On The Subject of Abortion: How Has Roe v. Wade Impacted Us?
It has been more than 40 years - what has changed?
Abortion. There is hardly a subject in America that incites more intense opinions. Pro or con, it is worth considering how the changes in the laws of our country have impacted our lives.
Prior to 1973 it was illegal in the United States for a woman to terminate a pregnancy except in California and New York. The decision in the case of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court based on the right of privacy overturned state anti-abortion statutes. In response many states moved to limit certain rights to abortion such as requiring parental consent for minors, spousal consent, waiting periods, required reading prior to an abortion, and the barring of state funding for abortions. Today abortion is legal in every state but not necessarily readily available. Some states have passed laws that would automatically make abortion illegal again should Roe v. Wade ever be overturned.
Surveys by Public Agenda show both American men and women lean toward the belief that abortion is morally wrong, not significantly different from reported views in 1973. However, more than half of respondents said they did not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. Public opinion surveys on abortion from the late 1980s to 2003 found few changes in Americans' views over the time period.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1973 the abortion rate was 14 per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44. The number of abortions peaked in 1990 with a rate of 24 per 1,000. From that high, the CDC reported the numbers have declined through 2002 and stabilized in the years since. In 2012 the abortion rate was 13.2 abortions per 1,000.
"Given the large decreases in the total number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions from 2011 to 2012, in combination with decreases that occurred during 2008–2011, all three measures reached historic lows." -CDC
Today the majority of abortions occur in the court-sanctioned first trimester with six percent done after 15 weeks of pregnancy. With the advent of emergency contraception, the birth control pills taken up to 72 hours after sex, the number of abortions has dropped since 1998.
Still, opinions in the U.S. remain divided. In 1975, a Gallup poll found 54 percent thought abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances; 21 percent thought it should be legal in all circumstances; and 22 percent thought it should be illegal. In 2003, another Gallup poll saw these numbers shift to 57 percent; 24 percent; and 18 percent, respectively. Still, polls show 65 percent of Americans don’t think the government should interfere with access to abortion.
Abortion rates among minorities have followed the overall downward trends since 1973. Still, black women have consistently had the highest rates, followed by Hispanic women. Access to and effective use of contraceptives have the most significant impact on the rates among minorities as well as women who are young, unmarried and living below the poverty line. Guttmacher Institute researchers published information in medical journals in 2007 and 2008 suggesting geographical access to medical services and the inability to afford prescription contraceptives as the primary factors in unintended pregnancies and abortions among minority groups.
In 1998 Steven Levitt, a professor of law at the University of Chicago, and John Donolhue, an economist at Yale University, published “The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime” in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. In it they suggested the link between the legalization of abortion in 1973 and the reduction in crime between 1992 and 1995 in America, as well as in Canada and Australia where abortion was legalized at the same time. The authors argue that in states where abortion was made legal earlier, such as California and New York, crime rates in fact were reduced earlier. From the paper:
“More interesting and important is the possibility that children born after abortion legalization may on average have lower subsequent rates of criminality for either of two reasons. First, women who have abortions are those most at risk to give birth to children who would engage in criminal activity. Teenagers, unmarried women, and the economically disadvantaged are all substantially more likely to seek abortions [Levine et al. 1996]. Recent studies have found children born to these mothers to be at higher risk for committing crime in adolescence [Comanor and Phillips 1999]. Second, women may use abortion to optimize the timing of childbearing. A given woman’s ability to provide a nurturing environment to a child can fluctuate over time depending on the woman’s age, education, and income, as well as the presence of a father in the child’s life, whether the pregnancy is wanted, and any drug or alcohol abuse both in-utero and after the birth. Consequently, legalized abortion provides a woman the opportunity to delay childbearing if the current conditions are sub optimal. Even if lifetime fertility remains constant for all women, children are born into better environments, and future criminality is likely to be reduced.”
The moral, religious, and cultural reasons for people to hold fast to their opinions about abortion will not be impacted by this information. Studies, statistics, and polling results in the years to come will give more or less credence to the information provided here. One fact that cannot be debated is the number of women's lives that have been saved due to legalization of abortion.