By Rose Hoban
With U.S. Senate confirmation hearings on Judge Brett Kavanaugh underway, advocates for abortion rights are expressing concern over what his confirmation might mean for access to the procedure in the future. Some have suggested that if the landmark 1972 decision Roe vs Wade were overturned, abortion policy would devolve to being determined more at the state level than at the national level.
In past six years since Republicans have had supermajorities in the North Carolina General Assembly, lawmakers have enacted more restrictions on access to abortion in North Carolina. In 2015, lawmakers imposed a 72-hour waiting period before a woman can obtain an abortion. Legislators also passed a law requiring physicians to report abortion procedures to the state Department of Health and Human Services and that increases inspections on clinics. Physicians are also required to tell a woman that she can see a sonogram of her fetus and provide women with counseling materials that encourage carrying a pregnancy to term.
Over the past decade, the number of abortions in North Carolina has ticked up only slightly, even as the population has increased quickly, meaning that, in general, abortion rates have decreased. Although the number of pregnancies has ticked upwards, the overall rate of pregnancies in the state has ticked downward.
Fewer teens are having abortions, in large part because fewer teens are getting pregnant, said Elizabeth Finley from SHIFT NC, a reproductive rights organization focused on North Carolina teens.
“We definitely know that the primary reason for the drop is the increased use of contraception in general and LARCs (long-acting reversible contraceptives),” she said. “Compared to 10, 15 years ago, young people are more likely to contracept and to use long-acting contraceptives.”
A note about this map: Numbers shown in county data reflect total pregnancies as reported to the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics. However, more women become pregnant, but those data may never have been reported because their pregnancies ended in early miscarriage.
Data sources: NC State Center for Health Statistics, US Census
Finley attributed some of this drop in the teen pregnancy rate to a growing use of clinic-based initiatives and comprehensive sex education, both developed using a growing body of evidence-based research on how to get through to kids.
Long-acting reversible contraceptives have gained popularity since 2008, with use almost doubling, even as permanent methods of contraception, such as sterilization, decreased, according to data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive health statistics.
“Even small improvements in contraceptive use among women at highest risk for unintended pregnancy may have had a substantial impact on recent declines in unintended pregnancy,” said study author Megan Kavanaugh in a Guttmacher press release on the research.[sponsor]
Another Guttmacher researcher, Laura Lindberg, recently analyzed surveys that found that fewer adolescents are getting pregnant, even as the rate of sexual activity remained about the same. In a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, Lindberg looked at the National Survey of Family Growth, which found that each of the survey years 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2014, about a third of females aged 15-19 reported being sexually active. But during that time, the number of young women using no birth control dropped from 22 percent down to 12 percent, and the number of young women using two or more methods to prevent pregnancy grew from 24 to 33 percent.
Lindberg noted that a different long-term study, the biennial Youth Behavior Risk Survey, finds a decrease in the number of teens having sex.
Finley said SHIFT NC’s analysis has found that teens are delaying the initiation of sexual activity somewhat.
“A lot has to do with how they’re spending their time,” she said. “They have far less unsupervised, unscheduled time than their peers did in the past. That’s a huge component, fewer kids alone after school, fewer going out alone on dates.”
She also said online culture could be contributing to a decrease in the number of kids having sex.
“If you wanted to hang out with friends on Friday, you were physically out with your friends on Friday night and that could go in a lot of directions,” Finley said. “Now you can hang out with your friends on Snapchat and you’re home in your own room.”
Kids are more risk averse, too, she noted.
“For lots of risk behaviors, you see a downward trend: drinking, smoking, sex. Researchers attribute it to the combination of the scary things you’re exposed to on the Internet, plus helicopter parenting and this constant exposure to things that could be harmful,” she said. “So they’re just generally a slightly more worried group of young people.”
Jared Weber contributed to data compilation.
NC RESIDENT ABORTIONS: Characteristics of Women Receiving Abortions, NC Residents, 2016
|LOCATION OF PROCEDURE|
|Out of State||618||2.7|
|14 and under||61||0.3|
|35 and over||3,017||13.1|
|Af. Am. Non-Hispanic||10,536||45.7|
|YEARS OF EDUCATION|
|Not completed high school||2,214||9.6|
|High school graduate||5,946||25.8|
|NUMBER OF LIVING CHILDREN|
|2 or more||8,146||35.3|
|NUMBER OF PREVIOUS ABORTIONS|
|3 or more||1,051||4.6|
|WEEKS OF GESTATION|
|First trimester 0-12 weeks||20,087||87.1|
|Greater than 20 weeks*||36||0.2|
|TYPE OF PROCEDURE|
|*In-state occurrence = 1
Out-of-state occurrence = 35