The big news at the start of the week was about how the national abortion rate is the lowest it has been since the Roe v Wade decision in 1973. The new low rate comes after a 13 percent drop in the abortion rate between 2008 and 2011. Anti-choice activists have trumpeted the news as success in their campaign against women’s autonomy.
But we know better.
The essential context here is that a decline in the abortion rate has come with an increase in birth control use as well as record attacks on abortion rights that have closed clinics, added or lengthened mandatory waiting periods, increased bans, forced unnecessary procedures, and more.
It’s also important to note that a drop in abortions shouldn’t necessarily be considered a positive thing, depending on the circumstances. As states have imposed an increasing number of harsh state-level restrictions on the procedure, many women — especially economically disadvantaged individuals and communities of color — have struggled to exercise their right to choose. Many of those women end up giving birth not because they didn’t want an abortion, but because they simply could not access one. For instance, harsh anti-abortion laws in Texas are projected to result in 22,000 women losing access to safe and legal abortion this year alone.
Indeed, the key to fewer abortions is still helping women make informed decisions about their lives — including comprehensive sex education, access to safe and affordable birth control, and allowing women the dignity of making important medical decisions for themselves.
But we knew that already.
Just look at Nevada, with one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and an abortion rate three points higher than the national rate, which was 18 percent in 2011 according to the Guttmacher Institute.
So, if the rate of unintended pregnancies is directly correlated to abortion rates and there’s a direct correlation between effective sex education programs and unintended pregnancies, it stands to reason that now would be an excellent time for Nevada to get serious about enacting comprehensive sex education programs on a statewide level. This ad-hoc nonsense happening in counties across the states — including Clark and Lyon — just exacerbates the issue. And it’s an expensive one, too. Nevada spent $74 million on unintended pregnancy costs in 2008. And in 2010, according to Guttmacher, nearly 173,000 Nevada women needed publicly funded family planning services.
Let’s not forget the correlation between teen pregnancy and higher dropout rates. Meanwhile, Las Vegas’ worst ranked education system in the country has a high dropout rate and a high teen pregnancy rate. Only half of teen mothers get their high school diploma by age 22, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High school dropouts make substantially less than those with diplomas and about a million dollars less over a lifetime than college graduates. So, there’s a very real economic impact on families and their communities when we talk about unintended pregnancy.
To recap: Comprehensive sex education reduces the number of unintended pregnancies, which reduces the abortion rate AND the high school dropout rate — both of which cost taxpayers. Seems like that would be a plan even anti-choice activists could get behind.