Editorial | What we should take away from the Guttmacher study on the decrease in abortions

It was news that made pro-lifers rejoice. A study released earlier this week by the Guttmacher Institute shows that abortion is at an all-time low since the 1973, the year of the Roe vs. Wade decision. This was the news coming from an organization founded by Planned Parenthood, later to be spun off as an independent entity.

The study showed that the national abortion rate declined to 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 in 2011. Between 2008-2011, the abortion rate fell 13 percent, resuming a long-term downward trend that stalled between 2005-2008.

While the study certainly seems like a victory for those who believe that every child has the right to life, it's important to remember that there are numerous factors that can be considered when looking at the decline in abortions.

The authors of the Guttmacher study said that there's no evidence that state-enacted abortion restrictions have contributed to the decline, but in Missouri that assessment can be easily disputed. In the last several years, Missouri made changes to an ambulatory surgical center licensing law and in 2005 passed a law that requires all doctors who perform abortions to have clinical privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where the abortion is performed.

Both of these laws led to a decrease in the number of abortion providers in Missouri. There is only one clinic left in the state that performs surgical or drug-induced abortions -- Planned Parenthood in St. Louis.

However, the study also noted that while the overall abortion rate has decreased, the proportion of abortions that were early medication procedures continued to increase. An estimated 239,400 early medication abortions were performed in 2011, representing 23 percent of all nonhospital abortions, an increase from 17 percent in 2008. The study estimated that 59 percent of all known abortion providers offer this service. But what was being assessed here were abortion drugs like RU-486. What wasn't considered were other drugs that can cause early abortions, such as Plan B, Ella or certain IUDs (intra-uterine devices). Remember, life begins at conception, not implantation.

But there's good news. The study showed that the abortion ratio -- in this case, the abortions per 100 pregnancies ending in abortion or live birth -- also has slightly declined over the years. In 2011, the abortion ratio was 21.2. In 1991, the abortion ratio was 27.4.

People on both sides of the abortion debate could spend all day debating the nuances of the report's statistics. This is a good time to clear the table and remind those in the pro-life movement -- those who work tirelessly to build a culture of life -- that we must continue to promote alternatives to abortion and other solutions that help women and men choose life for their unborn children.

A recent story in Cosmopolitan magazine that highlighted several couples' experiences with abortion showed an example of the perception that we don't do enough to support those who face crisis pregnancies. Cindy, a woman from New Jersey, described how angry she became at the protesters when she went to the clinic for her first abortion. She was 18 and in college. "I actually went back to my car to think, and then I got mad, like, if I have the baby, are they going to help me take care of it? Are they going to pay my grocery bills and rent?" Cindy recalled in the interview.

We cannot achieve our goal of building a culture of life if we are not providing adequate supports and resources to women like Cindy. We should promote children and families as good things. Having a child should not mean life is interrupted. We need to re-establish the idea that children and families are gifts that we should embrace. Being pro-life requires a wholistic approach.

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