Abortion rates are falling in most states including Washington, which has strong protections for a woman’s reproductive rights that include the termination of a pregnancy. There are many reasons why rates are falling, but a drop in the teen pregnancy rate is a major factor, according to a recent Associated Press analysis of the trend since 2010.
In Washington, reproductive rights advocates point to the growing access to contraceptives, which includes such over-the-counter medications as the Plan B morning-after pill. From 2010 to 2013, the state saw the number of abortions fall by 16.7 percent — from 21,124 to 17,592.
Overall, that’s good news to the extent a woman’s access to legal medical procedures is not being interfered with. It’s also evidence that access to abortion does not need to be restricted in order to achieve reductions in abortions.
States that have adopted restrictive abortion laws are also seeing falling abortion rates, and it appears the falling incidence of abortion is occurring in spite of the tide of anti-abortion laws adopted since 2011.
In fact, it’s only in two states where abortions went up significantly since 2010 — Louisiana and Michigan, where women arriving from out of state were identified as the primary cause.
Louisiana is Republican and, despite being honored by Americans United for Life as the top state for taking action to reduce abortion access, it saw a 12 percent increase in the procedures.
A Michigan-based Planned Parenthood group said one factor in that state’s 18.5 percent increase in abortions was a reduction in family planning services. But an abortion opponent suggested there had previously been under-reporting of abortions.
Erica Barnett of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington says data collected by the Guttmacher Institute, the sexual and reproductive health research organization, shows the drop in teen pregnancy had little to do with teens delaying sex, but that greater access to contraceptives among teens was a factor. She noted the same has been occurring with adults as a result of increased access to contraceptives through the Affordable Care Act, which makes oral contraceptives free to all women in all states.
There is a glitch in the ACA, however. Prescription contraceptives are covered, but over-the-counter contraceptives are not, and some conservatives in the U.S. Senate introduced legislation recently to make FDA-appproved oral contraceptives available over the counter. Unfortunately, this could result in women having to pay for birth control even under the ACA.
Last week, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced her Affordability is Access Act, which proposes to plug that hole.
We recognize how hard it is to get anything done in Congress, but Murray’s idea sounds like a reasonable approach that is worth pursuing.