Abortions Drop, but the Argument Rages On

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It appears there's just no such thing as good news when it comes to reproductive rights. You might expect that the latest word on abortions — a Centers for Disease Control report that they're at a 20-year low — would be cause for smiles on both sides of the issue. After all, pro-lifers get, to an extent, what they want — fewer abortions — while pro-choicers can boast that choice isn't necessarily the equivalent of abortion and that other aspects of women's control over their bodies, such as contraception, are being better managed. Yet anti-abortionists are up in arms at a portion of the report detailing the rise in drug-induced abortions, a procedure they say is more attractive than surgery and will ultimately promote an increase in terminations. Meanwhile, pro-choice groups such as Planned Parenthood complain that the abortion decline stems from limited access to abortion clinics and fear of attack by pro-life extremists.

But it's easy see the news as promising. Abortions are at a two-decade low in relation to the number of able-bodied women in the population, as well as to the number of births. The CDC cites a number of factors for the trend, including more information on, and a corollary willingness to use, contraception, as well as moral climate that more closely examines the need to have an abortion. But the biggest factor could be much more simple than that — studies show that teen and "casual" adult sex have decreased steadily throughout the decade. And since most abortions are of unintended pregnancies by unmarried women, it doesn't take much of a leap to see that the number of these pregnancies drops off with the changing attitudes toward casual sex. The source of these changes is difficult to pinpoint, with some saying they come from increased sex education and others citing a fear of the swinger's lifestyle in the wake of the AIDS epidemic. And insights, health experts say, have been harder to come by since Congress slashed funding for public sex surveys. So while the guessing game continues, tempers continue to flare over of one of America's most enduring hot-plate issues.