The Abortion Post I Didn’t Plan to Write


Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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159 Responses

  1. 7 out of the top 10 teen pregnancy rates are in Republican states. What’s more, looking at 11-20, you’re including Florida and North Carolina (a toss-up and a longtime R bastion) as if their policies on these issues are the same as those in, say, New York. They’re not. Florida, for example, already has an ultrasound law.

    The other two lists — ending in birth, then abortion — don’t tell us anything beyond the ease of access for the procedure in these states, and the results are thus hardly surprising.

    For these reasons and others, this is not a useful system of measurement.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

      Elias – so your contention is that the abortion rate would be the same in red states if only it were easier to get an abortion? Maybe you can explain the legal hurdles in those states because I am not aware of any significant obstacles that are different from blue states.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        You (Douhat?) are only looking at teen pregnancies and abortion? You might be missing something.

        Access to legal abortions by minors is going to differ pretty widely across states. This is not simply a function of abortion laws, but also a function of other things like the number of clinics. In Texas, for example, it is damn near impossible to build a new clinic. It’s significantly easier to do so in a solidly blue state.

        Anyway, of course access increases the number of abortions. I don’t think anyone has ever said differently.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          You (Douhat?) are only looking at teen pregnancies and abortion? You might be missing something.

          Just to be clear, the something you’re missing is most pregnancies and abortions.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            Just to be clear, the something you’re missing is most pregnancies and abortions.

            The trends don’t change all that much if you look at all pregnancies.Report

            • Avatar Sam says:

              I cannot say this for certain, but it seems to me that limiting our conversation to teenage pregnancies makes it easier to imagine restricting the behavior. Telling adult women what they can and can’t do with their body doesn’t play quite as well as telling teenagers what they can and can’t do with their body.

              Elsewhere in the thread, for example, we find that the overwhelming number of abortions are procured by women in their 20’s and 30’s. This makes sense, as women are generally fertile for the entirety of those two decades, but still, we talk about teenaged pregnancy when it is a very slight number by comparison. There’s something loaded about that.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Sam, maybe it is loaded, but I have pointed to what the data says when you look at all pregnancies. What do you think that data tells us?Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                I’m not sure what that data tells us. I was saying only that limiting the conversation to one about teenaged girls is stacking the deck, if only slightly, because our cultural beliefs about teenagers are slightly different than they are about adults.Report

      • You’ll want to check out this article (links to pdf):

        The high abortion states have much more access to abortion providers and are less likely to have anti-abortion harassment at those facilities.

        Data rock.Report

        • Avatar David says:

          Yes, that does seem to be relevant.

          I might also suggest that your determining party affiliation by their 2008 presidential vote may not be correct. As I attempted to examine your maps, this is confirmed as the data do not bear out your analysis. I shall refer to the maps here:

          It may also be relevant to look at this map:

          Now, I am in no way an expert on reading this as I am unfamiliar with the boundaries, but it seems that a good portion of the states of Nevada and New Mexico, which you pegged as “D” above, are in fact “R”, are they not? And one might make further assessments down your list as well.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            David, the problem with your map is the same as when Republicans use it to demonstrate a majority: it doesn’t look at population. In Nevada’s case, the vast majority of the state’s population resides in one of two areas. The sea of red is electorally irrelevant. Lots of land, few votes.

            (I think you’re reading the boundaries of New Mexico wrong.)Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Ditto this.  Those three blue counties in the upper left of Oregon contain half the state’s population.  Meanwhile, at least one of those red counties in the state has less than one resident per square mile.Report

            • Avatar David says:

              I believe the point I was trying to make was about the teen pregnancy percentages. The map ably demonstrates that there are plenty of otherly-dominated counties in states that are dominantly of one given party by their state representation, even before considering the messes involved due to you strange colonials constantly redrawing and redrawing and redrawing your representative maps in ways that have no relation whatosever to the boundaries of cities, counties, boroughs, or anything else in order to consolidate power in your state houses or national representation in the populous house.

              I wonder if one were to check the statistics by your counties, rather than by states, would one find that the majority of teen pregnancies were the result of living in the Republican-dominated counties, or the Democrat-dominated ones? Would one be able to control for more factors to determine if the likely causative of teenage pregnancy is more to do with economic poverty rather than political affiliation, as is true for my own country?

              I am rather reminded of the idea of “middle class morality”, as proposed in the theatre production “Pygmalion”, thus:

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                I wonder if one were to check the statistics by your counties, rather than by states, would one find that the majority of teen pregnancies were the result of living in the Republican-dominated counties, or the Democrat-dominated ones? Would one be able to control for more factors to determine if the likely causative of teenage pregnancy is more to do with economic poverty rather than political affiliation, as is true for my own country?

                We’re discussing teen abortion rather than teen pregnancy. Whether the driving factor among state rates is based on culture or access, the differences between the two are likely to be exacerbated by going county-to-county.

                On the other hand, county-to-county data might give us an idea as to how much distance-elasticity there is, if we can map it out with providers.Report

              • Avatar David says:

                We’re discussing teen abortion rather than teen pregnancy.

                I don’t quite believe the former can happen without the latter. And part of your compatriot’s point was to compare teen pregnancy rates in “blue” and “red” states, and then compare their teen abortion rates. One of his conclusions was:

                The narrative from the Left for some time has been that the surest way to reduce teen pregnancies is to have more robust sex ed programs and better access to birth control and legal abortion. But we don’t see any evidence of this when we look at the numbers for blue states.

                My point was that in two ways, his determination was likely to be flawed. First, going by state rather than by county is a problem, since you have some very tiny states and some very large states whether you factor by population or land mass. Second, judging by how they voted in a first-past-the-post presidential contest where someone can “win” a state by amassing less than 50% of the popular vote is not a fair indicator of other attitudes of the state populace at large. I can easily imagine, as one example, a situation where a largely urban population voted heavily for your current president, the largely rural population voted in opposition, and yet the largely (conservative, anti-abortion, likely uneducated) rural poor population were the source of the teen pregnancy epidemic of the state.

                I could now make an unkind comment about our neighbors the next island over breeding like rabbits based upon popular stereotype, but I believe my point holds firm.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


                If you’re refering to Ireland – Douthat covers that in his post:

                “And then there’s the case of Ireland, which still has the most restrictive abortion laws of any Western European nation. If you calculate the Irish abortion rate based on the number of Irish women who obtain abortions in the United Kingdom, it would be about one fourth of the English abortion rate. Presumably illegal abortions raise that figure somewhat, but there’s no evidence that Ireland is a hellhole of back-alley procedures: Indeed, the Irish have some of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the entire world.”Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                I don’t quite believe the former can happen without the latter.

                Yes, but the former does not invariably result from the latter.Report

      • Avatar LauraNo says:

        Count the number of Planned parenthood offices.Report

  2. Avatar dmf says:

    I wasn’t aware abortion was ever held up as some sort of teen pregnancy disincentive. I just thought it was a way for people to have more control over their lives and their family planning. And, perhaps even, not have to raise children and be poor as opposed to waiting a bit and raising children when they’re better prepared for it.

    I see nothing here that disagrees with that.Report

    • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

      You nailed it.

      I’ve never heard that claim either.   Certainly, easier access to abortion reduces birth rates.   But that it would reduce pregnancy rates?   That’s completely counterintuitive, and I’ve never before heard it.Report

  3. “The narrative from the Left for some time has been that the surest way to reduce teen pregnancies is to have more robust sex ed programs and better access to birth control and legal abortion.”

    Sounds to me like you’re aware of obstacles, here. I thought that was the point of this post.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

      Elias – I’m aware that the Left claims it is harder to access those things if you live in red states. I’m just not aware of the actual legal hurdles and hoped you could elaborate.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        First, as I said above, the only obstacles aren’t legal ones. Second, parental consent laws, waiting periods, etc., are actual legal hurdles. I can’t imagine you’re not aware of the legal battles surrounding abortion restrictions over the last two decades.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        there’s plenty for taking a girl across state lines to get an abortion.

        I think the main point is that there are fewer clinics, which means fewer places to get an abortion — and, critically, more people that a young person has to tell.

        Legal hurdles aren’t the issue, always.

        Sometimes it’s emotional… Why not just “hide the pregnancy” until you can’t avoid talking about it? Better to hope it goes away on its own…

        There are many times when adults would refuse to take a child to get an abortion — and a lot of them aren’t savory, and aren’t with the girl’s best interest in mind.Report

      • Avatar sonmi451 says:

        I don’t see California or New York passing Personhood Amendments or mandating transvaginal ultrasound.Report

      • Avatar James Vonder Haar says:

        Parental consent and notification laws will obviously deter a non-zero amount of minors from seeking or getting abortions. Waiting periods can deny access, particularly when the regulatory or social climate makes opening clinics difficult. There’s obviously a non-zero amount of people who do not have a local abortion provider and who are unable to meet the additional costs of the extra round trip or hotel room.Report

  4. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    We need to update our cultural memes from the 1960s:  Christianists now admire bearing the pregnancy to term [say Bristol Palin] rather than making it disappear.  The religio-cultural landscape just isn’t the same, but we keep tossing our rhetorical grenades as if it were.

    We gotta update, update.  The ‘shame’ of a first-pregnancy ‘mistake’ just isn’t there anymore as a normative cultural more.  Sex happens.  Stupid sex happens.  Teen stupid sex happens.  Duh.

    Bristol Palin is more admired than condemned by the putatively “intolerant” Christian-types for bearing the baby to term—even the “intolerant” know well she could have made it disappear over the weekend.'t_Preach

    What was that all about?  1986 was like a million years ago.

    We have to take a fresh look at this thing, as Mr. Dwyer does here.  Most of the arguments we keep throwing at each other in the 21st century are obsolete.

    Update:  By making abortion safe & legal, we blew “rare” out of the water, into the tens of millions.  That’s a fact.  If we’re OK with that, let’s be honest and drop the “rare” part.  “Routine” fits better.


    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      We need to update our cultural memes from the 1960s: Christianists now admire bearing the pregnancy to term [say Bristol Palin] rather than making it disappear. The religio-cultural landscape just isn’t the same, but we keep tossing our rhetorical grenades as if it were.

      Then write a post on this Tom, updating the memes in ways you think appropriate. Fact is, the arguments surrounding the right to choose haven’t changed one iota. You’re argument here is that culture has changed. And maybe that’s an interesting angle to pursue in furthering your own goal of having a better, or at least deeper, debate about the moral implications of abortion. I mean, you have said that even your views about the topic aren’t clearly formed. If not, then write a post identifying where you think the standard arguments go off the rails.

      I don’t want to beg questions against you here, so consider this a polite request for you to elaborate what you mean, but personally I think this gets things backwards in a classically conservative way. All things equal, evidence and argument, not culture (narrowly construed), should be driving our individual and collective beliefs about abortion rather than being relegated to the back seat. So on my view, supposing that changes in culture (again, narrowly construed) ought to be taken into account doesn’t cut any ice here.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      I’m fine with ‘not rare.’  You’re right, Tom, those who agree should make this view known.  Unless we think abortion should be illegal, if we’re going to agree to legality, we should stop there and not judge our fellow citizens for exercising a right we accord them, especially if we are men who can never face the problem with the acuteness experienced by the person who is actually pregnant. Safe, legal, accessible is what’s important.  Women ought to be able to choose – to have reproductive freedom.Report

  5. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    I’m going to echo the puzzlement here about the “reduces teen pregnancy” thing. I know of comparatively few people who actually make that argument. Rather contraception access is  equated with lowering rates of unintended pregnancy. Reduction of unintended pregnancies should in turn result in fewer abortions.

    The issue with “teens” is the idea that they are less likely to use contraception when having sex, whether because they don’t like condoms or don’t have access to the pill. In turn this increases the chance of them having  unintended pregnancies and thus ending in abortion.

    Statistically, the more telling indicator for abortion rates and unintended pregnancy rates tends to be socioeconomic status. Wealthier white women generally have more access to medical contraception. Moreover, even if they have an unintended pregnancy, if they’re well off they’re more likely to have the means to actually support a child. The higher rates of minority abortion (about 5x more prevalent in black women than white women for example) track with SES, assuming states allow some sort of access provision to reproductive health services.

    From what I recall, most studies have found that abortion rates go down substantially when states put up barriers to access to reproductive health. This again, suggests that wealth is is the deciding issue on who will have an abortion. Restrictions against access do reduce abortion rates. This is particularly true because such access limitations are a greater factor than say the amount of social welfare spending a state does for mothers.

    All this is a bit of a long-winded way of saying that access to contraception and use of contraception are the biggies. Empirically, wealth (and therefore health insurance) are correlated with lower rates of unintended pregnancy and thus abortion.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      Mr. Akimoto, as formal inquiry, I make teen pregnancy rates and [teen] abortion rates two different—discrete—questions.   The red state/blue state yardstick is clumsy enough—Mr. Isquith’s objection holds at least partially, that many red staters can go get an abortion in a neighboring blue state with little trouble, so what is Dwyer on about?

      Still, my back-of-the-enveloping is that Mr. Dwyer has dialed in some level of truth that should be explored sympathetically rather than fought tooth-and-nail, that expanding the ease and availability of abortion has resulted in a lot more abortions and continues to.  By contrast, the red staters do not appear—as a tendency—to consider and use abortion as a last-ditch form of birth control.  I think that’s where Mr. Dwyer’s argument heads.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        It’s good of you to at least use the word Trouble, albeit with the Weasel Adjective of “little” in front of it.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I don’t think anyone has fought Dwyer tooth and nail. They’ve objected to his errors in reasoning, at least one of which you yourself note. In fact, his primary conclusion is one that I doubt anyone here would disagree with.

        I will note that your editorialization (“contrast, the red staters do not appear—as a tendency—to consider and use abortion as a last-ditch form of birth control”) is precisely the sort of ideologically-based interpretation with no real evidence that will get teeth and nails involved, though.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Now Chris, we all know red-staters don’t have abortion clinics because they don’t have abortions, not the other way around, right?Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            James, right, blue staters have more abortions because they have more clinics, but red staters have fewer clinics because they have fewer abortions. That makes perfect sense, if we consider each proposition individually!Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Damn, I wish I’d taken that line.  Glad to play setup man for you, though.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                When are we going on tour?

                Also, if you read some of Dwyer’s replies in the thread, you’ll find that this is the actual position he’s taking, or damn close to it.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I hesitate to say he’s taking that position, but I do agree that he hasn’t quite clarified that he’s not holding a sort of muddled version of that position.Report

    • Avatar Katherine says:

      I’m going to echo the puzzlement here about the “reduces teen pregnancy” thing. I know of comparatively few people who actually make that argument. Rather contraception access is  equated with lowering rates of unintended pregnancy. Reduction of unintended pregnancies should in turn result in fewer abortions.

      The issue with “teens” is the idea that they are less likely to use contraception when having sex, whether because they don’t like condoms or don’t have access to the pill. In turn this increases the chance of them having  unintended pregnancies and thus ending in abortion.

      As I understand it, Mike’s argument posits that:

      1) Liberal states will have higher rates of contraception and sex education.

      2) Liberal states do not have significantly lower rates of teen pregnancy, undermining the liberal argument that contraception and sex ed lower teen pregnancy rates.

      3) The actual reason why teen parenthood rates are lower in liberal states is that teens in liberal states are likely to have abortions, while teens in conservative states are likely to carry the child to term.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

        Katherine gets the gold star. The point of my post really is that the reason why abortion rates differ from state to state has much less to do with access and much more to do with cultural forces. Quite simply, in red states people frown on abortion and typically families will support a teen in carying their child to term. They provide a support system of child care, etc to facilitate the choice. There seems to be much less of this in blue states and abortion seems to be a more commonly accepted solution to teen pregnancy.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          I’m not sure your data shows any such thing, though. In fact, nothing in your data says that. What it says is simple: access to abortion increases abortion rates. Do you think that, should access to abortion increase in Mississippi, abortion rates would stay the same because of the culture in Mississippi?Report

          • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

            Chris, No – I don’t think there would be a radical difference. I compared the law for KY and MA. Both require parental consent. Both allow medical professionals to refuse to give abortions. The only real difference is that KY requires counseling and a 24-hour waiting period. In MA 57% of teen pregnancies end in live births. In KY it’s 74%. Do you really think you can pin that gap on counseling and a 24-hour waiting period?

            It’s a cultural thing.


            • Avatar Chris says:

              Mike, see Nob immediately below this. You’re missing too many variables. You’re not a social scientist, I know, but you’re making rookie mistakes. You’re going beyond your data, and turning a hypothesis you haven’t tested into a conclusion from data that doesn’t address it.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              Also, it’s been said several times at this point, but you continue to act as though legislation is the only way to restrict abortion. It’s not. Maybe you could give us the data on the number of abortion clinics per capita in each state?Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Do you really think you can pin that gap on counseling and a 24-hour waiting period?

              It’s a cultural thing.

              To pile on, Mike (and sorry to do so), you have 3 independent variables here (counseling, waiting, culture), and your cases differ on all 3 variables.  Yet you have decided it can only possibly be the 1 variable, because the other two–even in combination–aren’t sufficient to explain the outcome.

              My question is quite simple: How do you know the other two aren’t sufficient to explain the outcome, or that they aren’t sufficient to explain a significant portion of that outcome?

              There is a 17 percentage point difference in outcome, and you’re saying what exactly, that culture alone counts for all 17 percentage points of difference, and counseling and waiting combine account for zero?  I suspect you’re not actually making that strong a claim, so what  portion of the difference do you think is caused by waiting and counseling, and what portion by culture?  And if you can’t really answer that with much specificity, there’s your problem–you lack the data for drawing any firm conclusions about how much of a role each independent variables plays.Report

        • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

          Except it’s been pretty widely shown that access and state support for reproductive health services is directly correlated (with a very high r-squared)  on its prevalence.

          Moreover, you data doesn’t even try to quantify contraception or “comprehensive sex-ed” nor does it control for variables like school attendance.

          That is to say: Your numbers don’t mean anything.Report

        • Avatar sonmi451 says:

          Isn’t that a proposition that can only be verified if in fact there are the same level of access to abortion in blue states and red states? How can you conclude that it’s about culture when the level of access is not the same? The only way to conclusively test this is if you have two states (one red, one bllue) with the same level of access to abortion (equivalent number of abortion clinics proportional to the state population, same types of laws restricting abortion, and so on). If the blue state does in fact have a higher rate of abortion under that situation, then, and only then, can you conclude that culture is the main factor. Otherwise, you’re just making assumptions.Report

      • Avatar NoPublic says:

        1) Liberal states will have higher rates of contraception and sex education.

        [Citation needed]

        It’s been my experience that even in blue states, the local school boards come down pretty hard on these issues.  There’s a big “grassroots” effort on the right wing side even in the bluer areas.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

      I’m going to echo the puzzlement here about the “reduces teen pregnancy” thing. I know of comparatively few people who actually make that argument. Rather contraception access is  equated with lowering rates of unintended pregnancy. Reduction of unintended pregnancies should in turn result in fewer abortions.

      Nob – as Douthat mentions, many people believe that  liberal abortion laws equate to less abortions based on lower abortion rates in countries that are more permissive. That was the point of Douthat’s post (and also mine to a lesser degree). Pointing out the false linkage.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Douthat mentions, many people believe that  liberal abortion laws equate to less abortions based on lower abortion rates in countries that are more permissive

        I suspect that this is an oversimplification of any actually held beliefs. Can you point to someone who actually believes this, and an example of them stating such a position?Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        Honestly, I think that’s a strawman. I realize you’re building on something Douthat’s said, but I don’t think it’s particularly useful a measure. The “liberals say” thing is misleading.Report

  6. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Three comments.

    First, among the top states where teen pregnancies end in live births, you include Indiana as a D state, because it went D in the ’08 election.  But as we probably all know, Indiana is in fact a solidly R state in presidential elections, with ’08 being a rare outlier.  So that list is even stronger R than appears at first glance.

    Second, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that making abortion legal will reduce the number of abortions; only that prevalence of birth control will.  I’m not sure that particular question is answered here.

    Third, if, as Mr. Van Dyke says, Christians have become (relatively) comfortable with teen birth (and I think he is right), it’s another classic case of Christians adapting their religion to their culture, rather than having any profound religious effect on their culture.

    Overall, very interesting data on how sharp the “culture war” (if I may, although I hate the term) divide is on this issue.Report

  7. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    I’m afraid there’s a substantive fallacy of correlation in there.   At no point have you detailed what percentage of sexually active teenage girls had access to effective birth control, which didn’t bother using any and what percentage had live births.   Without that data, let’s not have any discussions about causal connections between contraception and abortion.

    I’m getting really tired of these ‘Bortion Diaries.   Just saying.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

      Blaise – I didn’t discuss access to birth control because I didn’t want to complicate the discussion. The truth is that when you look at the stats surrounding people that had abortions it’s clear that access to birth control was not the problem. A significant number of abortion seekers had access and didn’t use it correctly. We can assume this is also true for those who carry unplanned pregnancies to term.Report

      • Avatar Just John says:

        A lot of the time simplifying the discussion does violence to our connection to the reality being discussed.Report

      • Avatar LauraNo says:

        How many girls have babies because their friends had babies and they want one too? How often does that happen in red versus blue states? How did these cases affect the live-birth stats? I think this project is a waste of time. More and better/ easier access to contraception OF COURSE reduces the rate of unwanted pregnancies and easy access to abortion increases the rate of abortion. Maybe we should leave it at that, until some studies with the proper controls and such become (are they already?) available.Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


          More and better/ easier access to contraception OF COURSE reduces the rate of unwanted pregnancies and easy access to abortion increases the rate of abortion.

          Look at my data on Coment #108.  Virginia provides far less money for contraception and yet does a better job of reducing unwanted pregnancies that other states which spend significantly more. Also, even when contraception is available, most of the people getting pregnant by accident aren’t using it correctly if at all. Perhaps the graph we really need is % of Dumbasses by state to see if it correlates to pregnancy rates.Report

  8. Avatar Katherine says:

    Thanks for this information.  It’s something I’ve noted before with regards to my country – Canada has sex ed in schools and a more robust social safety net than the US, but our rates of abortion are higher (19% in the US; 22.6% in Canada [2004, StatsCan).  I find those truly frightening numbers – that is a lot of deaths.

    If you could give more detailed information and analysis on what the regulations and legal limits on abortion are in the high-abortion states versus the low-abortion states, this post would be even better, as it would help us get a start on working out what specific measures are most effective at discouraging abortion.  Ideally, we want to minimize the rates of both teen pregnancy and abortion.

    A question that I wonder about is how much the prevalence of abortion is determined by cultural rather than legal factors: is a woman in a red state less likely to have an abortion because they are more regulated, or because there is more social-cultural-religious pressure not to have an abortion?  I think that, in concert with moderate regulations on abortion, there’s a vital need for a greater social understanding that abortion is morally problematic (understatement in my view and yours, I know, but it would be a start).  It is not a medical procedure “like any other”.  It is not morally equivalent to clipping your toenails.  It is not purely a matter of women’s rights and sexual/reproductive freedom.  If a person chooses to have an abortion, they are choosing to end a life.  It should be taken very, very seriously, and not just be the default option on the basis of being the least challenging.  I think if we can build a greater social understanding and consensus on this (and believe me – the more conservatives inveigh against female sexuality generally, the harder it becomes to do that, so conservatives need to start thinking a lot more carefully about why they oppose abortion, and what messages are sent by the arguments and methods they employ) it might decrease abortion by itself.  However, I’d need more data to verify whether this projection is accurate.

    One of my biggest problems with liberals on the issue of abortion is that they oppose not only regulations on abortion, but the very idea that abortion is wrong.  I understand why they do so – some actually believe it, others feel that in such a heated debate, ceding any ground to an opponent is dangerous.  But so long as they maintain this attitude, the platitude of “safe, legal, and rare” is no more than misdirection – why bother reducing the rate something that you regard as a purely personal choice with no moral component?


    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      Can I say that there’s a LOT of ground between “morally dubious” and wrong? I’m probably more in the “morally dubious” camp.

      Oh, and a fact-check — I think you’ve often got more pressure to get an abortion, than to not get an abortion. I think in a lot of places, it is expected that you just get an abortion… it is what is done… I think this perspective depends on people seeing “having a baby” (particularly when not put up for adoption, but even if so…) as ruining your life. This is exacerbated by “pregnancy schools” where the courses are dumbed down.

      Were I running things, women would get an essentially “free pass” for a year. Have it work like a year of “foreign study” — one year off, and then back to school. No repercussions. But a LOT would have to change for that to happen…Report

    • Avatar James Vonder Haar says:

      I can answer that last question for you, Catherine, speaking as someone who views first trimester abortions as no more immoral than a hair cut. Abortion is traumatic, expensive, and carries a non-zero level of medical risk. Even accepting that a blastocyst is not a distinct life, it’s clearly a less preferable birth control option.Report

  9. Avatar Katherine says:

    Looking at more of the data, I would like to add (for the benefit of people uncomfortable with the idea of less abortion producing higher rates of teen parenthood) that most abortions are not a result of teen pregnancy.  As of 2004, only 17% of abortions were among teens; over 50% were by women in their 20s.  Surprisingly, since 1989 (the starting point of a substantial and fairly sustained drop in abortion rates – I’d like to know if anyone’s aware of a policy change that might have prompted that), teen abortion rates have fallen by 30%, while abortion rates among older women have been rising substantially.Report

    • Avatar Aaron says:

      I think the drop in teen abortion rate is mostly a result of the teen pregnancy rate dropping (the pregnancy rate among mothers age 15-19 has been dropping quite steeply the past couple decades).Report

  10. Avatar sonmi451 says:

    Just a stupid question from a person who is admittedly not as brilliant as the regulars here. Isn’t it common sense that when you restrict access to something, then the rate of that something being done would be lower than in places where access are less restricted? Or is that just a silly assumption?Report

    • Avatar Katherine says:

      It depends on how easily the thing can be obtained through illegal means, but yes, in general your statement is correct.

      Which would lead to the conclusion that liberals who oppose any restrictions on abortion are not, in fact, sincerely interested in making it “rare”.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        The liberals I know who want abortion to be “rare” also want it to be safe. In fact, the liberal mantra, as I’ve heard it, tends not to be, “Make abortion rare,” but “Make abortion rare and safe.” Arbitrary restrictions may make it rare, but they don’t make it safe. The way to make it rare and safe is to prevent unwanted pregnancies and make sure that when they occur, legal abortions can be obtained.

        Look, the pre-Roe era taught us that abortions are going to happen. The questions are where are they going to happen, and by whom are they going to be performed? It’s not an accident, I’m certain, that this post only discusses legal abortions performed by licensed professionals at medical clinics.Report

        • Avatar Katherine says:

          Ban abortion outright, and you may well have more illegal, unsafe abortions.  But that doesn’t go for every regulation.  Informed consent (when it doesn’t involve things like requiring vaginal penetration).  Parental notification.  Waiting periods. Things that are going to make abortion a less-preferred option, while still leaving legal abortion more preferred than illegal abortion.

          But the pro-choice position is to oppose any regulations of any kind and try to minimize consideration of the moral dimension – actions which, as noted above, are not successful at reducing abortion.  Look a the Guttmacher Institute stats – abortions rates are far, far higher in liberal states (27 per 1000 women in California; 38 per 1000 women in New York) than in conservative states (where it’s generally in the 5-15 per 1000 range).  Also see my above statistics about Canada, where we certainly have sex ed and access to contraception.  What you’re talking about may or may not be effective in reducing unwanted pregnancies, but it does not work when it comes to reducing abortion.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            Katherine, there are two reasons to oppose restrictions on abortion. The first is that, just because legal, safe abortions are technically available doesn’t mean they actually are, which does mean that unsafe abortions will be peformed. Second, because of the political climate in this country, the widespread belief, supported by actual “pro-life” rhetoric, is that abortion restrictions are meant to make it progressively more and more difficult to get abortions, until it’s impossible or nearly so to get one.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            I don’t particularly mind waiting periods, EXCEPT when someone has to go more than about 20 miles (less if it’s by foot) — at which point a waiting period of more than 4 hours represents undue hardship (need for hotel, etc. — all things that increase the cost of the abortion).

            I’d like parental notification laws … but I’ve known entirely too many people whom they would have worked out HORRIBLY for. Bear in mind that most teen runaways are running away from abuse (and this isn’t even taking into account “eventually” consensual incest, from which their father might want/enforce his kid to carry the baby…)

            Sorry if it seems like I only see the exceptions, but they’re rather important to me.Report

            • Avatar Katherine says:

              I don’t particularly mind waiting periods, EXCEPT when someone has to go more than about 20 miles (less if it’s by foot) — at which point a waiting period of more than 4 hours represents undue hardship (need for hotel, etc. — all things that increase the cost of the abortion).

              Even if it’s a substantial hardship, that doesn’t become an issue to me unless the hardship makes pursuing a dangerous, illegal abortion more preferred than going through the challenges of finding and getting a legal one.  I don’t think a 20-mile drive crosses that barrier.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                80 miles then?

                Note: I’ve got less trouble about the whole thing if we’re willing to carve out exceptions where exceptions are common sense. Or, hell, just pay people for the gas (and lost worktime and hotel).

                I think every woman should be given the fair chance to have an abortion instead of a baby. (after all, she is CHOOSING to be more at risk for death/health problems if she decides to keep the baby.)

                I also would rather decrease the costs of pregnancy, particularly for young women. I think that young women can be better off for having a baby… and that it’s more natural for women to have babies young (and healthier for the baby, if nothing else).Report

          • Avatar Sam says:

            As asked elsewhere: don’t you think the severe access restrictions on abortion in those states with lower abortion rates have at least SOMETHING to do with their lower rate of occurrence?Report

            • Avatar Katherine says:

              As stated elsewhere – YES.  It does.  It should.  THAT’S THE POINT.  Restrict abortion so as to reduce its incidence.

              When liberals oppose abortion restrictions, they are saying they are not interested in making abortion less common.  I’d like them to, at minimum, be honest about that fact.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Liberals oppose abortion restrictions not in a vacuum, but as part of a larger plan about reducing the unintended pregnancy rate. You drive down THAT rate, you drive down the abortion rate. What you’re saying – if we’re all putting our cards on the table here – is that you don’t give a damn about the unintended pregnancy rate, you just want to drive down the abortion rate.Report

              • Avatar Katherine says:

                I have trouble understanding how you drew that conclusion.  I want to reduce the abortion rate.  I support doing that through restrictions on abortion, and I support doing that by reducing teen pregnancy rates.

                Given Mike’s data, it seems that sex ed and access to contraception – both of which I support, since they fulfill other useful purposes – have  failed to reduce teen pregnancy rates in any substantial way.  So what we need to do is find out what other actions are effective in reducing teen pregnancy rates, and implement them.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                … yeah. But when I say that we ought to make a sort of … BabyCorps (okay, so sue me… it’s a hideous name.), I’m actually trying to remove the social forces that make abortions so common.

                I dunno, if you were getting paid the rates surrogate mothers get — do you think you’d be as likely to opt for abortion?

                [and, yes, paid by gov’t. Liberal will continue to be liberal, and believes that gov’t has an interest in continuing society]Report

              • Avatar James Vonder Haar says:

                I think liberals are interested in reduing the circumstances in which abortion is necessary, which will tend to reduce abortions generally. What they are not interested in doing is creating situations in which an abortion is necessary but inaccessible, which parental consent, waiting time, etc. laws tend to do. That this results in practice in a greater abortion rate does not call their sincerity into question.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                When liberals oppose abortion restrictions, they are saying they are not interested in making abortion less common.  I’d like them to, at minimum, be honest about that fact.

                Liberals are opposed to abortion restrictions which are inconsistent with the expression of a basic right. It doesn’t follow that liberals aren’t interested in making abortion less common. Your criticism seems to be that if liberals truly wanted to reduce the frequency/number of abortions, they ought to support repealing Roe.



              • Avatar LauraNo says:

                And when conservatives lobby for more, and more severe restrictions, they are saying they want to make abortion as close to impossible to get as they can. Abortion is legal. Period. Full stop. Since when is the number of times an American exercises the right to something a factor in determining whether or how much to limit their access to that something? I don’t understand how people can argue this.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Instead of killing a fetus in the womb, imagine that they’re trying to buy commercial time complaining about a politician or maybe purchase a handgun.

                If you can imagine someone *SERIOUSLY* saying “there’s no constitutional right to buy airtime!” or “the second amendment is about militias!”, then you might begin to grasp how people might explain away rights that they find personally inconvenient.

                This sort of thing happens all the time.Report

          • Avatar Sam says:

            Dammit, I hit submit too early.

            I think one thing going unsaid when comparing these states is the belief that if the laws of New York were imported into Texas (or whatever other conservative state we want to talk about), we might see a very similar rate of abortion as we do in liberal bastions, while at the same time seeing a lowered rate in those liberal states, as women wouldn’t be traveling to them to procure the procedure.Report

      • Avatar Sam says:


        I think when liberals say they’d like abortion to be “rare,” they might be defining the term differently than you are. Some liberals want rare to abortions to equal the number of unintended pregnancies that, for whatever reason, the individual woman does not want to carry to term. Those same liberals then want to fight against the unintended pregnancies with widely available education and contraception. By reducing the number of unintended pregnancies, you reduce the number of needed/wanted abortions.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Isn’t it common sense that when you restrict access to something, then the rate of that something being done would be lower than in places where access are less restricted? Or is that just a silly assumption?

      Like alcohol or drugs?

      For what it’s worth, when I was 20 years old in college, it was easier for me to buy a bag than to buy a bottle.Report

      • Avatar sonmi451 says:

        Yes, because getting a safe, legal abortion from a qualified doctor is just as easy as buying a fake ID when you’re in high school. Anyway, the chart is only measuring the rate of LEGAL abortion, so whatever backdoor, illegal method of procuring abortion is not counted there. Therefore, I don’t see the relevance to the alcohol or drugs example.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          If you don’t want examples of something illegal being easier to procure than something legal, then you shouldn’t ask for counter-factuals to common sense intuitions.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Or, to put it another way, if there is sufficient demand for *ANY* product, there will be a market created to provide this product.

          If this is not an official market (with rules and official players and everything) we will have, at best, a grey market (see the MMJ market in Colorado or California) and, at worst, a black market. There will be people who specialize in fixing, arranging meetings, and acting as guarantors. The more illegal the market, the more seedy (if not wicked) these fixers will be.

          Now there is the argument that there is more alcoholism today than under prohibition. This is likely true… but prohibition carried with it a number of unintended UGLY consequences (including, but not limited to, wood alcohol, organized crime, contempt for the law). Banning abortion would very likely reduce the number of abortions provided but if that is all one looks at, then one is ignoring a similarly large number of unintended UGLY consequences.Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

            This isn’t necessarily true….it really depends on the capital expenditures necessary to enter the market and what sort of advantages a provider has in terms of provisions or disadvantages for that matter.

            A medical degree is a huge investment and the profession itself has a high barrier to entry. As such, doctors who provide abortion services might become exceedingly rare when there’s sufficient cumbersome legal restrictions on his practice.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:


              Who says these illegal abortion providers would be trained doctors?  I think Jaybird’s point is precisely that others–untrained, or at least substantially less trained–would step in to meet the demand.  (We all have access to coathangers.)Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                Oh. My bad. Brain’s running at quarter cap…

                In which case I think Sonmi’s point stands, I think…if we’re assuming that illegal abortions are actually happening to fill absent demand, then these statistics won’t show it, because it’s only tracking legal abortions.

                I also think the whole “back alley with coathangers” thing essentially means the cost/benefit analysis changes substantially…why pay a fortune for an illegal operation that might kill you? Might be better to roll the dice with having the kid…Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Ironically, the existence of legal abortions has resulted in *HUGE* numbers of illegal abortions *NOT* happening (which is not the same thing as me saying that they never happen).

                Not because the demand for abortion has changed (that’s probably gone up) but because there is no more black market. The black market was destroyed by the official (or grey) market.

                For example, you can’t just buy a bag in Acacia Park anymore. Why? Because the Independent Indispensary is RIGHT THERE. It’s not worth the time of the fixers to sell that product even as there are still people who want to buy it but don’t want to get their name on an official list as an official card holder.

                The grey market of MMJ in Colorado Springs has shattered the black market.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:


                I can tell you ten things that DON’T cost a fortune that will poison a baby. Some of which are even trivial to find.

                Coathanger abortions exist, and may be better for a woman than injesting abortifacients, but… if coathanger abortions didn’t exist, it wouldn’t affect the number of illegal abortions much.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              A medical degree is a huge investment and the profession itself has a high barrier to entry. As such, doctors who provide abortion services might become exceedingly rare when there’s sufficient cumbersome legal restrictions on his practice.

              You say this. You know what I see happening in response? People who are not doctors performing the procedure. It’s not like they have to be a GP and answer to a board, after all.Report

          • Avatar sonmi451 says:

            Maybe I wasn’t being clear. Okay, let’s give this another try:

            1) Douthat and Mike were making a big deal about the fact that abortion rate is higher in blue states even though snotty liberals claimed that greater access to contraception would reduce the number of abortions.

            2) I was making the point that the reason abortion rate is lower in red states might have something to do with abortion being less accessible in those states (more restrictive laws, less abortion providers etc etc) – if you restrict access to abortion, it’s common sense that the rate of LEGAL abortion (since the data Douthat and Mike are relying on measures LEGAL abortion) would be lower in those states. The black market in abortion (coat-hangers, the guy in the back alley and whatnot) doesn’t enter into the conversation because we’re talking data that measures LEGAL abortion.Report

            • Avatar sonmi451 says:

              In other words, the difference in rates might not necessarily be because blue-staters are sinful monsters who hate babies (“culture”) –  it could just be because it’s harder to get an abortion in a red state.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I don’t think that “culture” can be so easily waved away…Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Until “culture” gets defined, or we identify the aspects of culture relevant to the debate, I (personally) think we can wave it away. If it turns out that conservatives have fewer abortions than liberals (those words need a definition), then we have to be careful to not identify access/economics/opportunity as cultural factors.

                Even that, tho, isn’t enough. It might remain the case that lots of women who don’t have an abortion might have had one in the absence of ‘cultural’ factors. In that case, culture would be a contributing factor in lower relative abortion rates, but for dubious reasons.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It seems to me far more likely that “culture” is the leviathan swimming underneath everything and if we want to understand the currents on the top we really should understand what’s roiling underneath.

                Cthulhu fthagn, and so on.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                But even if true, it’s unhelpful. On this understanding of the term, you can account for any and everything under the rubric “culture”. So it’s tautological – or vacuous – to say that situation X is a result of culture, because situation X simply is culture.There are no causal arrows in this story. So nothing can be explained by it.

                So it seems to me that for the culture based argument to have any explanatory power, identifiable cultural boundaries and relevant cultural features have to be identified. And on a more finegrained basis than simply Rs and Ds. But even if that analysis could be accomplished (and I’m not saying it can’t), it’s not enough. Those features have be causally connected to specific states of affairs in a fairly robust way. And I think in this case, the causal connections between culture and abortion rates which certain commenters are suggesting aren’t established. All the correlation shows is a) that states with lower access have fewer abortions and b) that part of the ‘culture’ of some states is to institutionally limit access to abortion services.

                So, I’ll grant that the correlations are established. I’ll even grant that there’s a cultural difference which can in part account for those correlations. But just so long as institutional structures prevent access to abortion services, the claim that culture is a determiner can only be made circularly. Or said another way: The causal role of culture in abortion rates could only be sustained, it seems to me, by comparing abortion rates between red and blue states with comparable access to abortion services.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                But even if true, it’s unhelpful.

                It strikes me as less unhelpful than waving a true thing away.

                Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a “culture is the end-all and be-all of everything” kinda guy. I am, however, a firm believer in the whole “culture does a hell of a lot more heavy lifting than, for lack of a better term, technocrats want to give it credit for” theory of non-intervention and an even bigger fan of “unintended consequences will totally make your plans, no matter how well-laid, go agley. Aft.”

                As such, I’m not trying to reach conclusions from this stuff as much as trying to figure out what it’s going to look like tomorrow.Report

      • Avatar Katherine says:

        Jaybird, do you really think that legalizing marajuana would make it harder for people to get at it?

        I don’t know where you went to college, but unless your campus was “dry” I have trouble seeing how it could be harder to get a beer than to get pot.  Getting a beer is a matter of going to the campus pub, or any pub near campus, and ordering one.  Getting pot – well, actually, being the law-abiding type I have no idea how to go about getting pot.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          To get a bag of something, I could ask any of 4 or 5 people who were my age, in my classes, in the various dorms, for a hook-up.

          To get a bottle of something, I had to ask one of 2 people who were older and lived off-campus.

          If it’s Tuesday Night and you don’t have any Wednesday classes until 4PM and you want to ride a comfortable buzz until bedtime… well, it was easier and less intrusive on my friends to call the former folks than the latter folks. Why would I want to call a grownup on a Tuesday Night? That’s just rude.Report

      • Avatar LauraNo says:

        I’ve seen statistics that this is still the case, even among teenagers, although both are illegal then.Report

  11. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    Okay, since we’re apparently slowly turning into the League of Ordinary Gynecologists now, I’d note that this issue is one that’s become a bit more interesting to me after moving to a city where teens pushing strollers are a very common sight. Hamilton has been called the teenage pregnancy capital of Ontario. Our local paper is usually pretty dull, but they tried to tackle the question in an interesting article here. Their conclusion:

    “Teen mother rates in Ontario are highest in places where incomes and education achievements are low and poverty levels are high, while low rates of teen mothers are closely tied to higher incomes, higher levels of educational achievement and lower poverty levels.

    “The reality is that children born to teenage moms don’t tend to do as well, and they tend to end up being teenage moms themselves,” said Dr. Chris Mackie, a Hamilton associate medical officer of health.”

    My wife does therapy with the occasional teen mom and her opinion was that they’re basically looking for someone to give them love and companionship and babies fit the bill. I don’t know how much this says about the discussion you’re all having here, but I would note that our city is very low income, like the article says, and very Catholic, at least where I live.Report

    • Okay, since we’re apparently slowly turning into the League of Ordinary Gynecologists now

      +a millionReport

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      Yup, Rufus, intentional single motherhood [incl teen] is a whole ‘nother bag of bananas.



      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Yeah, I don’t want to give the impression that I know how many teen pregnancies are intentional at all. Just that there are all sorts of behaviors, not to mention pathologies, that seem to correlate to social class. In the neighborhood where she grew up, my wife never saw the cops come out for a domestic disturbance call, but they’re a once-a-month occurrence in our current neighborhood. Where I grew up, they were pretty normal as well, although I’m fairly certain our next door neighbors were drug dealers for much of that time. Anyway, things like that probably impact how people end up breeding. Here’s a story from that article, for example:

        “I found out that he decided to poke holes in the condoms we were using to get me pregnant,” she said. “He figured it would make me stay with him.”

        Just days before she gave birth, Kristen’s boyfriend put a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her and the baby if she tried to leave. He later threw their newborn son at her in the hospital.

        “He was that type of guy.”

        We have quite a few of that type of guy around here. I’ve heard the theory that they’re everywhere, but are just much more open about it in places like this. It’s not uncommon to see young couples screaming at each other on the sidewalk, for instance.  I’m not sure I buy that theory, however. I suspect it’s not just bad tattoos that are more prevalent at a the lower income level.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          guys with severe self-esteem issues (not to excuse them… AT ALL) may feel more interested/determined to keep the woman he’s got. Self-esteem correlates with how much money you earn, I’d wager.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          Also, I’d agree with Mike here that culture makes the difference in how these situations play out, although definitely that cuts all sorts of ways.Report

  12. Avatar Sam says:

    Maybe I missed it elsewhere, but why is this conversation limited to teenaged girls? Are teenagers getting the most abortions?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      The elderly aren’t represented at all in the chart.Report

    • Avatar Katherine says:

      No – as per my earlier post, over 50% of abortions are by women in their 20s, vs. 17% by teenagers, and most of the rest by women in their 30s.  Abortions among women over 40 are rising surprisingly fast, too, although they’re still a small fraction of the total.Report

      • Avatar Sam says:

        Wait, so of the roughly four decades in which women can potentially get pregnant (teens, 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s), we’re saying teenagers rank third and yet we’re letting their incidents of pregnancy guide the discussion?Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Even if you look at all abortions, the trends hold up. With remarkable differences that I personally do not believe can all be explained away differences in law or numbers of providers (even though I think both of those are influencers).


      • Avatar Sam says:

        Perhaps then we should look at all abortions, and not a small percentage of them procured the group most likely to run into restrictions that they cannot get around (parents, waiting periods, the law, travel, money, etc).Report

  13. Avatar Just John says:

    I find myself in the camp that feels these data don’t really say much of anything.

    On the list, #1 Arkansas has 74% ending in birth and #20 Pennsylvania has 28% ending in abortion.  Does Pennsylvania have 72% ending in birth?  Probably something less than that, but how much?

    How many liberals are there who feel abortion should be illegal or access to it more restricted?  How many conservatives are there who don’t much care whether abortion is legal or easily accessible?

    How much do I care how many abortions there are?  How much compared to how much I care how many gun deaths there are?  How much compared to how many deaths due to medical malpractice?  How much compared to how many children are starving?  How much compared to how embarrassed/shamed someone has to be about admitting they’re gay?  How much compared to how many frauds are getting away with their fraud?  How much compared to how often “fuck” is said in a way I find inappropriate?

    Personally, I don’t much care how many abortions there are, though that would certainly change if there were a sudden fad of women getting pregnant just to have an abortion.  I don’t think that abortion is simply not wrong, but I don’t think that a woman (or couple) who chooses to have an abortion should be stigmatized.Report

  14. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    Chris, this covers many of the points you have made above and Nob, also yours. I pulled some additional numbers that were interesting.

    Guttmacher keeps statistics for:

    1. Total number of women in need of contraceptive services and supplies
    2. Percentage of need met by publicly funded centers.
    3. # of unintended pregnancies averted by publicly funded family planning centers.

    So I looked at a very low state for #2. Virginia clocks in at 26% which means that a very small % of need is actually being met. In contrast, Vermont has 71% of their need met through public funding.

    I expected to see higher totals for Vermont on #3, making the assumption that better access to contraception and supplies would equal less pregnancies. Instead what I found is this:

    Vermont 92.24%

    Virginia 97.80%

    What that means is that even though Virginia meets 45% less need for public funding for those services, they still do a better job of reducing unintended pregnancies.  Go figure…  You will also see similar results for reducing abortions.

    So even though yes, red states make it a bit harder to get an abortion, many of them are also doing better than blue states in preventing pregnancies even though they offer less public funding towards contraception. Again, I think culture plays a key role here.Report

  15. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    Also, to address another persistent inquiry – I pulled teen-only statistics because that was easiest to access to Guttmacher. My gut though tells me that the further we go up the age ladder culture will still play an important role (IMO the MOST important).Report

    • Avatar Just John says:

      How much of a role, and what kind, culture plays in the decision to have an abortion is an interesting question.  Can these kinds of statistical data get us very close to any satisfying answers for that?  I wonder of there are any surveys of women having abortions.  The decision to have an abortion or to have a pregnancy and then a child is so personal and so bound up with the entire life of the individual pregnant woman.

      Also, what role does culture play in the formation and adherence to personal attitudes about abortion?  I wonder if there are any studies of variance of attitudes within families and within different kinds of communities.


      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        yes. one study on third term abortions said that a goodly number of people didn’t even realize abortion was a possibility beforehandReport

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

        Just John,

        Guttmacher has statistics about why women have abortions and also about their habits beforehand. Many of the women seeking abortions have already had one previously. Also, most of them had access to birth control and attempted to use it. Also, most do it for socio-economic reasons ( no surprise there).Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          So, do you think- serious question- people who are pro-life should be working on things like raising the minimum wage?Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            I’ll second this as a good question to ask, Rufus.Report

          • Avatar Katherine says:

            Economic factors are certainly important, but I don’t know if raising the minimum wage specifically would help – a single mother raising a child is unlikely to be able to be able to work a job as well.  What it may suggest is that we need more financial supports for single, non-working mothers (and also stronger measures to make sure the father pays his fair share), which is something I support.

            But conservatives tend to balk at that because of Reagan, welfare queens, Cadillacs, stereotyping, etc.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              But conservatives tend to balk at that…

              Precisely. And at the risk of overgeneralizing, this is precisely where the charge of incoherence in their views comes into play.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            I could see the position that pro-life people would be in favor of loosening environmental restrictions thus making it easier for many kinds of manufacturing to be profitable on US soil, thus allowing for one person without a college education to have a job that would allow the other parent to stay at home with the children.

            The minimum wage goes overwhelmingly to those under the age of 25 (and, as far as I can tell with my research, always has) and so what needs to be done is not helping out people under the age of 25 (a pretty broad brush) but to help out people unsuited to a college degree but suited for, for example, a job involving mass-scale plastic injection molding (or any other number of manufacturing jobs that have jumped from cities where a high school education used to be sufficient for the majority of folks to Asia).Report

          • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

            Good question Rufus. With lower-class folks more pay might equal less abortions. For the upper middle class it’s a social thing.Report

  16. Avatar A Teacher says:

    Barely on point:

    Look at the teen pregency rates for a moment and look at the states, specifically what’s IN those states.  They’re southern rural states.  They’re states with vast tracks of “nothing” and spotted enclaves of people and society (unless my midwest bias blinds me).

    It looks, as a midwesterner as though the solution to “teen pregenancy and abortion” is not about education, or about access.

    It’s about giving kids something to do besides get busy under the bleachers.


  17. The narrative from the Left for some time has been that the surest way to reduce teen pregnancies is to have more robust sex ed programs and better access to birth control and legal abortion. But we don’t see any evidence of this when we look at the numbers for blue states. Douthat mentions the regional issue in his recent post:

    Mike, I’m not sure abortions or access to abortions are meant to reduce teen pregnancies or any other sort of pregnancy.  Once an abortion has occurred, the pregnancy has already by definition happened.

    As for robust sex ed and better access to birth control, I can at least see how they might create (or reflect) a culture that’s somewhat more tolerant of sex among teens, who, apparently, might take fewer precautions; and this tolerance might conceivably reflect a culture that removes certain taboos or other discouragements from sex that might dissuade some teens.  Still, it’s hard to establish that relationship, and so many of the details need to be considered:  namely, is relatively  “better access” birth control good enough to discourage risks?Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Another aspect of the issue has to do with frequency of sexually transmitted diseases.  Even if states with liberal policies on sex ed and contraceptive availability didn’t have fewer pregnancies or abortions, it would be noteworthy if they had lower rates of STDs.

      From, here are the rates per 100,000 population of syphylis, chlamydia, and  gonorrhea. The results are something of a mixed bag, but the top states are predominantly southern and conservative.

      Rank Primary and secondary syphilis Chlamydia Gonorrhea
      1 Louisiana (16.8) Mississippi (802.7) Mississippi (246.4)
      2 Georgia (9.8) Alaska (752.7) Louisiana (204.0)
      3 Arkansas (9.6) Louisiana (626.4) South Carolina (185.7)
      4 Alabama (8.9) South Carolina (595.0) Alabama (160.8)
      5 Mississippi (8.1) Alabama (556.2) Arkansas (156.2)
      6 Texas (6.8) Delaware (540.4) Illinois (154.7)
      7 Tennessee (6.5) Arkansas (502.7) North Carolina (150.4)
      8 North Carolina (6.3) New Mexico (478.4) Michigan (147.0)
      9 New York (6.1) Tennessee (478.1) Alaska (144.3)
      10 Illinois (5.8) New York (472.4) Georgia (141.3)



  18. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


    I have to get some work done at my day job but will check back in later. In  the meantime, I appreciate the civil conversation. My hope was that by avoiding another ‘is abortion murder’ discussion and focusing more on the policy surrounding current law we could have a more productive and more polite dialogue. Mission accomplished!

    You guys (and gals) are awesome.Report

    • Avatar Just John says:

      Seeing that the general response to the VA legislation has their Governor walking back his promise to sign the legislation, and sarcastic-response legislative proposals in more than one other state (VA rectal exam for Viagra, GA vasectomy regulation) seem to show that the broad consensus among that public is that abortion should be at least somewhat legal.  The personhood legislation got some attention but not so much because, I think, most people really just wrote those off as cranks being cranks proposing things that make no sense, and other kinds of restrictions like waiting periods and parental notifications have been controversial to but somehow didn’t always seem insane.  But the VA ultrasound legislation has provoked a really broadly based outrage of the “I can’t believe you want to do crap like that” sort.Report

      • Avatar Just John says:

        Sorry.  Hit submit before finished.

        The “all abortion is murder” argument is over.  There are still many who believe it is, but it seems that argument just can’t get anywhere.  That’s why almost no one approved of Tiller’s murder (which was just the most publicized of several such murders over the years — perhaps because it was done in a church) or could even be sympathetic about why it was committed; the general sensibility had to write off the perpetrator as obviously insane in a non-specific way.  And now we see a non-murder level atrocity being attempted by a group of respectable people being treated as aberrant and unacceptable.  The dignity of each woman’s choice about pregnancy has gained this much against the power of a broad and abstract principle that demands that she have no choice.Report

  19. Avatar Max L says:

    The list of states according to teen pregnancy rates doesn’t match up very well to Red and Blue, but it matches pretty well to states ranked by poverty rate:  I have no idea if the table I pasted in will show up right, so here is the link to wikipedia:

    26 South Dakota
    27 Michigan
    28 Oregon
    29 Rhode Island
    30 Ohio
    31 Kansas
    32 Indiana
    33 Maine
    34 North Carolina
    35 California
    36 Montana
    37 Georgia
    38 New York
    39 Kentucky
    40 Tennessee
    41 South Carolina
    42 Arizona
    43 West Virginia
    44 Oklahoma
    45 Arkansas
    46 Texas
    47 Alabama
    48 New Mexico
    49 Louisiana
    50 Mississippi

    So, maybe access to birth control has a strong affordability component?  And pregnancy rates and poverty could also be linked to viewing a teenage pregnancy as an obstacle to future success.

    FWIW, I am pretty sure that Douthat could make another strong point point about the effect of culture, rather than policy,  on abortion and teen pregnancy.  Even given the range of legal obstacles and barriers to access, Anglophone countries have uniformly higher teen pregnancy rates compared to NW Europe.   Anyone who has ever lived in Holland (or lived with a Hollander) knows how much more frank and open they are about sex than we are and definitely frown on being a single parent.Report

  20. Avatar Chris says:

    OK, since I already had R open, I did a little quick and dirty analysis. Keep in mind that I don’t know this data well, and I did this really quickly, so the analysis isn’t meant to be cited anywhere. It does, at least, give us some idea of what the relationship between red and blue states and abortion might be, and what might be behind that relationship.

    Here’s what I did, in short: I got access statistics for 2008 from here:

    I got abortion rates for each state from the same source (I linked it above), also for 2008.

    I got the absolute number of abortion providers (2005 statistics, unfortunately) from here:

    I got the number of Republican and Democrat state senators and representatives, as well as the party of the sitting governor, from Wikipedia.

    I didn’t know how to approach it at first, so I tried number of providers, a simple dummy variable indicating whether a state was Republican (majority in 2 houses or 1 house and governor), the number of providers in the state, whether the state had a law preventing medicaid from funding abortion, and whether the state had a waiting period law, and regressed them on the abortion rate per 1000 women between the ages of 15 and 41 in 2008. Then I realized that the absolute number of abortion providers is probably not a good measure, so I used the percentage of women in counties with no abortion provider (2008) instead. Unfortunately, because I’m only looking at one year, and I have to exclude a few states (because one or another source didn’t have data for it), my sample size is pretty small. So again, grain of salt. The only significant predictor of the abortion rate per 1000 in this simple, linear model is the percent of women in counties with no provider. If we take this out, waiting period becomes significant. I’ll give you the beta weights if you’re really interested, but suffice it to say for now that it’s negative for percent of women in counties with no provider (the higher the percentage, the fewer abortions per 1000), in case that wasn’t obvious.

    If you have extra data, particularly for different years, or other potential factors you’d like me to include, let me know where to find them. I’ll keep the data open for the rest of the day so that I can quickly add anything to it.Report

  21. Avatar LauraNo says:

    I think we need at least two more charts before drawing the conclusion you seem to want. What is the rate of contraception use in each region, and how efficacious are the forms used and what, if any form of sex ed is on offer in each region? Of course liberals will have more abortions, since they 1) don’t have a moral objection to it and 2) they seem to place a higher significance on continuing ed than conservative families faced with a teenage pregnancy. Also, I have no idea how the rate of abortions is determined. Statistics by Planned Parenthood? Self-reporting?Report

  22. Avatar Chris says:

    I think it’s good to note how incredibly civil this comment section (and the next one) have been. This topic easily devolves into stone throwing, or as one commenter put it, teeth and nails, but this discussion has been light on stones, nails, and teeth. This is a credit to the OP’s author, as well as too the people who’ve commented here so far.Report