For anyone invested in the fate of women’s access to reproductive health care in the United States, the most recent efforts by the House of Representatives to block access to abortions comes as no surprise. What motivates these legislative efforts, however, appears to be a topic of conflict and inconsistency, even among those supporting the increased restrictions. Logic would suggest that if preventing abortions is solely an issue of protecting the “right to life” of an unborn child, then preventing situations where women are faced with the choice between carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term and terminating a pregnancy in the first place should be a championing goal of individuals who are against abortion. However, in spite of attempts to couch abortion restrictions as an issue of fetal rights, the actions and statements of many key figures within the political movement often suggest otherwise. Individuals like Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina who suggest that the members of the anti-abortion movement “are not attacking women’s health care” have some explaining to do when they align themselves with those who believe the Affordable Care Act’s efforts to increase access to birth control are an indication that women “cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government.”
The fact that many of the individuals who oppose abortions also lash out against bolstered access to more effective means of birth control is very telling. Research has shown that the majority of women who obtain abortions were actually using contraception during the very same month as when they conceived; however, this study also indicated that the more effective that the contraceptive method used was, the less likely women were to obtain an abortion. Over one-quarter of the women obtaining abortions had used the male condom, compared to only 0.1% obtained by women using the much longer-term IUD. This stark difference in rates of abortion by family planning method stems from vast disparities in proper usage of each mode of birth control — methods such as condoms and the pill are commonly misused or even skipped periodically, while IUDs are virtually immune to individual error.
In spite of all the frenzy surrounding the issue, abortion rates in the U.S. are currently at the lowest point since the passage of Roe v. Wade (1973), and have been steadily decreasing since the early 1980s (see image below).
Interestingly, although it is tempting to attribute the recent dips in abortion rates to the rash of legal restrictions to obtaining abortions that have been enacted in recent memory, the Guttmacher Institute has stated that there is actually little to no evidence supporting this belief. Instead, they hypothesize that the most likely source of this recent decline in abortions can be attributed to increasing usage of the aforementioned highly effective birth control methods, particularly the long-lasting and highly reliable IUD.
This is an exciting prospect for advocates of women’s reproductive health. If these modern contraceptive methods truly are at the root not only of fewer unwanted pregnancies but also fewer pregnancy terminations, anti-abortion advocates should (theoretically) be thrilled to promote access birth control, further validating the Affordable Care Act’s provision for required coverage of IUDs (among other modern birth control methods). For those who believe that reducing abortion rates is the ultimate goal (and not the restriction of women’s ability to control their own fertility), the finding of such a relatively simple means of slashing future abortions rates will be a cause for celebration. In the meantime, only time will tell whether the movement will follow the intentions expressed publicly by Representative Foxx or something closer to the ideology of former governor Huckabee.