U.S. Abortions at forty year low: Birth control or personal responsibility?

National Abstinence Education Foundation Chart - used with permission
National Abstinence Education Foundation Chart - used with permission

The U.S. abortion rate is at its lowest level since 1973, decreasing by 13 percent from just 2008-2011. Today, the rate among women ages 15-44 is at 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women, far below the peak of 29.3 in 1981. Regardless of whether advocates should be pro-life or pro-choice, fewer abortions are better for this country economically and socially.

Why the sudden decrease in abortions? Some contend that stricter access to clinics have actively limited women from terminating their pregnancies. Others argue that because birth control is more widely available, effective, and user-friendly, fewer women are getting pregnant. These analyses may be true, but they’re only half of the story.

The unspoken reason why abortions have gone down is far more deserving of praise: Personal responsibility.  People, particularly young people, are having less sex, using more protection, and getting into less-risky situations.

Young people are surprisingly conservative about sex. In fact, only 64 percent believe that sex outside of marriage is morally acceptable—far from the “hook-up culture” stereotype glamorized in Girls and Skins. And in another longitudinal government study, researchers found that almost a third (28 percent) of people ages 15-to-24 have never had anal, oral, or vaginal sex, and that number has been increasing for over a decade.

Fewer young women are getting pregnant today because they are choosing to abstain from sex altogether.

But naturally some women will choose to have sex without intending to procreate. According to the Guttmacher Institute, women who use contraception are using birth control pills, sterilization, and male condoms at the highest rates (27.5 percent, 26.6 percent, and 16.3 percent respectively). The Institute also report that condom use is especially high amongst women in their teens and twenties, when they are unlikely to be married.

Perhaps this is why the CDC reports that syphilis and chlamydia are far less prevalent in today’s heterosexual youth. Young people are using birth control safely and effectively, which has not only led to a decline in pregnancy, but also better public health for sexually active persons across the nation.

Sex is unfortunately not always consensual or planned. The Washington Post reports that five percent of unplanned pregnancies are a result of rape (statistics are unavailable for the rate of pregnancy from one-night stands). The great news is that women are participating in less-risky behavior that would create a situation for unplanned sex.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, teen drinking and binge drinking are at an all-time low. With the exception of marijuana, illicit drug use is down as well, even amongst synthetic drugs. While studies conflict on whether the incidence of rape has increased, decreased, or simply received more reports, women are doing more to protect themselves from making unplanned decisions. And because men are drinking less and doing less drugs, they are not entering an impaired state which may lead to rape or a night of poor-decision making. Fewer abortions come with fewer unplanned pregnancies, and fewer unplanned pregnancies come for less unplanned, unprotected sex.

Media pundits would have Americans convinced that abortions should be on the rise right now. Article after article claims that young people are putting off children—or that they just can’t afford them. If accidental pregnancies were occurring at the same rate over time, abortions should be increasing. They’re not.

In a free society, communities thrive because of smart personal decisions. At the heart of the declining pregnancy rate are women making better decisions for themselves and for their bodies. Some are abstaining from sex. More are practicing safe sex. And young people are developing a culture where personal responsibility is at the core of the most private of decisions.

Young people are being smarter about their sex lives, benefiting millions of taxpayers and moral crusaders. They should be applauded for the personal decisions that they’ve made—without government coercion of any kind.

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