Christopher Humphrey recently argued that increasing numbers of pregnancy help centers provide the best explanation for the 50 percent decline in the U.S. abortion rate since 1980. Increases in the number of pregnancy help centers do coincide with falling abortion rates and a sustained increase in the percentage of unintended pregnancies carried to term.
Additionally, the data he presents from the ad campaigns in Pittsburgh is interesting and provides fodder for future research. However, in his article Humphrey downplays the important role that legislative and educational efforts are playing in the long-term decline of the U.S. abortion rate.
Humphrey looks at my academic research on state pro-life laws. He argues that the abortion rate declines in the laws I analyze account for only a fraction of the overall decline in the U.S. abortion rate since 1980. However, this understates the effects of pro-life legislation, for a couple of reasons.
First, my academic research has focused on three types of pro-life laws: public funding restrictions, parental involvement laws, and informed consent laws. I have been unable to properly analyze numerous other types of state-level pro-life legislation. Furthermore, many types of pro-life legislation serve an educational purpose. Many people are unaware of the permissive nature of abortion policy in the United States. Debates over incremental pro-life laws can often shift attitudes in a more pro-life direction.
Additionally, state pro-life laws are playing an increasingly important role in defending pregnancy help centers, allowing them to continue their lifesaving work. In many politically liberal states, pregnancy help centers are facing burdensome, unfair regulations. In 2015, California enacted a law that would have required pregnancy help centers to advertise the fact that the government offers publicly funded abortions.
A 2018 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court blocked enforcement of this California law. However, considering the leftward drift of the Democratic Party on sanctity of life issues, these attacks will likely continue in the future, making laws protecting pregnancy help centers even more important.
In his article, Humphrey cites research published by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to argue that there has been little change in public attitudes toward abortion since the early 1970s. Public opinion on sanctity of life issues is certainly nuanced, and data can be analyzed and interpreted various ways.
However, Gallup data clearly indicates that since the mid-1990s, there has been both a long-term and durable increase in the percentage of Americans who identify as “pro-life.” Other surveys, like the General Social Survey (GSS), which has been asking the same six questions on abortion since the early 1970s, have also found long-term gains in pro-life sentiment.
Even more importantly, there have been changes in attitudes within key demographic groups. For instance, during the 1970s, the GSS found that young adults aged 18-29 were the age demographic most sympathetic toward legal abortion. However, starting in 2000, young adults became the age demographic most opposed to abortion.
A body of research also suggests young adults are now more likely than older Americans to support a range of incremental pro-life laws, such as informed consent laws and late-term abortion bans. Since decisions about obtaining abortions are made by young women, these changes in sentiment among young people might be having a substantial effect on abortion rates.
Overall, since the Roe v. Wade decision, pro-lifers have worked tirelessly to protect unborn children. To succeed, legislative, educational, and service efforts will all continue to be very important. The outstanding work of the more than 2,700 pregnancy help centers in the United States has played, and will continue to play, a vital role in helping many women choose life-affirming options for themselves and their children.
In his article, Humphrey presents some interesting data that suggests the increase in pregnancy help centers is correlated with a decline in the incidence of abortion. This is certainly a rich area for future academic and policy research. However, 46 years of pro-life activism since Roe v. Wade clearly demonstrate that political and educational efforts have a sustained track record of success and will continue to play a vital role.