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EDITORIAL: American abortion rate falling across the country

No matter where you stand on the contentious abortion debate, it should be welcome news that the abortion rate has hit a low not seen in almost 50 years.

The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice group that tracks abortion statistics, reported Wednesday that both the U.S. abortion rate and the number of such procedures performed in this country fell to the lowest levels since 1973, when abortion was legalized thanks to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.

“There were 13.5 abortions for every 1,000 women ages 15-44 in 2017,” the most recent year for which figures are available, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. That represents an 8 percent decline since 2014. In 2017, clinics performed about 862,000 abortions, down 7 percent since 2014 and the fewest since 1974.

The institute found no evidence to confirm fears from abortion-rights activists that new abortion laws in red states played a role in the trend of decreasing abortion numbers or rates. “If abortion restrictions were the main driver across the board,” the report noted, “we’d expect the birthrate to increase.”

In fact, The Associated Press reported, “57 percent of the decline occurred in the 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, that did not enact any new restrictions.” The report found that abortion rates have dropped in all parts of the country. Just five states saw increases.

Nor did the number of clinics correlate with abortion rates. While rates did decline in Ohio and Texas, which both saw a drop in available abortion clinics, rates fell by similar amounts in states such as California that added clinics.

Instead, the drop in abortions stems from the fact that fewer American woman are becoming pregnant in the first place. “In 2018, the number of babies born in the U.S. and the overall fertility rate hit an all-time low,” the Journal noted.

The demographic significance of this development has significant ramifications for the country’s long-term health, particularly when it comes to entitlement policies. In terms of abortion, however, fewer overall pregnancies results in fewer women intentionally terminating them.

Hillary Clinton once famously said that abortion should “be safe, legal and rare.” Partisans may argue forcefully about the “legal” part, but those who describe themselves as either pro-life or pro-choice should both cheer the fact that abortion in recent years has indeed become more “rare.”

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