On Tuesday, Sarah Kliff of The Washington Post’s Wonk Blog asked whether violence from pro-life activists has deterred abortion doctors from performing abortions and opening new clinics, and in fact has dropped the number of abortion clinics present in America. According to Kliff:
The biggest decline in [abortion provider] ranks was through the 1990s. During a wave of anti-abortion violence then – three doctors killed in five years – the number of providers dropped from 2,680 in 1985 to 1,787 in 2005. The number of abortion providers has held steady in the early 2000s as violence subsided: Tiller’s 2009 slaying was the first shooting of an abortion provider in more than a decade.
Abortion has also become increasingly non-hospital based, performed in stand-alone clinics, making providers easier to target.
While Kliff manages to cover herself by writing that violence against abortion clinics “could” be why the number of abortion clinics has gone down since the mid-1980s, the insinuation that people like the murderer of late-term abortionist George Tiller are a (or the) primary reason for the decline in abortion clinics is clear. Somehow, though, Kliff ignores at least two other possible reasons for the decline that are at least as likely and have far more evidence to back them up:
First, although you’d never know it from reading Kliff’s piece, she is dealing with a “chicken-or-egg” question: Did the number of abortion clinics go down because doctors didn’t want to open clinics, or did simple supply-and-demand kick in and thus shrink the size of the abortion market? Gallup polling over the last 17 years shows that the number of “pro-life Americans” has gone 33% to consistently between 45% and 51%, and the number of “pro-choice” Americans has gone from 56% to consistently between 42% and 51%. In 2009, Gallup famously showed Americans called themselves “pro-life” for the first time since the poll has been done.
Related, in 2011 — while a slight plurality of Americans call themselves “pro-choice” — the annual Gallup poll on the support for abortion among Americans showed that Americans are consistently leaning towards being “pro-life” than “pro-choice,” and fewer Americans “want abortion legal in all or most circumstances.” This has been true since “about 1997” as compared to the mid-1990s.
Finally, as gathered by the Guttmacher Institute (and charted by National Right to Life), the number of abortions committed annually in America peaked in 1990 at 1.6 million, and had tapered to 1.2 million annually by 2008, which was little changed from the number of abortions committed in 2004. This tracks relatively closely to the decrease in the number of abortion clinics, which Kliff also gathered from Guttmacher.
To summarize, the math looks like this:
- The number of abortion clinics in America went down between 1985 and 2005 by almost exactly one-third.
- The number of Americans declaring themselves to be “pro-life” has gone up by 36% since 1995, whereas the number who consider themselves “pro-choice” has gone down by 12.5%. (Note: These trends were even more pronounced in the 2009 and 2010 annual Gallup polls.)
- The number of abortions in America has dropped by 25% between 1990 and 2007.
Second, Kliff ignores how state laws impact abortion clinics. Ultrasound requirements, for example, are present in eight states and will likely become law in Virginia in the near future. Thirty-seven states now require parental approval for minors. Pro-life laws have become more common in recent years — the Utah parental notification law, for example, only came into effect in the state’s 2006 legislative session. Since 2004, several states have enacted laws that have directly impacted the ability of Planned Parenthood — the nation’s largest abortion provider — to conduct abortions, including South Dakota, which required women to be told some of the risks of abortion before having one.
I doubt anyone knows exactly why the number of abortion clinics has gone down in the last 27 years. However, a number of plausible reasons exist. Since a “wonk” is defined as “a person who studies a subject or issue in an excessively assiduous and thorough manner,” I hope Kliff and her editors at the Post do a better job of being “excessively…thorough” when it comes to the topic of taking of human life, both inside and outside the womb.
“Paul Revere is a political and policy blogger who has contributed to Race42012.com, Conservative Home USA, American Thinker and Reason Foundation’s “Out of Control” blog.”