased access to affordable contraception -- especially long-term birth control methods such as IUDs -- that allow women to more effectively avoid unintended pregnancy. Opponents of abortion, however, claim it's because women are changing their attitudes to become more pro-life.

Regardless, what the report makes clear is that reducing access to abortion doesn't necessarily reduce the need for abortion -- a phenomenon made clear by two of the states most successful at restricting the procedure.

The AP found that the only two states that saw increases in abortion rates in the past several years were Michigan and Louisiana -- two Republican-led states that have each passed a number of laws since 2010 meant to limit access to abortion care. In Louisiana, abortions increased 12 percent in four years, the same rate by which they decreased in the rest of the country; in Michigan, the rate went up 18.5 percent. And while there might be debate over why rates went down elsewhere, the AP has a pretty good guess as to why the two states saw increases:

In both Louisiana and in Michigan ... the increases were due in part to women coming from other states where new restrictions and clinic closures have sharply limited abortion access. Anti-abortion groups said many Ohio women were going to Michigan and many Texas women to Louisiana.

Abortion foes in Texas, which saw more than two dozen clinic closures last year and is still wrapped up in litigation over its most recent abortion restrictions, might want to brag about legislation that limits women's access to care -- but those laws don't seem to be reducing abortion rates in the aggregate, as women are simply going elsewhere to terminate their pregnancies.

And, as some reproductive rights advocates note, the trend could provide solid evidence for their hypothesis that widespread birth control access is contributing to decreased abortion rates: Michigan, which has has made major cuts to family planning in recent years, doesn't seem to have many women displaying shifted attitudes about their unintended pregnancies.

But maybe those women are just coming from out of state.

By Jenny Kutner

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