The coronavirus pandemic has certainly had a profound impact on the provision of health care in the United States. Earlier this year, federal and state officials mandated closures of those health care providers they deemed as offering elective surgeries and “nonessential” medical care. These shutdown orders also affected the provision of abortion.
Some elected officials included abortion facilities in these shutdown mandates so that personal protective equipment (PPE) could be allocated to health care providers treating coronavirus patients. However, abortion facilities have litigated these orders and have been largely able to remain open during the past few months.
But has the coronavirus increased the U.S. abortion rate? Certainly the economic slowdown and the sharp increase in the U.S. unemployment rate have led to widespread economic hardship. Additionally, research has steadily indicated that a significant percentage of women seeking abortions do so for financial reasons.
Separate surveys conducted by the Guttmacher Institute in 1987 and 2004 both show that about 70% of women obtaining abortions cited financial issues as one of the reasons why they were seeking an abortion. Additionally, both surveys showed that about 20% of women seeking abortions cited economic pressures as the most important reason why they wanted to terminate their pregnancy.
Additionally, there exist data points that pertain to the current pandemic. An April CBSNews.com article found that some abortion facilities were seeing an increase in the number of women seeking abortions. The story reported that one abortion facility in Granite City, Illinois, indicated that their “show rate” for women who made abortion appointments increased from 50% to 85%. Also, a May ABCNews.com article found that many “abortion funds,” which use private donations to subsidize abortions, were seeing an increase in calls. Finally, an April 20 Live Action News article by Carole Novielli interviewed pro-life sidewalk counselors around the country. They provided varying reports about how the coronavirus was affecting the number of people entering abortion facilities.
Collectively, these stories provide some evidence that abortion rates are increasing. However, the data presented in these articles are either anecdotal or self-reported. The only hard data on the incidence of abortion comes from the state of Florida.
Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration reported that between Jan. 1 and June 4, 2019, there were 26,903 abortions performed in the Sunshine State. During a similar time frame this year, 27,851 abortions took place — an increase of about 3.5%.
Now, there might be some inconsistencies with this data. For instance, it is possible that the reported 3.5% increase might be due to more timely data reporting by Florida abortion facilities. That said, a 3.5% increase in the number of abortions is still a figure that should trouble pro-lifers — especially considering the consistent long-term decline in the U.S. abortion rate.
As such, pro-lifers need to increase our efforts. For instance, pro-lifers should continue to support pregnancy help centers, many of which are likely seeing a reduction in donations. Similarly, sidewalk counselors should continue their lifesaving work outside of local abortion facilities.
There have been a few unfortunate stories of sidewalk counselors being arrested or detained. However, in much of the country, sidewalk counselors have been able to continue their efforts. The pro-life Thomas More Society has reviewed various shelter-at-home orders and determined that sidewalk counseling at abortion facilities complies with these orders. Furthermore, the Thomas More Society is willing to provide legal assistance to sidewalk counselors who are facing interference from law enforcement. Overall, even though the economic pressures caused by the pandemic might be causing more women to consider abortion, there is still plenty that pro-lifers can do to build a culture of life.
The coronavirus is clearly a threat to life and health, but strong and loving efforts can make it transitory. On May 18, Catholics celebrated the centenary of the birth of Pope St. John Paul II. On our National Mall in October 1979, in his homily, the Pope and future saint said, “Human life is precious because it is the gift of a God whose love is infinite, and when God gives life, it is forever.”
Those are words that should resonate in our hearts and in our witness as we combat a virus we must defeat but never fear.
Michael J. New, Ph.D., is a visiting assistant professor at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New