how once upon a time America decreased its abortion rate

Marvin Olasky shares some key findings from his book, Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America (Crossway) in the current issue of World magazine.  You may read his provocative article here:

Olasky’s surprising discovery is that the rate of abortion relative to the population was higher in America on the eve of the Civil War than at present.  Olasky asked what made the abortion rate drop from the middle of the 19th century until the 1960s, and this is what he found.

1. The number one cause for the decrease in abortions was churches and Christian organizations who educated and cared for pregnant women and their babies.  This is noteworthy today, as both Democratic and Republican Christians seem to be increasingly aware that providing shelter, adoption, and better choices for pregnant mothers will do the most to end abortion.  Olasky’s article demonstrates that this approach worked before, and it may well do the job again.

2. More controversial, Olasky found that while laws against abortion were not the main focus of the 19th century prolife movement, yet they did assist in the effort.  Contrary to pro choice advocates who argue that laws against abortion will require us to throw many women in jail, Olasky discovered that 19th century anti-abortion laws were “almost never” used to prosecute women and only rarely the person who performed the abortion. 

So why have the laws in the first place?  Olasky argues that anti-abortion laws educated the people.  They “did send a message of right and wrong.  They forced abortionists to advertise in code, bribe policemen and politicians, and hire lawyers.  Laws could not end abortion but it could reduce the butcher’s bill, just as laws against drunken driving today cannot end the practice but can save lives.  Today, it’s still worthwhile to pass laws restricting abortion, but time and money spent on providing and promoting compassionate alternatives saves more lives.”

Here is my question:  Should we work to pass anti-abortion laws with the intent to enforce them only against those who perform abortions, those who perform and those who have abortions, or like the 19th century, should we work to pass anti-abortion laws for their educational value, with little to no intent on enforcing them?   Or should we forget about passing laws altogether? (not my preferred option).

On a personal note, I am grateful to Marvin Olasky for giving a shout out to Don’t Stop Believing in his review of recent books (p. 20 of the current issue of World).  He included Don’t Stop Believing with William Craig’s new apologetic, Reasonable Faith (Crossway), under the heading, “Some books are always in season, because the poorly informed about Christ we’ll always have with us.”  Amen to that.







11 responses to “how once upon a time America decreased its abortion rate”

  1. taddelay

    I want to say we should pass laws against abortion, but the actions you mentioned in your first point are far more effective. Most pro-lifers (and i am one, by the way) seem unaware that 80-85% of abortions are reportedly money-related. And most pro-lifers also seem unaware that overturning Roe v. Wade and outlawing abortion in every single state with the votes to do it (which is not many), would only decrease abortions by 0-10%, and probably more like 5%.

    A little bit of government-subsidized healthcare would do far more to reduce abortions than overturning Roe, but that sounds like socialism, which seems (in practice, not ideally) a larger concern to keep out than abortion.

  2. Ray

    I appreciate Olasky but he isn’t saying anything that he or others haven’t said before. As someone who has headed pro-life ministry efforts in the states and abroad, I can attest that the deciding and most impactful efforts toward decreasing abortions have been compassionate outreaches that offer realistic alternatives to women facing unwanted/unplanned pregnancies. Most pro-life advocates who are on the frontlines of this battle understand that legislation is not the ultimate answer. As Olasky points out abortion laws can be used to bring stigma to abortion but practical helps and alternatives, grounded on a bedrock of biblical priciples and ministered with the love of Christ are the only ways to affect permanent change.

    And in response to the post from “taddelay” concerning government-subsidized healthcare reducing abortions, it’s not true. The lack of healthcare is not even a blip on abortion’s radar. In fact, more access to subsidized healthcare will increase abortions not decrease them, especially for minorities.

  3. taddelay

    not quite sure how you can back that up, especially when you don’t challenge the stat that 80-something percent of abortions are resulting from big financial issues. If they are financially caused, how is removing the financial hurdle supposed to make it worse?

  4. Ray

    Are you saying that providing government money to pay for pre-natal care, delivery and follow-up will lower the abortion rate? That type of funding is already in place for women who find themselves pregnant without healthcare insurance. In my area of the country (Michigan), no woman has to make a choice to abort her baby because she doesn’t have healthcare insurance to cover the associated costs of her pregnancy, including delivery and post-natal care.

    I’m not saying that financial concerns don’t contribute to an abortion decision. My point was that if government-subsidized healthcare includes abortion coverage across the board, you’ll see more take advantage of its availability.

  5. The question to discover might be whether a pregnant woman is covered in other states as well? For example, in Michigan, MI child covers healthcare for kids whose parents don’t have insurance, but many other states don’t have anything like MI child, which is why Obama is looking to increase coverage for health care to uninsured kids throughout America.

    Also, I’d be interested in Ray’s and Ted’s take on the democrats for life’s 95-10 initiative to reduce abortion 95% in 10 years. Here is a link to the idea.

  6. jborofsky

    I do think that we need to be more socially active in helping these women out. At the same time, last time I checked the statistics (and I’d have to go dig it up again), more the more girls from the middle class to upper class were having abortions. Granted, 80% of abortions are from those that are unmarried (CDC stats), however, almost 15% of women who get abortions fall into the middle class area. Likewise, a whopping 93% (again, CDC) of abortions occur for inconvenience or just unwanted.

    I think the sad truth is that we must do more to help these women out who feel they can’t afford another child, but we do need laws that prevent “abortion on demand” practices. A human’s right to live outweighs and is more important than a woman’s right over her own body (which, of course, is illogical).

    On a side note, I recently did a series on my own site about Abortion and Christianity.

    Feel free to check it out

  7. […] the late 19th-early 20th century. Mike Wittmer: Marvin Olasky shares some key findings from his book, Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion […]

  8. […] How America Decreased Its Abortion Rate “Marvin Olasky shares some key findings from his book, Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America (Crossway) in the current issue of World magazine.” […]

  9. Women hire hitmen to dismember the babies in their wombs simply because they are murderers. No amount of money is going to change that basic fact.

  10. […] abortions in Pre-civil war […]

  11. After reading through the article, I just feel that I need more info. Could you share some more resources please?

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