By now, many readers will have heard about a study released last month showing that induced abortion rates in the United States have fallen to their lowest levels in 30 years.
Pro-life groups have hailed the data, published by the Guttmacher Institute, an affiliate of Planned Parenthood, and attribute the decline to changing attitudes in America that give hope that one day we may see a total abortion ban in this country.
But the data also help give a clearer picture of the women who are having abortions in America, showing pro-lifers and the Church where the front lines in eradicating abortion will lie in coming years.
What's clear is that those getting abortions generally are not the stereotypical frightened teenager. Instead, they are mostly women who are economically struggling, racial minorities and already mothers.
According to the numbers, 1.21 million abortions were performed in the United States in 2005, the last year of the study, down from a record high of 1.61 million in 1990. Since abortion was legalized in 1973, there have been some 50 million abortions in the United States, and one in three women have had one. Despite the downward trend, one out of every five pregnancies today still ends in induced abortion.
So, who are these women? More than half are 25 or older, and 60 percent of them have already had at least one child. Only 17 percent are teens.
Women living below the federal poverty level -- $9,570 per year for a single person with no children -- are four times as likely to have an abortion as women with annual income of about $29,000 or more.
Black women are nearly five times as likely as non-Hispanic white women to have an abortion, and Hispanic women are nearly five times as likely. Put another way, 13 percent of American women are black but black women are having 35 percent of the country's abortions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It is no surprise that many abortion clinics of Planned Parenthood, the nation's most successful abortion franchise, are located in poorer neighborhoods, because that is where their clients live.
The facts, then, belie the common abortion-rights rhetoric that what's really at stake is "free choice" for every woman, rich and poor. Most of the women getting abortions are making choices that are heavily impacted by socioeconomic pressures.
The reasons women gave for getting an abortion underscore this: Three-fourths said they cannot afford a child; three-fourths said having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and half said they don't want to be single parents or were having problems with their husband or partner.
The work laid out for the Church is clear. First, we need to continue promoting educational campaigns that are doing an admirable job of helping women choose life even in difficult circumstances. Second, we have to redouble efforts to provide psychological and material support to women in crisis pregnancies -- especially in poorer neighborhoods. Third, we have to work at a broader social level to combat the growing economic divide in this country. As the new study indicates, there's a strong link between promoting society's economic health and the pro-life stance.
Fourth, the numbers show that the Church is not doing enough for its own members in catechesis and community support. How? According to Guttmacher, 27 percent of women having abortions identify themselves as Catholic.
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