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The Economics Of Abortion

For the first time since 1981, the long-term decline in U.S. abortions has stalled. And experts are pinning the blame on the recession. In other...

For the first time since 1981, the long-term decline in U.S. abortions has stalled. And experts are pinning the blame on the recession. In other words, when it comes to abortions, American consumers behave much as they do when buying cars: when they have less money, they are more likely to opt for a used car, rather than splurging on the latest model. I’ll explain that further shortly.

The new data comes from the Guttmacher Institute in New York, which periodically surveys U.S. abortion providers. Researchers found that in 2008, there were 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44. While this is significantly below the 1981 peak (29.3 abortions for every 1,000 women), it is virtually unchanged from the 2005 rate (19.4 abortions). Likewise, the total number of abortions in 2008 (1.21 million) was essentially unchanged from 2005.

While there are many possible causes for this latest trend, the chief suspect is the recession that hit in 2008, which altered the economic calculations (and savings accounts) of many American families.

“Abortion numbers go down when the economy is good and go up when the economy is bad, so the stalling may be a function of a weaker economy,” said University of Alabama political science professor Michael New.

In this sense, abortion can be thought of as an “inferior good” — i.e. something a consumer would demand less of if they had a higher level of real income. While abortions aren’t cheap (in 2009, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the average amount paid for a non-hospital abortion with local anesthesia at 10 weeks’ gestation was $451), they are far cheaper than having a baby. (The average cost of having a child in the hospital in America in 2005 was between $5,000 and $10,000.)

If that all sounds like a very rational and clinical account of an issue that is usually portrayed in red-hot, polarizing terms, that’s a good thing, at least as far as I’m concerned. Because if, like me, you’d like to envision a country where — in the immortal words of Bill Clinton, abortion is “safe, legal and rare” — then we need to start looking at the cold, hard facts around abortion rather than crafting policy based on our emotions.

Read the rest of this story at

Image: P3123372 by jessica_trinity via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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  1. Patricia January 17, 2011 at 10:15 pm #

    Very good post and good words. I read it twice, it was so wonderful to read something so positive to me. Lately I have had a huge feeling that so much of the work on social issues that I did as a teenager through my young worker years has been chipped away or ignored. I responded to this sensation by feeling discouraged. This post feels as though we are holding our own.
    I wish I could figure out how to explain my feelings about slavery (beneficial slavery to the development of the country)that women have experienced over the years – and now all my efforts and working odds jobs while raising children, now not able to get health ins. and almost zero SS…but every time I try to explain the young women argue about the choice of being a working or stay at home mom currently….It is not just about isolated choices that are right for one…it is about the blindness to history and the need for at least health care and retirement?

  2. Daryl Boylan January 18, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    Excellent article. What seems to me most needed is day-in, day-out repetition on as many sites as possible, of the obvious: no other developed country has the U.S.’s abortion rate, because every other developed country makes contraception, the only practial & practicable alternative to abortion, UNIVERSALLY AVAILABLE & UNIVERSALLY USED.

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