Pro-Life Laws Seen as Factor in Drop in Abortions; Study Cites Informed Consent, Medicaid

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Byline: Cheryl Wetzstein, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Pro-life laws are part of the reason abortion rates have declined over the past two decades, a study says.

A review of abortion data from 1985 through 2005 provides solid evidence that laws restricting but not outlawing abortion have an impact on the childbearing decisions of women, Michael J. New wrote in State Politics and Policy Quarterly, a peer-reviewed publication aimed at state policymakers.

Mr. New, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama, studied the effects of informed-consent laws, Medicaid funding rules and parental-notification laws for minors - rules that existed, by 2005, in dozens of states.

He found that all three approaches had significant results in certain populations. For instance, parental-notification laws were correlated with a 15 percent decline in in-state abortion rates for minors. Informed-consent laws, which require pregnant women to receive information about such things as their health, fetal development or resources for parenting, were associated with reductions in in-state abortions by 5 percent to 7 percent.

Legal limits on Medicaid funding for abortion also had a significant impact, reducing abortion incidence by about 9 percent in states with such laws.

There are many possible reasons why abortion rates have generally declined since the 1980s - economic ups and downs are a likely factor, as are shifts in fertility rates or social mores, said Mr. New, who is also associated with the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.

But with so many pro-life laws now on the books, it seems time to tease out their effects, he said, adding that his analysis on informed-consent laws is new.

Mr. New's research shows that parental-involvement laws get parents involved in their children's lives and reduce the number of abortions, said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

Almost invariably, it is a parent, not a government employee or business entity, who cares most about a daughter's well-being, Mr. Perkins said. This is why we support common-sense laws that reaffirm parents' unique role as the decision-makers in the life of their child.

However, Lawrence B. Finer, director of domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute, said the results cannot be generalized.

The most important point to note is that New's analysis is limited to the impact of restrictive state policies on abortions provided within a given state (i.e., in-state abortion rates), not on abortions obtained by residents of that state, Mr. Finer said.

Many women who live in the affected states go to nearby states to obtain abortions, he said. Therefore, it's not possible to draw any conclusions from his study about the impact of restrictions on the incidence of abortion generally (i.e., overall abortion rates), Mr. Finer said.

The Guttmacher Institute, which collects and reports abortion data from clinics every few years, says abortion rates have stabilized after a long decline. In 2008, for instance, the abortion rate (19.4 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44) and number of abortions (1.21 million) were virtually the same as in 2005.

A major reason for this decline was that rates of contraceptive use increased significantly from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, Mr. Finer said.

Pro-choice researchers have long criticized the three laws that Mr. New studied.

Parental-notification laws, for instance, have encouraged some pregnant 17-year-olds to wait until they turn 18 to have an abortion, a 2009 Texas study found. …