In 1996, then-President Bill Clinton summed up the feelings of many Americans regarding the issue of abortion when he said that abortions ought to be “safe, legal and rare.” Those on both sides of the abortion issue should take heart from statistics indicating that abortions have become significantly rarer in South Carolina over the past five years.
According to statistics provided by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, the number of abortions performed in South Carolina has dropped by 11.7 percent since 2010. DHEC reports that there were 6,464 abortions performed in South Carolina in 2010, compared to 5,708 in 2014.
But while advocates on both sides of the abortion issue might welcome that news, they take differing views about why the decrease has occurred. Pro-choice groups attribute much of the drop to better education, efforts to prevent teen pregnancies and more access by teens to contraceptives.
Pro-life groups, by contrast, emphasize pressure on lawmakers to enact new restrictions on abortion over the past five years. They point, for example, to laws that require giving women seeking an abortion the option of viewing an ultrasound of their fetuses before getting the procedure. And this year, lawmakers debated a bill that would have banned abortions beyond 19 weeks into a pregnancy.
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That bill faltered over disagreements as to whether exceptions should be included not only to save the mother’s life but also for cases of rape, incest or severe fetal anomalies. While the Senate bill contained all those exceptions, the House version provides exceptions only to save a mother’s life or prevent severe injuries to her.
A committee of House members will try to reach a compromise in a special session later this month.
But while these bills might deter future abortions, it would be hard to make the case that they were a significant factor in the drop in the number of abortions over the past five years. Abortions now are provided at clinics in Charleston, Greenville and Columbia, the same number of clinics that were open in 2010, so little has changed in the availability of the procedure in the state.
We think a better case could be made for pregnancy prevention efforts. One of the primary goals of educating teens about prevention is to reduce the need for abortions in the first place.
South Carolina is not alone in experiencing a reduction in the number of abortions. The trend is universal nationwide, whether the state is conservative or liberal-leaning.
That would seem to indicate that abortions can be reduced without making the procedure less accessible, closing abortion clinics or limiting the window in which women can have it done. If we want fewer abortions, the best way to achieve that is through better sex education in the schools and easier, cheaper access to contraception.
As for the bill being debated in the Legislature, we think it is important that, in addition to being rare, abortions remain legal and safe. It would be unconscionable, we think, to bar women from seeking an abortion in cases of rape, incest or when the fetus suffers from severe anomalies.
Decisions regarding abortion are best made by the mother and her doctor, not an almost exclusively male state Legislature. Again, though, the one thing that both sides can agree on in this case is that the drop in the number of abortions over the past five years is good news.
Those on both sides of the abortion issue should welcome the drop in the number of abortions over the past five years.