The Atlantic today has an article examining data out of Massachusetts that suggests increased access to health care may have helped reduce the number of abortions in the state.
Former governor Mitt Romney’s health care program was implemented in 2006, which has expanded health care coverage so that currently only about 5 percent of Massachusetts citizens are without coverage. Since this time, statistics show that from 2006 to 2008, the annual abortion rate in Massachusetts fell from 3.8 per 1,000 residents to 3.6, and that it is currently as low as 3.1.
The article also notes that among certain demographics the numbers are even more noticeable. For example, among pregnant teenagers, abortions fell by 7.5 percent in the same two-year period following the start of “Romneycare.” Including statistics through 2011, abortions are down more than 21 percent in the state.
It’s important to note, as the Atlantic does, that the correlation between the start of “Romneycare” and the decrease in abortions doesn’t necessarily mean that the health care legislation is a cause. Though increased access to contraception (something the church is not on board with) is cited as a likely cause of the drop in numbers, another striking factor is the personal relationship between a woman and her doctor. Says Dr. Patrick Whelan, who first reported the findings in 2010, “When women have more stable access to medical care, they're more likely to see doctors, they're more likely to have somebody inquiring about their sexual health. The fact that you have somebody who cares about you results in people being healthier, and that includes not getting pregnant if they don't want to be."
The Affordable Care Act has been at the center of Catholic dialogue for the last six months, featuring plenty of debate from all sides over the fact that the act will include coverage for contraception (though it will exempt certain religious institutions). But, in light of this data out of Massachusetts, some Catholics committed to protecting life may have reason to pause and consider whether they have judged the law too quickly.
Catholicism doesn’t agree with Bill Clinton’s statement (quoted in the Atlantic piece) that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare, as it considers abortion a grave moral evil. But hopefully those looking at the issue should be able to agree that reducing the number of abortions is a step in the right direction. Should we be so easily dismissive of legislation that could possibly help achieve this on a national scale?