Abortion Policy: What Works?

We should focus our energy on legislation that increases access to contraception and education versus ban/restriction legislation proven ineffective by the data

By Tammi Fisher

Like many women, my opinions with respect to when the government should intervene in pregnancy have evolved. My religion informs me that life begins at conception, and spiritually, I believe that is true. But I don’t believe my religious beliefs should drive government policy; this is why government bans don’t work to prevent many activities, including abortion. The ineffectiveness of government bans and restrictions with respect to abortion is now borne out by data. When abortion was banned, it occurred at a more frequent rate than it does now. Indeed, the U.S. abortion rate has plunged to its lowest level since Roe V. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that studies reproductive health.

When the Guttmacher report on abortion rates was released, pro-life groups hailed the findings as a success due to legal restrictions placed on abortion and consequentially a decrease in abortion providers. However, abortion was declining before government restrictions ramped up on the state level in 2011. The trend of declining rates of abortion continued through 2017, and correlated with a decline in overall pregnancy and birth rates. If an increase in government restrictions was the cause of the decline in abortion, pregnancy would remain the same and the birth rate would increase. But that didn’t happen.

The cause of the decline in the rate of abortion is multifactorial, but has nothing to do with additional restrictions to access or decreasing the number of abortion providers (the decrease in providers was only 1 percent). Rather, the data indicates contraceptive use and effectiveness has increased over time, as has education about “how babies are made.” I also believe that women of all ages are more informed about the consequences of unintended pregnancy and have a more meaningful understanding of the moral dilemmas associated with abortion, thereby choosing to either access contraception or avoid intercourse. As a mother of teenagers, I have observed that my kids are far less interested in being involved in the debauchery I was involved in as a teen, either due to delay in wanting to be independent, helicopter parenting, increased sex education, and/or social media eliminating the need for teen in-person activities.

Most folks fall on a continuum with respect to abortion policy; few take staunch “free access to abortion anytime anywhere” or “no abortion allowed” policy positions. But all of us want the rate of abortion to decrease. And since we know the primary cause of abortion is unintended pregnancy, perhaps we should focus our energy (and money) on legislation that increases access to contraception and education (including abstinence education) versus ban/restriction legislation proven ineffective by the data. Imagine a world where the pro-choice and pro-life contingents found common ground … Next stop: world peace!

Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.

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