If you’re inclined to attribute the steep decline in Alabama’s abortion rate to the indefensible Alabama Human Life Protection Act, don’t. You’d be wrong.
They’re related, if only in theme. But there’s no doubt Alabamians who cheered in May when Gov. Kay Ivey signed the nation’s strictest abortion bill into law may see our state’s plummeting abortion rate as a sign of confirmation that Alabama, and the nation, one day will be devoid of legal abortions.
That would be a heck of stretch, mind you. Alabama’s new law is tied up by legal challenges — legal challenges the bill’s legislative sponsors wholeheartedly welcome — and Roe v. Wade remains in force.
Remember, too, that the Alabama Human Life Protection Act isn’t about protecting life, given that the law devalues the lives of Alabama women it seeks to control.
Facts, though, matter. And there’s empirical proof that Alabama’s abortion rate is mirroring the United States’ downward trend. Alabama conservatives are getting what they want, proving that Ivey’s signature was nothing but a political investment for the future with a Trumpian U.S. Supreme Court.
The national abortion rate peaked in 1980 at 29.3 percent per 1,000 women aged 15-44. Despite what anti-abortion advocates urge Americans to believe, that rate’s been in freefall ever since. The Guttmacher Institute, whose abortion surveys are cited on both sides of the debate, says the U.S. abortion rate for 2017 (the most recent year studied) was 13.5 percent — the lowest since Roe’s passage in 1973.
You want a headline? Here’s one: Between 2014 and 2017, Alabama’s abortion rate fell 23 percent.
You want a statistic? Here are a few: 8,020 abortions were performed in Alabama in 2014; 6,630 were performed in 2016; and 6,110 were performed in 2017.
You want a prediction? Given these trends, no rational reason exists to believe Alabama’s abortion rate won’t continue its downhill slide.
And, you want an explanation? There’s not one. Not a single one, at least.
“Antiabortion activists are going to try to take credit for this decline, but the facts don’t support their argument,” Guttmacher research scientist Rachel Jones told The Washington Post.
Jones and her colleagues point not to an exclusive cause but instead to collective reasons: continuing U.S. pregnancy declines; more efficient and consistent use of contraceptives; reduced sexual activity; infertility rates; and “changes around abortion attitudes and stigma.”
Researchers didn’t avoid the elephant in the room that is conservative states’ proclivity to pass restrictive abortion laws that could deter women seeking to abort pregnancies, regardless of the reasons why. In fact, Guttmacher detailed the more than 400 state-level abortion laws passed between 2011 and 2017. (Alabama’s abominable law didn’t make that list.)
And the kicker:
“There appears to be no clear pattern between efforts to ban or restrict abortion and the continuing decline in abortion rates, which has been going on for nearly 40 years. The declines were seen across regions and in states that are more supportive of abortion rights as well as those that are more restrictive,” The Washington Post reported.
Guttmacher explained it this way: “Although the number of state abortion restrictions continued to increase in the Midwest and South between 2014 and 2017, these restrictive policies do not appear to have been the primary driver of declining abortion rates.”
In a sense, Alabama women are fortunate because three abortion clinics remain open in our state — in Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and Huntsville. Mississippi has just one. Kentucky, West Virginia and North Dakota have none. But Georgia has nine providers, including five in Atlanta, according to the National Abortion Federation, and Florida has more than I care to count.
Remember, though, that Alabama providers who perform abortions would face felony charges punishable by 10 to 99 years or life in prison if our state’s law survives its legal challenges, effectively rendering legal procedures impossible in our state.
Lost amid conservative lawmakers’ tizzies about abortion is that Americans are having fewer abortions, and have been having fewer abortions, year after year. The trends are clear. But we know that overturning Roe, those lawmakers’ ultimate goal, will not stop American women from seeking abortions, either legally elsewhere or illegally here, and controlling the decisions about their bodies and their lives.
The Alabama Human Life Protection Act won’t stop that.