Did we mention?-the sky is falling

Every election year, there are alarums about the impending demise of the ability to secure an abortion. "Unless, of course, you vote for..." Usually it’s a candidate of the Democratic Party who raises the alarum and who duly promises to safeguard a woman’s right and ability to choose an abortion against the forces of darkness, etc., etc. In New York’s Senate race, both candidates, Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Rick Lazio, promise to keep this fundamental (soon to be God-given) right safe.

A New York Times editorial [October 11] also weighs in on this important issue: "The fact is that in the nearly three decades since the Roe decision, a woman’s right to choose abortion is becoming ever more fragile. In thousands of communities it is nonexistent." You would never guess that this is a nation where 1.37 million abortions were performed in 1996-the last year for which data is available-and no fewer than 34 million between 1973 and 1996. In fact, with an abortion rate of 23 per thousand in women of reproductive age, the United States continues to have one of the highest rates of abortion among developed nations.

The Times goes on to observe other ominous signs of the fragile condition of the abortion right: there has been a 30 percent drop in abortion providers since 1982, and 86 percent of U.S. counties have no abortion services. We couldn’t find out what percentage of counties have no medical services at all, but here are some illuminating factoids: in almost one-quarter of all U.S. counties the population is under 10,000 and in more than half, it is under 25,000. Does population density have any effect on the number of abortion providers? Or could the 30 percent drop in providers have something to do with a drop in demand? In the early 1980s, the abortion rate was at its peak-29 per thousand for women aged 15-44. Since then, there has been a 22 percent decline in the rate; teen pregnancy rates are dropping and contraceptive use is increasing (up more than 25 percent since 1980). Is the sky falling? Or is the ceiling being lowered?

The Times editorial concludes, in what is presumably an endorsement of Al Gore: "The next president’s views will have much to do with whether reproductive freedom is protected here and promoted abroad." Having discovered a fundamental American right to abortion in Roe, the New York Times is now eager to send it ’round the world.

Published in the 2000-11-03 issue: 
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