America is forty-four years after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion for any reason and at any time during pregnancy (provided you could find a doctor to do it–and many have). But the tide is turning.
Or perhaps has turned.
The Guttmacher Institute–which supports abortion and tracks its numbers–says abortions are happening at half the rate of the peak years of the 1980s.
The institute’s report says, “it is unclear whether the most recent decline in abortion is due to fewer women’s having unintended pregnancies, more women being unable to access abortion services or some combination of these dynamics.”
Which seems to eliminate other possibilities. Even so, the report acknowledges that, even in some places where access to abortion increased, rates came down.
Of course there are more than two factors. Fivethirtyeight reports that fewer women are getting pregnant, intentionally or otherwise–and points to some who say that free contraception has played a role in abortion’s decline.
Except that abortion rates, for the most part, have been declining since the 1980s and free contraception did not kick in until 2010.
What else could it be?
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe points to a shift in the thinking of young people. Young people are now more likely than their parents to support making abortion illegal.
Jacoby: “[T]here has also been an empathy-driven reaction against abortion among the generation of Americans that grew up in a world of vivid ultrasound images, and among the miracles of neonatal medicine that now make it possible even for babies born extremely prematurely to survive and flourish.”
A friend once presented to me the idea that abortion would die on its own accord. We were two women standing with our grocery carts.
“It will be like smoking,” she said, not necessarily illegal, just something most don’t do anymore. We discussed what smoking was like when we were children. Everyone–even the few who didn’t smoke–had ashtrays in their homes. Movie stars blew smoke across giant screens in black and white and technicolor. Teens sneaked smokes to be cool like the movie actors.
My ninth-grade brother was puffing as my mother and I walked past him one night at dusk. He with his friends, and we on our way home from the neighborhood movie theater.
Mother had little leverage to make him stop. She would have had to put out her own smokes before making her plea.
But he quit later on. After he’d grown. Once he knew better and had the maturity to choose a good thing.
Reality is hard to deny. Young people have seen the pictures. They aren’t the pictures of unknown children we saw in 1965.
Today’s young people don’t see fetuses, but boys and girls. Babies. Themselves, their siblings, cousins, and friends. Real people who are really people. Seeing themselves in these images, they understand what abortion truly is.
And they are acting on that understanding.
Fewer of them are getting pregnant. Yes, contraceptives are readily available. But fewer of them are having sex. And their voice speaks clearly.
They know as Tolkien did that “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
And they–the children of the images–are that change.
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