Abortion is becoming ever rarer in the United States. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its latest survey of abortion in the United States. The CDC tallied 730,322 abortions in 2011, the smallest number in almost 40 years. CDC’s numbers are probably an under-count. Other surveys suggest that the number for 2011 was slightly larger than 1 million. But if the precise number of abortions is uncertain, the trend is not. The incidence of abortion in the United States sharply rose in the 1970s and 1980s, reached a peak in 1990, and has tumbled by nearly half over the past two decades.
Since 1990, two other things seem to have changed. First, the pro-life movement really does seem to have changed American minds about the morality of abortion. Only about one-fifth of Americans wish to see abortion outlawed—a proportion that has remained steady since the mid-1970s. But the proportion that thinks abortion is wrong has edged up over the past 15 years: Only 38 percent of Americans now describe abortion as “morally acceptable.”
Meanwhile, marriage has receded further from the cultural experience of the less affluent two-thirds of American society. As the wages of non-college-educated men have tumbled, marriage has looked like an increasingly pointless and even dangerous choice for poorer women. As marriage fades, unwed motherhood has evolved from an acceptable outcome to something close to an inevitability. The order of choices in the face of an unexpected pregnancy has thus shifted again: single parenthood, abortion, shotgun wedding, and adoption.
More at The Atlantic David Frum is a senior editor at The Atlantic.