As a Christian teenager, I was well trained that Christians must be “pro-life”, a.k.a. anti-abortion and Republican. I joined the Bound4Life rallies, pledged to wear the bracelet until abortion was ended, and voted single issue against abortion. However, as I began looking into which party was actually doing a better job of reducing abortions, I had a starting realization. I initially wrote this blog on October 30, 2016. I’ve refreshed it as of August 17, 2020 with more recent data, but, remarkably, the trends are exactly the same. Read on for a thought provoking discussion on how we actually reduce abortions in America.
Which Party Actually Reduces Abortions?
Abortions in America are measured three ways. The following chart (from Snopes.com using CDC data) shows abortions per 1000 live births and abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44 years old. When the president is a Republican, the line is red, when the president is a Democrat, the line is blue. Note that the data in the chart only goes to 2012, but the data in the paragraphs below goes to 2016. In the numbers below, I reference a third stat as well, sheer number of aborted babies per year.
Abortion was legalized nationwide by Roe v Wade in 1973. From then until 1980, all measurements increased. They then stabilized until the mid 90s when they began falling rapidly. Since then, the CDC has released data for Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama. The CDC’s data is delayed several years, so Trump’s data is not out yet. Below, I review the data for Clinton George W. Bush, and Obama in detail.
During the Clinton years (1993-2000) the abortion rate (abortions per thousand women 15-44 years old) went from 23 to 16 (30% decrease). The abortion ratio (abortions per 1000 live births) went from 321 to 246 (23% decrease). In actual numbers of abortions it went from 1,330,414 to 857,475 (36% decrease). So, depending on which metric you use, Clinton saw a 23-36% decrease in abortions.
George W. Bush
Contrast this to George W Bush (8 years 2001-2008). The abortion rate went from 16 to 15.6 (2.5% decrease). The abortion ratio went from 246 to 234 (5% decrease). In actual numbers it went from 853,485 to 825,564 (3%) decrease. So, depending on which metric you use, George W. Bush saw a 2.5-5% decrease in abortions. That’s 1/8th the rate that Clinton had. By the way, the GOP had control of the House for 6 of these years and the Senate for 4. So, for 4 years (2003-2007), the GOP had control of the White House, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Supreme Court (http://bit.ly/2f6TmDY). So, they should have had sufficient control to implement whatever they wanted to.
Now, you’re probably saying that’s because we hit a floor after the Clinton years. Not so fast. The last year reported by the CDC is 2016. This is end of Obama’s time in office. During these 8 years (2009-2016), the rate went from 14.9 to 11.6 (22% decrease), the ratio went from 227 to 186 (18% decrease), and the number of abortions went from 789,217 to 623,471 (21% decrease). So, Obama saw a decrease of 18-22% depending on the metric. Not as good as Clinton, but still over 4X the improvement that Bush was able to achieve.
All the statistics on annual abortions counts are available at http://bit.ly/1MOhtBA. You can also pull them straight from the CDC website (there’s a link next to each year).
How is it possible?
Now you’re probably wondering what it is that Democrats are actually doing that would cause a decrease in abortion. Essentially the number of annual abortions can be expressed in a rather simple formula:
U x P = A.
U = Annual unwanted pregnancies.
P = Percentage of unwanted pregnancies terminated.
A = Final count of abortions that year.
You’ll likely remember from pre-algebra that to decrease A you can either decrease U or P.
U is a factor of birth control, illicit sex, safe living environment, poverty level, etc. These factor into whether a pregnancy is unwanted.
P has basically three factors (P1, P2, P3):
- What alternatives to abortion are available and how acceptable are they.
- Is abortion safe, legal, and accessible.
- Does the mother have a moral or religious prohibition against abortion.
When you look at this formula and look at where the Christian right has focused, it’s largely in P2. We’ve also tried to influence P3 but have been largely ineffectual (http://bit.ly/1N4kseA). The abortion rates among church goers are quite high. A small group have worked on P1 in the form of crisis pregnancy centers, etc. However, the push each election year by the pro life movement is to elect someone who will impact P2. However, by making this push every year, we alienate the very people we claim to be loving, by saying that we want to punish them.
Now contrast the democrats. Most still think abortion is a very bad thing and should be reduced. However being pro choice means they won’t attempt to change P2 or P3 to reduce abortions. However some have pushed hard on P1 by advocating for adoption. Additionally much of the Democratic agenda is about U. Here are a few examples of how the Democrats focus on U:
- Increasing access to contraceptives, pre/intra/post-natal care, and healthcare in general for mothers and children via Title X, ACA, etc.
- Ensuring everyone has access to food and housing via social safety net programs.
- Fighting for equitable treatment of women and children regardless of race, country of origin, etc.
This is why Democratic presidents have presided over much more significant decreases in abortions than Republicans. U is an easier part of the formula to impact. Additionally, if you aren’t pushing hard on P2, a pregnant girl will be more likely to come to you for advice because they don’t feel they will be judged.
2016’s DNC platform was dubbed the “most liberal ever” and it’s been pointed out that they removed “rare” from the “safe, legal, rare” mantra. However, in 2016, they were still are talking about ways to reduce abortion (http://bit.ly/29YL9Vu):
We will address the discrimination and barriers that inhibit meaningful access to reproductive health care services, including those based on gender, sexuality, race, income, disability, and other factors. We recognize that quality, affordable comprehensive health care, evidence-based sex education and a full range of family planning services help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.
The abortion debate reminds me of Jesus’ parable of two sons found in Matthew 21:28-32 (NIV):
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”
When we needed leadership to decrease and/or eliminate abortion, the Republicans stepped up and said “we will” and gathered the Christians behind them. However, they have accomplished almost nothing. Christians however, have continued to pledge allegiance to the Republicans. Thankfully, some Christians have also worked on the other levers as well.
The Democrats however, said “we will not” but proceeded to take actions to reduce the number of abortions, and have been very successful in doing so. So, if you are going to single issue vote on abortion, and your real goal is to decrease the number of annual abortions, vote Democrat. If your only goal is to change the laws of the land (which likely won’t occur under either president), and you don’t actually care how many babies are aborted, then vote Republican.