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January 21, 2004

January 21, 2004 | News Releases on

"Pro-Life" Laws Lead to Decline In Abortions, Study Finds

WASHINGTON, JAN. 21, 2004-The decline in abortions during the 1990s-by a margin of more than 17 percent, according to government data-can be traced in large part to state legislation, a study from The Heritage Foundation finds.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that the number of abortions fell from 1,035,573 in 1990 to 854,416 (for the 46 states reporting to the CDC). Strong economic growth may have played a small part, the study says, but a more likely cause is the increase in "pro-life" laws-ones that mandate parental involvement, prohibit "partial-birth" abortions, or call for "informed consent" (in which women seeking abortions are told of the health risks associated with the procedure).

In 1992, virtually no states were enforcing informed-consent laws. None had banned partial-birth abortions, and only 20 were enforcing parental-involvement laws. By 2000, 27 states had informed-consent laws on the books, 12 had banned or restricted partial-birth abortions, and 32 were enforcing parental-involvement laws.

Michael New, a post-doctoral fellow at the Harvard-MIT data center, examined information from the CDC and the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit group founded by a former president of Planned Parenthood, to discern the effect of state-level "pro-life" laws on abortion rates (the number of abortions per 1,000 women, ages 15-44) and ratios (the number of abortions per 1,000 live births). Among New's findings:

· States that adopted pro-life legislation during the 1990s experienced larger reductions in their abortion rates and ratios than states that did not adopt such legislation.

· State laws restricting the use of Medicaid funds in paying for abortions reduced the abortion rate by 29.66 and the abortion ratio by 2.08.

· States that adopted informed-consent laws saw the abortion ratio drop by 11.69 and the abortion rate by 0.92, CDC data show. When Guttmacher data are used, informed-consent laws exhibit an even greater effect, reducing the abortion ratio by 22.46 and the abortion rate by 1.57.

New also considers which type of pro-life legislation had the most impact. Parental-involvement laws appear to be the least effective at reducing the number of abortions-though, as New points out, they are aimed only at minors. Medicaid funding restrictions, by contrast, appear to be especially effective, as are informed-consent laws (which have not been examined by any other academic studies).

Why the increase in the number of pro-life laws? New credits two major factors: the Supreme Court's decision in 1992's Casey v. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania and the "considerable and lasting gains" pro-life candidates made in state legislatures during the 1990s. Casey didn't overturn Roe v. Wade, of course, but it "did give pro-life legislators at the state level more freedom to enact laws designed to protect the unborn," New says.

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