The South Dakota Health Department has just announced that the number of abortions in the state has gone down. Which, initially, sounds like great news. Because fewer abortions means fewer unwanted pregnancies, right?
Well yeah, unless of course women simply don’t have access to services. The number of abortions in 2005 South Dakota was 805. In 2006, it was 748, which means a 7% drop.
Call me a skeptic, but I don’t buy that this is a result of better birth control education and usage. Which is upsetting, because the local Planned Parenthood is making this claim, and I usually trust what Planned Parenthood has to say on the topic.
But I’m looking at numbers. South Dakota isn’t exactly the most densely populated state, but I kind of instinctively knew that it’s not that sparsely populated. In 2004 (the most recent numbers I could find), there were 11,340 births. Compared to other states, that number is fairly small, but their birth rate is among the highest. Why is that significant? Because in America, approximately half of all pregnancies are unplanned, and four in 10 unplanned pregnancy end in induced abortion — for a rate of about 24% of all pregnancies ending in termination (that’s right: we’re not counting miscarriages).
And yet, assuming that birth rates did not fluctuated dramatically between 2004 and 2006 (which would be unlikely), that places the South Dakota abortion per pregnancy rate at around 6%. Even pretending that there was a significantly downward birth rate change, the rate is still going to be under 10% at most. But this is unlikely: 2006 saw an increased fertility and birth rate from 2005 — and also the highest fertility rate in America since shortly after the baby boom.
Come the fuck on.
Though it would be great if the population of South Dakota was exceedingly more educated and had much more accessible services than the rest of us, I somehow doubt it — especially since they are a Red State that still accepts abstinence-only funding. Even if we account for potential social factors — say, women being more likely to marry and want children at a young age — I don’t think it adds up.
It’s not at all insignificant that there is only one abortion clinic in all of South Dakota. And as the Guttmacher Institute notes, travel and financial arrangements are the biggest factor in delayed abortions. We have to imagine that these barriers also prevent women from having abortions entirely.
I don’t think that all of the South Dakota insanity over abortion — with most of it taking place in 2006 — is a coincidence, either. That whole debacle brought out a lot of stigma against women who have abortions, making the choice potentially more difficult. It also likely confused a lot of people. Anecdotal evidence (and I swear I’ve seen a study, too, but couldn’t find it) tells us that Americans are pretty confused about abortion laws. Many think that it is far more widely available than it is. Others don’t believe that it’s legal at all. I think that this is probably part of the goal of anti-abortion legislation: to confuse women who may seek abortions about the rules. But with local TV coverage constantly blaring about “a bill that outlaws abortion in South Dakota” . . . I don’t think that it’s a huge leap of logic to suggest that many people in SD, particularly those who are politically uninvolved, don’t realize that abortion is still a legal option for them.
But there’s your daily dose of skepticism from me. What are your impressions of the decline?
UPDATE: While doing research for another post, I came across these other relevant statistics and felt that it was only proper to share them. In 2006, South Dakota had the second smallest number of reported abortions out of all states. They also had the third smallest rate of abortions, again, out of all states. The numbers also support my conclusion that these low numbers are question of access, not a low rate of unexpected pregnancy — a large majority of the other states with low numbers/rates are also anti-choice states. In fact Mississippi, of “Last Clinic Standing” fame, has a higher rate of abortions than SD.