Abortion Rates Decrease, Debate Continues
And How Will Issue Affect This Year's Congressional District Race?
With 41 years of legal abortion now in America’s history books — the anniversary of Roe v. Wade came on January 22 — it would seem the issue might be settled, or at least getting close. But congressional Republicans’ (and a few Democrats’) frequent attempts to chip away at the law over the last few years have put abortion rights back in the spotlight. One such attempt, a bill known as HR 7, passed the House of Representatives last Tuesday. Although HR 7 likely wouldn’t pass the Democrat-controlled Senate and would be vetoed by President Barack Obama were it to reach his desk, its message troubled many House Democrats. Rep. Lois Capps led the charge against the bill, which aims to enact a permanent ban on taxpayer funding for abortions — already an annually renewed federal law — and nix tax credits for people who buy health insurance plans that cover abortion.
This Monday, a report was released that surveyed all known abortion providers in the country and found that, as of 2011, the rates for the procedure are the lowest since 1973. The study attributed the drop to multiple factors, including a simultaneous decline in all pregnancy rates, the sluggish economy, and the growing popularity of long-term contraceptives. What didn’t play a major role in the drop were antiabortion laws, the study’s authors said, noting that although such state laws did make it harder and more costly to obtain the procedure, the largest declines were in the states with the least restrictive abortion laws. Statewide, the abortion rate was 23 (out of 1,000) women — or about 181,000 abortions in 2011 — according to the study, versus the national rate of 16.9, or about 1.1 million procedures. Figures for Santa Barbara County are unavailable.
Three of the likely candidates for this year’s 24th District race said they don’t see abortion being a major campaign issue. But that doesn’t mean they don’t feel strongly about it. “I’d like this to be settled and move on to other issues, like equality for women, raising the minimum wage, and making opportunities available for women,” said incumbent Capps. “It would be nice to be able to move past these ideological choices.” Paul Coyne Jr., an Orcutt Democrat challenging Capps, said he agrees with attempts to pass antiabortion legislation. “Somebody does have to stand up for the rights of the unborn,” he said. “Somebody has to represent that life.” Nevertheless, he said he is “a huge supporter of women’s rights,” including stronger anti–domestic-violence laws, equal pay for women, contraceptive coverage, and funding for Planned Parenthood. Actor Chris Mitchum, a Republican candidate, said he formed his stance on abortion — calling it permissible in the first trimester only — when he was a teenager and a classmate received a coat-hanger abortion and died soon after. “I think we have more important things to be tending to,” he said. “I’m not running for Pope.”