Abortion Supply and Demand

Abortion Supply and Demand May 2, 2024

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, the number of abortions in the United States has increasedNow that we have reliable statistics, it appears that the number of abortions in 2023 is 10% higher than in 2020.

Pro-lifers assumed that taking away the nation-wide “right” to an abortion would result in fewer abortions.  And pro-abortion activists have also been claiming that taking away this “right” has had a dire effect on “women’s reproductive freedom.”  But evidently, overturning Roe v. Wade has done little to stop abortion.

Why is that?

Certainly, fewer abortions are being performed in states that have banned or greatly restricted abortion.  But that decrease may be made up by increases in the states that have legalized and even expanded access.  And we may be seeing “abortion tourism,” as women who want an abortion in restrictive states simply pay a visit to an abortion-friendly state.

My theory is that the backlash against the Dobbs decision sending the issue back to the states has been so great, not only among progressives but also among conservatives, that abortion is now more socially accepted than it ever has been before.  As such, it is being thought of not as a tragic necessity sometimes, as proponents used to present it, but as a positive good, something not to be ashamed of.  A woman who travels to another state to get an abortion can even feel self-righteous about it.

Daniel K. Williams, a history professor and fellow Patheos blogger at Anxious Bench, takes a deep dive into this issue in his post Why Is The Abortion Rate Increasing?

The author of Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade, Williams looks at historical patterns in the abortion rates in terms of supply and demand.  On the supply side, when abortion was first legalized and then subsidized by Medicaid, the number of abortions shot up.  When the Hyde Amendment cut off federal funding for abortion, the number went down.

The abortion rate actually went down in the 21st century.  On the demand side, fewer middle class women and teenagers were getting abortions.  According to Williams,

In the 1990s, middle-class women had been almost as likely as lower-income women to have abortions. In 2000, only 27 percent of women who obtained abortions were poor. But by 2008, 42 percent were, and by 2014, 49 percent of women who obtained abortions were living below the poverty line. . . .

By 2014, the typical woman who had an abortion was not a college student or a pregnant teenager; she was a low-income, unmarried woman in her mid-20s who was already a mother to at least one child. Many of these women chose abortion because they did not believe that they could adequately care for another child at that moment in their lives.

Whereupon progressives began framing abortion as a social justice issue!

More recently, despite the Dobbs ruling and some states passing pro-life laws, abortion access increased because of the abortion pill.

Williams, a pro-life Christian, offers this advice:

If we can’t reduce the supply of abortions, perhaps we can reduce the demand. If the demand for abortions has become disproportionately concentrated among women in poverty who are already mothers, perhaps we can expand access to healthcare, family leave, and economic assistance programs that will enable women in such a situation to care for their children. We can improve career prospects for these women by expanding access to tuition-free college programs. . . .

But I also think that a lot of the real pro-life work will need to take place at the local and individual level, where people at a crisis pregnancy center can meet with a woman facing a crisis pregnancy and can offer baby clothes, food, and job placement assistance – but to an even greater extent, can offer life coaching and a supportive structure that will help her move forward with her own life while also choosing life for her unborn child. And churches can provide the supportive structures that will encourage stable marriages among their own congregants – a measure that can reduce the incidence of abortion, since the vast majority of people who have abortions are unmarried. . . .

But maybe a supply-side solution was never the ideal approach for the pro-life movement anyway. If the goal is a culture of life, we have to focus not merely on reducing the supply but on reducing the demand for abortion, because a culture of life cannot be imposed from the top down on an unwilling populace. The pro-life movement has been most effective not when it bans abortion through law [but] when it convinces people that choosing life for an unborn child in a difficult situation is the right choice – and that’s a process that can take place even if the supply of abortion is higher than it has been in years.

 

Photo by Tyler A. McNeil, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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