Choosing children over choice
On the eve of Roe v. Wade's 35th birthday, the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) released new research on the number of children who never saw a birth day. An AGI survey of all known abortion "providers" in the United States brought some good news: The 2005 abortion rate-that is, the number of terminations per 1,000 women ages 15-44- was at its lowest ebb since 1974, the year after Roe, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion. The 1.2 million abortions performed in 2005 were the lowest total since a high of 1.6 million in 1990, and a signal that the number of abortions overall is still declining.
But 1.2 million dead babies is also bad news. Tragic news.
America has had abortion going back probably to 1629, and a roller-coaster experience since then: a sharp rise in abortions in the mid-19th century, a decline during the late 19th century, then a slow rise to the 1950s. A sharp rise in the 1960s followed that. Then came Roe and an abortion skyrocket that peaked in 1990.
AGI, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, has chronicled the decline since then. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also tallies abortion totals, but AGI's numbers are considered more accurate because they survey both hospitals and all known stand-alone abortion clinics. The CDC relies on state health department reports, and some jurisdictions, such as California, don't report at all, creating a data gap of more than a quarter-million abortions, before the counting begins.
According to AGI's latest report, released Jan. 17, the number of abortions in America declined 9 percent between 2000 and 2005. The last year in which the number of abortions was lower was 1976.
One big reason for the decline may be the growth of pro-life pregnancy resource centers led by committed women and volunteers such as Wanda Kohn, WORLD's 2007 Daniel of the Year (see "Frontline dispatches," Dec. 15, 2007). Care-Net, the nation's biggest umbrella organization for such groups, has made development of urban centers a priority, and so has Heartbeat, another large group.
A constant over the centuries is that legal change has an impact on abortion, but cultural change probably makes even more of a difference. Abortion rose in the mid-19th century despite its illegality. In 1860, with the advent of large cities, abundant prostitution, and a substantial 19th-century New Age movement (then called "spiritism"), the United States in proportion to its population probably had as many abortions as it now has, perhaps 160,000 in a population of 30 million.
(One big difference between now and then is that most mid-19th-century abortions occurred among prostitutes, who probably averaged four per year. Nevertheless, the overall number surprises many. Interested readers should see Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America, a book of mine based on a year of research at the Library of Congress.)
The late 19th-century growth of abstinence movements, "rescue homes," and compassionate help, supported by stronger laws and tighter enforcement, reduced the incidence of abortion by at least 50 percent. Since 1990, the number of abortions has fallen 25 percent, and that trend should continue as abortion alternatives grow, protective laws (such as those requiring parental consent and waiting periods) become more common, and ultrasounds allow more parents to see their babies in the womb.
-by Marvin Olasky, with reporting by Lynn Vincent
Advocates of "comprehensive sex education" (read: not abstinence only) made much of December figures showing an increase in the U.S. teen birth rate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the birth rate for girls ages 15-19 rose 3 percent-from 40.5 live births per 1,000 females ages 15-19 in 2005 to 41.9 births per 1,000 in 2006. The increase follows a 14-year downward trend.
"Today's teens are the victims of a $1 billion social experiment: The national implementation of the abstinence until marriage policy," declared Cristina Page, author of How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America. "Abstinence-only programs have not only failed to persuade kids not to have sex, but have led many not to use contraception."
But is the birth-rate increase the result of more unprotected teen sex-or fewer abortions? The answer: It's too early to tell. Although the birth rate tallies are in, CDC's abortion reporting suffers a lag of more than three years; the most recent figures available are from 2004. Between 2000 and 2004, the teen abortion rate fell from 17 per 1,000 girls to 15 per 1,000 girls. The CDC won't know until 2009 whether such measures as parental involvement laws increased the rate of decline in abortions, producing more "Junos" per thousand-teen girls who, like the lead teen in the current hit movie of the same name, decide to carry their babies to term-offsetting the birth-rate increase between 2005 and 2006.
Donald Fehr, head of the baseball players union, had a moment of apparent contrition before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Jan. 15: "Baseball's problem with performance-enhancing substances was bigger than I realized. The players association accepts its share of responsibility for what happened, and . . . so do I."
But moments later, Fehr griped about the prospect of baseball commissioner Bud Selig unilaterally imposing stiffer steroid policies and argued that collective bargaining was the only legitimate means to settle the matter. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., fired back: "This is almost surreal to me. Why should cheating be a matter of collective bargaining?"
Even in the face of a devastating report on rampant doping throughout the game, an indictment against baseball's home-run king, and congressional threats of intervention, Fehr still cannot seem to grasp that his resistance to transparency is hurting the players he tries to protect.
Scientists from four leading research institutions say they have isolated five DNA variants that can predict a man's risk of getting prostate cancer. The results, published in the Jan. 31 New England Journal of Medicine, will lead in coming months to a DNA screening for the disease that will cost under $300. Such tests will push patients and physicians to new dilemmas: The screening may help young men seek early treatment, but aggressive treatment also can lead to serious side effects: in the case of prostate cancer treatment, to incontinence and impotence.
Construction of new homes fell by 25 percent in 2007, the Commerce Department reported Jan. 17. It was the second-largest annual decline on record, exceeded only by a 26 percent plunge in 1980, a period when the Federal Reserve was pushing interest rates in an effort to combat an entrenched inflation problem. At that time construction fell for four straight years, but the runaway inflation and high interest rates of that time are not factors now.
The nation's toughest law on illegal immigrants, HB 1804 in Oklahoma, takes effect July 1. It denies government contracts to employers who fail to check workers' names against federal immigration databases. It also makes it a felony to transport or shelter illegal immigrants, and denies them public benefits such as rental assistance and fuel subsidies. With six months to go, workers around the state are simply disappearing. Same with schoolchildren, as illegal immigrant families leave Sooner country for states with less strict laws. Pro-1804 lawmakers are fine with that, saying the exodus will mean a lower tax burden for residents. But those who oppose the law predict economic disaster-and perhaps just as a presidential campaign focuses attention on national policy.
At 6:30 a.m. Jan. 14, Calvin College professor Gary D. Schmidt was preparing to teach an interim American lit class to Calvin students taking the three-week class in Concord, Mass., when he got a phone call from the American Library Association: Schmidt had won a Newbery Honor for his children's novel, The Wednesday Wars. The honor, among the most prestigious in children's literature, was his second. The English professor, 50, earned a Newbery in 2005 for his young adult novel Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.
"It's an incredible honor to get it once," Schmidt told the Grand Rapids Press. "To get another is just an incredible affirmation." The Wednesday Wars (Clarion Books, 2007) tells the story of Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grade boy who must learn Shakespeare while his classmates attend Catholic or Jewish lessons.
This year's top Newbery Medal winner is Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz.
President Bush concluded a trip across the Middle East Jan. 16 that included meeting with Palestinian leaders in their West Bank stronghold at Ramallah, visiting U.S. soldiers in Kuwait, and a session with King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia. A peace arrangement granting Palestinian statehood was the focus of the trip, a deal the president maintains can be signed by the time he leaves office. To that end he went to greater lengths than before to smooth not only political but religious divides. Speaking to Al Arabiya television on the eve of his trip, he declared, "I pray to the same God as a Muslim prays."
Dream vs. reality
Hillary Clinton's recent comment that Martin Luther King's dream needed the passage of President Lyndon Johnson's Civil Rights Act to come to fruition likely exposed more about her commitment to government solutions than anything about her views on race. But that didn't stop some members of the Barack Obama camp from fanning the race flame in hopes of cutting into Clinton's strong support among African-Americans.
Obama has since sought to distance himself from such tactics, offering conciliatory words Jan. 15 at the Democratic primary debate in Nevada: "What I am absolutely convinced of is that everybody here is committed to racial equality, has been historically."
That willingness to give whites the benefit of the doubt separates Obama from other liberal black politicians. Black conservative author Shelby Steele believes Obama's appeal among whites hinges on his dissociation from the politics of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, a requirement that may force the Illinois Democrat to further distance himself from his Chicago pastor, Jeremiah Wright.
A U.S. embassy vehicle was the target of a bombing on Jan. 15 that killed four people. The casualties were Lebanese, but an armored embassy SUV was damaged. The bombing took place just before a reception for U.S. ambassador Jeffrey Feltman in a Beirut hotel. Feltman is an outspoken critic of Syria, and Syrian troops stationed in Lebanon; he plans to leave the country at the end of January.
Separately the United States has begun a review of embassy security in Sudan following the killing of a U.S. diplomat, John Granville, in Khartoum on Jan. 1. An al-Qaeda-aligned website said Ansar Al Tawhid in Sudan claimed responsibility for the killings-the first claim issued by the group.
A prolonged Siberian snap across the Middle East has changed bird migratory habits-swans normally wintering in the north were spotted in the Jordan Valley-frozen pipes, and made driving hazardous in the normally temperate climate. It is also taking a toll on Israeli produce, a major export to Europe. At least half the Negev's potato crop, along with thousands of tons of avocados, bananas, flowers, eggplant, and other vegetables, have been destroyed. But retailers can take comfort: Sales of down blankets are up 50 percent, and tea and chocolate sales are up nearly 20 percent.
Colorado-based Compassion International reports that two child-development centers and one of its homes were burned during recent violence in Kenya. Office supplies and equipment also were looted when street violence spiked after contested elections Dec. 27. The violence has left 600 people dead and over 500,000 forced from homes and businesses.