Last Tuesday several news sources reported some version of this headline:
Minnesota abortions at 37-year low
That particular headline came from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Every year since Abortion reporting has been in place since 1973 when Roe v. Wade made the procedure legal in the United States. States have their own unique reporting laws for abortions performed in each state, and in 1998 the Minnesota Legislature updated their requirements and the types of questions that are asked of doctors and patients. In Minnesota it is required that all physicians liscensed and practicing in Minnesota who perform abortions, and all MN facilities in which abortions are performed to complete and submit a report for each procedure to the Minnesota Department of Health. All of that information is compliled into an annual report called the “Report to the Legislature: Induced Abortions in Minnesota”. Two Fridays ago, the 2011 annual report was released by the MDH.
The report is a fascinating read – in a dry “I’m reading 28 pages of statistics” kind of way – especially if you have an interest in who is getting what type of abortions, who is performing them, and even reasons why people say they are seeking abortions. This is a list of some of the information collected:
- Medical specialty of the physician performing the abortion
- Patient age
- Date of the abortion
- Clinical estimate of gestation
- Number of previous spontaneous and induced abortions
- Type of abortion procedure
- Intra-operative complications
- Method of disposal of fetal remains
- Type of payment
- Health coverage type
- Reason for the abortion
- Type of admission
- Patient residence
- Date of last menses
- Contraceptive use and method
- Marital status
- Hispanic origin
- Previous live births
There’s a lot of information packed into this report. Which brings us back to that title in the Star Tribune:
Minnesota abortions at 37-year low
My first question was “How much lower are we talking about?” I had previously read that the number of abortions nationwide has been dropping. Does Minnesota match that trend? How long have we been trending downward? Does the degree of decline match our recent trend, or was it unexpectedly low? Ultimately, how momentous is this proclamation that Minnesota abortions are at a 37-year low?
So I did some nerdery. As some of you may know, I have a love/hate relationship with statistics. I love what they can do, but I’m not particularly talented at doing them. So please take these analyses with a grain of salt, and if you see any major gaffes or ways I can improve the analyses, let me know!
Data came from Table 21: “Total and Resident Induced Abortions 1975 – 2011” (Page 22) of the 2011 annual report. Analysis was done in Excel + Analyze-It. I’ve pasted the full data set at the bottom of the page for reference.
Scatterplot of number of induced abortions occurring in Minnesota 1975-2011:
That’s certainly a downward trend! The number of abortions occurring in Minnesota reached an all-time high in 1980, at 19,028. In 1975 the number of reported abortions was 10,565, which is just slightly lower than the reported 2011 number of 11,071. So yes, 2011 is lowest number of induced abortions occurring in Minnesota in the 36 or 37 year time period between 1976 and 2011 . But the “Minnesota abortions at 37 year low” story is nothing new; every year since 2004 has been “the lowest number of abortions” since 1975.
There have been a few upward blips, but we’ve seen a downward trend since 1980. I took that data set and analyzed it using a linear trend line.
On average, there have been approximately 205 fewer abortions per year since 1980 (Caveat – it’s not a strong correlation at 0.8655. Is there a better way to analyze this?). Calculating an average percent difference of “percent difference from previous year” (shown in the table at the bottom of this post) gives us an approximate 1.6% decrease annually.
So why are we seeing what we’re seeing? The annual report doesn’t attempt to answer this question; its only concern is accurate data collection and reporting in accordance with Minnesota statutes. I thought about factors that might come together to produce the patterns in the graph above (the year-to-year fluctuations as well as the overall downward trend) and I came up with these possible considerations:
- How do the numbers correlate with changes in population demographics in any given year?
- Population migration into more rural or urban areas (less access to abortion in rural areas)?
- What were the economic conditions like in any given year?
- Were there greater numbers of women in the age group most likely to receive abortion (20-24 years old) in any given year?
- What sex education policies were in place at any given time?
- What were the attitudes toward abortion in any given year?
- What political events or campaigns were underway at these times?
- When did anti-abortion groups pick up steam and Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) start showing up in Minnesota?
I’m sure that I’m not even scratching the surface of the number of factors that influence abortion rates.
Minnesota Trends Mirror National Trends in Induced Abortions Numbers
In 2008, this Guttmacher study showed that nationwide we are experiencing a downward trend. Minnesota’s data mirrors the national pattern (a rise up until the early 80s, followed by a slow downward trend):
This table looks at national rates of abortion from 1973-2008. Guttmacher reports that “The abortion rate rose following nationwide legalization, began to decline in the 1980s and is now stable.”
Guttmacher also provided reasons for why the rate increased so greatly between 1973 and 1980:
In the years immediately following the Roe v. Wade decision, the number of legal abortions grew rapidly for several reasons. The number of physicians trained and experienced in the procedure increased, and a nationwide network of outpatient abortion clinics developed that enabled women who would previously have had an illegal abortion, or would not have been able to obtain an abortion at all, to have a legal procedure in a medical facility.
WHY the decline over 30 years?
This is the big question, isn’t it? Lower numbers of abortion imply less unintended pregnancies. A low but stable number over time seems to me to be the goal. In Minnesota we’ve been seeing a steady decrease and nationally it looks like we’re stabilizing our numbers. So what are we doing right?
Anti-choice groups would have us believe that it is their efforts to provide education (which could be good if what they’re teaching is comprehensive ways to avoid pregnancy, and not good if they’re teaching abstinence only) and alternatives to abortion which have resulted in the Minnesota and national downward trends. Just this past June, Life News claimed that “Huge Abortion Rate Decline Shows Pro-Life Progress“. The author heavily quoted this 2012 CDC national vital statistics report which showed that abortion numbers have been dropping, but he provides no explanation for how the pro-life movement might be responsible for the decline. In one paragraph he mentions that “there has been increased use of contraception among teenagers ” (which is in spite of anti-choice propaganda against birth control) and that “this report adds a growing body of evidence that the pro-life movement is making quiet progress on a number of different fronts.” Way for those jerks and bullies to take credit for our hard work.
I and other comprehensive sex ed advocates believe the studies which suggest that it is education about the cause and prevention of pregnancy, as well as campaigns to make birth control more accessible to the population that result in lower numbers of unintended pregnancies. These are the efforts that are behind the downward trend. And if we want to continue declining or at least to remain stable, we need to support these efforts, not undermine them. If you want abortion to decrease, don’t fight the symptom (abortion), fight the cause (unintended pregnancy)! That means more sex education and more access to contraception, not more pain-in-the-ass (or vagina) restrictions on how to obtain a legal abortion.
Full data set for # of induced abortions occuring in Minnesota 1975-2011.
|Year||Incidence||%Diff from previous year|