Pat your vagina on the back, ladies; a new report released today shows that the US birth rate is continuing to go down faster than a sorority girl in a tired sexist joke. But a reduction in birth rate isn't due to Operation Rescue nightmare-style use of abortion as birth control; rather, diligent use of contraception has reduced the overall pregnancy rate, especially among women in their teens and twenties. It sure would have been helpful if Rick Santorum had clarified that when he said birth control gave women "license to do things," he meant "license to be pregnant when they want to be."
American women just aren't getting knocked up like they used to. According to the report released by the Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics today, the most recent year that data was available (2008), fewer women than ever found themselves With Child. In fact, pregnancy rates were down across the most fecund age groups.
We knew that teen pregnancy had dropped off in recent years; in 2010, the CDC reported the lowest rate of inseminated youths in recorded history. And we knew that women in their twenties were putting off childbearing in favor filling their most fertile years with other, less baby poop-intensive activities. But what's new about this report is the juxtaposition of abortion rates with the new, lower pregnancy rates. Since both are falling, we can conclude that either women who aren't ready to have children are having dramatically less sex or they're doing a better job of staying unpregnant in the first place. But since instance of abortion has fallen more sharply than the overall birth rate, it seems that women who get pregnant are tending to wait until they want to have a child. Hm, I wonder how that's happening?
Abortion rates peaked in the 1990's, according to the CDC; just 22 years ago, about 1/4 of pregnancies ended in abortion, compared with 18% in 2008 (17% of pregnancies that year ended in fetal loss). Women in their late 20's and early 30's ended their pregnancies with live birth 70% of the time. Although women in their twenties are more likely to get pregnant than women in any other age group (the CDC says that in 2008, 1 in 6 women in their twenties was pregnant, which explains the ubiquity of creepy high def ultrasound images in my Facebook feed), pregnancy rates are dropping across almost all age and demographic groups — except for older women. In fact, women in their late thirties are pregnanting up a storm; for the first time, their overall pregnancy rate has passed the pregnancy rate of women in their mid teens. And the pregnancy rate for women in their forties has been shooting steadily upward since the early 1990's.
So what does this tell us about pregnancy, abortion, and contraception? For starters, birth control's safety and effectiveness at preventing unwanted pregnancy and reducing abortion (as evidenced by, uh, facts) highlights the absurd hypocrisy inherent in the "pro-life, anti-contraception" stance. History shows us that increased access to safe, affordable contraception gives women the power to choose when and how to have a family, and that increased use of contraception translates to fewer abortions. So unless you're straight up morally opposed to women having pleasurable, consequence-free sex, opposing birth control makes about as much sense as opposing seat belts or air bags.
Image by Jim Cooke.