“Hillary Clinton is the best choice for voters against abortion.”
This was the headline of an opinion piece that ran a few days ago on The Christian Post. Of course, I had to read it. In the article author Eric Sapp lays out his case for why Clinton is a more pro-life candidate than Donald Trump.
Several elements of Sapp’s argument were fairly weak. For one, he accuses Republicans of only giving lip-service to the pro-life cause as a way to stay in power. As someone who used to work in the Washington D.C. political world, I’d acknowledge there are certainly some Republicans like this, but there are also many who have a heartfelt conviction that abortion is a tragedy.
Sapp also points out that Donald Trump has been inconsistent in his views on abortion, and in general is someone who can’t be trusted. This is true enough, but most evangelical voters I’ve talked to know that about Trump but are hoping he’s better than Clinton, who is an aggressive supporter of Planned Parenthood and the advancement of abortion rights.
However, there’s one argument that Sapp made that stuck with me. Sapp claims that since abortion was legalized in 1973 abortion rates have fallen under Democratic presidents and risen under Republicans. Sapp claims the biggest influencing factor in abortion rates is poverty, citing that 50 percent of women who have an abortion make under $11,000 per year. Sapp concludes:
“Want to guess which political party is more effective at reducing poverty and unwanted pregnancies? I’ll give you a hint. It’s not the “pro-life” Party that in this last Congressional session alone fought to cut medical care for poor mothers and children, food programs for kids, and contraception coverage and access for women.”
I’ve heard this argument before, and have never had a strong response to it. In a counterargument on The Christian Post Richard Land claims the rise and decline in abortion rates are tied to the rise and decline of birth rates, not the President in office. This seemed a little too clean of an explanation, so I decided to do some digging.
What I found was something far different than either Sapp or Land are claiming.
In looking at statistics from several sources I came to one conclusion: There is no correlation between which political party is in power and abortion rates during that time. Not only that, abortion in America seems almost entirely disconnected from the political turmoil surrounding it.
ABORTION RATES SPIKED AFTER ROE V. WADE AND HAVE DROPPED SINCE
Legalized abortion began in 1973 with the Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade and the following years the rate of abortions per birth rose dramatically. The number of abortions continued to rise throughout the ’80s, but the percentage of abortions per live births leveled off in the first half the decade and declined heading into the ’90s. In other words, to Land’s counterargument, abortions did increase under Reagan but so did live births.
However, it’s more complicated than that. Out of every thousand women between the ages of 15-44, fewer and fewer of them were having abortions throughout the ’80s, dropping slowly but steadily from 2.9 percent of women in 1980 to 2.7 percent in 1990. This trend has continued since. In 2000 only 2.1 percent of women had an abortion, in 2010 1.7 percent, and in 2013 it dropped to 1.5 percent.
That last one is significant: It’s lower than the year the Supreme Court legalized abortions.
POLITICS DOESN’T HAVE MUCH TO DO WITH IT
As I mentioned before, the steady drop in abortion rates over the past 40 years has little obvious connection to politics. You could argue it’s connected to increased contraception, school education or decreased poverty. You could argue it has to do with public exposure to horrors like partial-birth abortions and the fight Republicans have rightly waged in that arena. The problem is not only is all of this speculative; it inevitably serves whichever party’s political agenda it is that they’re trying to advance at the moment. It also seems to ignore something a bit more obvious: If rates have steadily lowered for several decades there might be a bigger cultural movement happening that is only partially influenced by politics.
In reality, it’s intellectually dishonest to point to any one factor as shaping something as emotionally charged, deeply rooted and complicated as abortion in America. There are probably dozens of different influences combining all at once. There’s one factor though that isn’t getting the attention it deserves.
BEING PRO-LIFE IS ABOUT WINNING HEARTS MORE THAN ELECTIONS
Back in 2002, Time Magazine ran a front-page picture a lot like the one above. That picture is at 14 weeks, well inside the window when abortions are legal. The technology was called “4D sonograms” and it provided an unprecedented look at life inside the womb. At the time, I wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Times where I speculated that images like this would fundamentally change the tenor of conversations about abortion.
Since then not only have abortion rates continued to plummet, but millennials raised where pictures like this are commonplace are less and less pro-abortion. What’s fascinating about this is millennials don’t identify themselves as “pro-life” necessarily; they just have an intuitive sense that abortions are wrong. I would argue this has been the case since Roe v. Wade. There was an initial promise of freedom without consequences that people rushed to take advantage of, but then our consciences began to catch up with us.
This is why I believe the future of abortion in America rests far more on the church than our next President. The more the church gently, compassionately and persuasively holds up the beauty of all life, the more they’ll win the hearts of a generation already inclined to be anti-abortion. Imagine if the American church could then couple that with genuinely fighting poverty, helping stop unwanted pregnancies through effective education and birth control, going past celebrating adoption to opening up their families to the idea of foster-adoption. That could be a truly pro-life platform.
Does this mean Clinton is a better pro-life candidate than Trump? I’ll let you decide that for yourself, but it does mean there’s a lot of reasons to be hopeful…and they have little to do with our next President.