Communications Department

New Guttmacher Study Ignores Impact of Public Debate Regarding Rights of Unborn on Abortion Rates

Feb 3, 2014 | 2014 Press Releases

WASHINGTON – A report released today by the Guttmacher Institute found that abortion rates and ratios are continuing to decline in the United States – but downplayed the role that public debate over the rights of unborn children have played in this trend.

In its “Abortion Incidence and Service Availability in the United States, 2011” report, the Guttmacher Institute (originally founded as a research affiliate of Planned Parenthood) reported that for 2011, there were 1.05 million abortions in the United States – 550,000 fewer than the peak of 1.6 million in 1990.

“That abortion rates and numbers continue to decline is heartening because it shows that women are rejecting the idea of abortion as the answer to an unexpected pregnancy,” said National Right to Life President Carol Tobias. “This latest report from Guttmacher shows the long-term efforts of the right-to-life movement to educate the country about the humanity of the unborn child and to enact laws that help children and their mothers are having a tremendous impact.”

The Guttmacher report attempts to downplay the impact of pro-life legislation during the period covered by the report. However this ignores the significant educational impact of the public policy debate surrounding pro-life legislation. Pro-life legislative efforts at the federal and state levels dating back to the 1980s have established legal protections for unborn children and their mothers. They have also increased public awareness about the impact of abortion by prompting discussion of such topics as the development of the unborn child, the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortion, and the gruesome partial-birth abortion procedure.

In an article about that appeared in The New York Times Magazine (March 30, 2003), titled “Surprise, Mom: I’m Against Abortion,” journalist Elizabeth Hayt wrote,

Experts offer a number of reasons why young people today seem to favor stricter abortion laws than their parents did at the same age. They include the decline in teenage pregnancy over the last 10 years, which has reduced the demand for abortion. They also cite society’s greater acceptance of single parenthood; the spread of ultrasound technology, which has made the fetus seem more human; and the easing of the stigma once attached to giving up a child for adoption. . . . The most commonly cited reason for the increasingly conservative views of young people is their receptiveness to the way anti-abortion campaigners have reframed the national debate on the contentious topic, shifting the emphasis from a woman’s rights to the rights of the fetus . . . . “There’s been so much media attention over the last seven to eight years on partial-birth abortion, we shouldn’t be surprised that some of it has had an effect on 12-to-14-year-olds, and it is a public relations coup for the National Right to Life Committee,” said David J. Garrow, a legal historian at Emory University who has focused on reproductive rights.

A very recent example of the public policy debate came in 2010, when Nebraska became the first state to enact the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a groundbreaking law that provides protection for unborn children capable of feeling pain, beginning at 20 weeks fetal age. While the Nebraska legislature was considering the bill, a nationwide debate about the capacity of unborn children to feel pain began and once again refocused the country’s attention to the fact that abortion takes the life of a living human being.

In other example, Guttmacher cites the state of Illinois, which saw an 18% decline in abortion numbers even though the state didn’t enact any pro-life legislation during period covered by the report. This neglects, however, that the state’s parental notice law, which had been enjoined since its passage in 1995, was once again in the news in 2009 and 2010 – precisely during the study period – and again prompted a public discussion and debate and parental involvement in a minor daughter’s abortion decision.

“The legislative efforts of the right-to-life movement, and significantly, the resulting national debate and educational campaigns surrounding pro-life legislation should not be minimized when discussing the decline in abortion numbers,” Tobias noted. “The more Americans learn about the development of the unborn child and the tragedy of abortion, the more they reject abortion as a legitimate answer to an unexpected pregnancy.”

The numbers and statistics released today by Guttmacher largely lines up with the estimates published in National Right to Life’s The State of Abortion in the United States, 2014 issued last month. Those estimates were calculated based on recent data from the CDC and previous reports by the Guttmacher Institute. When the numbers from this most recent Guttmacher report are included in totals from previous years, National Right to Life estimates that since abortion was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 twin decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, there have been more than 56 million abortion performed in the United States.

Guttmacher found that the abortion rate – that is, the number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 – has reached a low of 16.9, the lowest it has been since 1973.

The Guttmacher report also revealed the abortion ratio was 21.2 per 100 pregnancies ending in live birth or abortion, showing that pregnant women were more likely to choose life for their unborn children than at any time before abortion was legalized in 1973.

Tragically, however, this abortion ratio means that that still more than one in five children conceived in the United States are killed by abortion.

“While overall fewer unborn children are being killed by abortion, the Guttmacher report tragically finds that more than one in five pregnancies ends in abortion and takes the life of a living unborn child,” Tobias noted. “The right-to-life movement must continue its efforts to protect these children and their mothers from the tragedy of abortion and our society must do a better job in providing life-affirming alternatives.”

National Right to Life President Carol Tobias and National Right to Life Director of Education & Research Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D. are available to provide further analysis and commentary on the Guttmacher report. To arrange an interview, please contact the NRLC Communications Department at (202) 626-8825 or email

Founded in 1968, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the federation of 50 state right-to-life affiliates and more than 3,000 local chapters, is the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots pro-life organization. Recognized as the flagship of the pro-life movement, NRLC works through legislation and education to protect innocent human life from abortion, infanticide, assisted suicide and euthanasia.