Fear and Abortion in (Las) Oregon
It’s hard to figure out what’s going on in Oregon. Fear is up; abortion is down. That’s not the way it usually works. Normally the two go hand in hand. As trepidation increases, so does the frequency of abortion. But that’s not happening in Oregon. While nationwide abortions rose 2.6% in 2020, they fell by 20% in the Beaver State—and by another 6% in 2021. The national abortion ratio among reporting states (which measures abortions against births) increased 3.3% in 2020. In Oregon, it fell 13%—which hints at another disparity. U.S. pregnancies fell almost 3% in 2020 among reporting states. In Oregon, total pregnancies decreased by more than twice that. In fact, total pregnancies decreased more in Oregon than anywhere else in the nation. But why? Why is Oregon such an outlier compared to the rest of the country?
Last October, Oregon Right to Life and Planned Parenthood both weighed in on Oregon’s 2020 abortion reduction, but neither could offer an explanation of any real substance. Oregon Right to Life attributes the decline to the work of pregnancy care centers and the ready availability of online information (like that offered by Abort73)—but weren’t those same resources available in 2019, and for the entire decade prior? And aren’t they available in states that didn’t see abortion fall by 20%? Planned Parenthood claims that Oregon’s abortion reduction owes to birth control and sex-education, but here again, haven’t those things been available all along, all across the country? So, what was it that actually changed in 2020? The obvious answer is COVID. Specifically, Oregon’s response to COVID, but why should the resulting impact on abortion be so different than it was elsewhere? Weren’t there other states that locked down in similar fashion? Didn’t all states suffer labor shortages?
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In the last presidential election, 25 states went to Donald Trump and 25 went to Joe Biden. Half red; half blue. Among red states, 22 have reported their 2020 abortion numbers. Among blue states, it’s only 16—which is telling in itself. Are Republicans just more conscientious about publishing reports in a timely fashion? Perhaps, but blue states also have a vested interest in concealing their abortion numbers. They support abortion at the policy level but understand that it benefits them to keep it out of the public view. Not surprisingly, of the three states that never report abortion totals and the one state that only reports hospital totals, all are firmly blue. All four champion abortion and pay for it with public funds.
Among blue states that have reported, eleven—or 69%—saw their abortion ratio increase. Among red states, a near-identical 68% saw an increase. Overall, the abortion ratio rose 2.8% in blue states and 4.0% in red. It seems, then, that though lockdowns were not able to contain COVID, they may have marginally slowed the growth of abortion. But don’t read too much into that. The two biggest blue states have not reported their 2020 totals, and unless their abortion ratios are closer to Oregon’s than the field, the 2020 abortion ratio increase in Democratic states will shift still closer to red. More importantly, even if the current abortion ratios hold up, blue states will still have aborted at nearly twice the rate of red states. Reporting blue states killed 22% of their unborn children in 2020 (excluding miscarriage); red states killed 13%. In Oregon, 15% of unborn children were killed by abortion in 2020 (down from 17% in 2019), along with 22% of the unborn children in Portland’s Multnomah County (down from 25%).
The fact that red states and blue states have such different abortion ratios is a narrative problem for abortion advocates because it reveals just how fluid and malleable abortion ratios actually are. They’re hugely influenced by surroundings. Portland OBGYN Jennifer Lincoln recently made a name for herself peddling abortion on TikTok, purportedly as a service to abortion-deprived women in Texas. She predictably trotted out the most tired and dishonest of all pro-abortion talking points: the assertion that women will have an abortion no matter what—whether it’s legal or not. “These bans won’t do anything to decrease abortion rates,” she claims. “It will just decrease access to safe abortion.”
I’m regularly astounded that anyone has the audacity to maintain such a fiction, so let’s look at the actual numbers across Oregon—because this is not a difficult myth to debunk. But first, what are the main predictors of abortion? For any given region, it would be race, income, and marital status. Almost all abortions in America involve poor, single, or minority women. But it turns out that the region in which a woman lives has even more influence over her likelihood to abort. There are 36 counties in the state of Oregon. Eight have an abortion clinic. According to Lincoln’s argument, external factors—like abortion bans—have no bearing on a woman’s decision to abort her child. The collective need for abortion is a constant, and women are going to have them whether they’re legal or not. By this thinking, the abortion percentage should be fairly consistent across regions because abortion can’t be reduced by external constraints. But clearly it can. The more difficult it is to obtain an abortion, the less likely a woman is to have one.
In Multnomah County, 22% of 2020 pregnancies ended in abortion. In Umatilla County (some 200 miles to the east), the number was 2%—despite the fact that per capita income (as of 2010) is 36% higher in Multnomah, along with a 14% higher cost of living. So, there’s no financial reason for there to be wildly more abortions in Multnomah. And residents of Multnomah and Umatilla marry at almost the same rate. In 2020, there were 41.4 marriages per 10,000 people in Multnomah and 41.5 in Umatilla. So, it’s not marriage status that is driving the abortion disparity. The resident population of Multnomah County is 5% black. In Umatilla, it’s 1%, but this only predicts an abortion difference of 8%, not the 1,000% difference that actually exists. The map below shows how the abortion percentage differs across Oregon’s eight geographic regions.
The simple fact is this. The easier it is to have an abortion, the more women will have one—which is why it’s so dishonest to argue that abortion bans don’t reduce abortion. They absolutely do. Yes, some women will leave Texas if they’re not allowed to have an in-state abortion, just as some women in Umatilla will drive 200+ miles to an abortion clinic. But the vast majority will not. Texas’s abortion ban went into effect in September. In that month, Texas abortions fell 59% from the month prior and 51% from the September prior. Does Dr. Lincoln really expect us to believe that these 3,000 “missing” abortions still took place illegally—or in other states (since “bans won’t do anything to decrease abortion rates”)? There’s no evidence this was the case, and there certainly aren’t thousands of Texas women dying in the back alley. The best way to reduce abortions is to make them difficult to obtain, which brings us back to Oregon. If no new laws went into effect and no clinics shut down, was something else making abortion harder to come by in 2020? When I asked a Portland friend for some on-the-ground insight, this was his response:
Portland is pretty (far) left and with that comes the response to COVID associated with the left. In certain groups there has been significant caution and fear, and by certain groups, I don't just mean the elderly and immunocompromised... We have been exceedingly cautious and fearful…
I’ve never lived in Oregon, but I did spend my college years in the Pacific Northwest—which makes this sudden and pervasive sense of fear all the more perplexing. Being afraid to go out your front door doesn’t quite jibe with the region’s frontier spirit. Isn’t the PNW all about rugged, untamed land and rugged, untamed individuals? Whatever happened to taking risks and seeking adventure? Go West, young man! That ship has sailed, apparently. My own beloved alma mater fired the coach of its football team—which is an inherently dangerous sport—because he wouldn’t get a COVID shot. He was then called selfish for walking away from millions of dollars and a job he loved. Meanwhile, the school continues to celebrate the exploits of another former coach who only won half his games on the Palouse before infamously squandering the head job at Alabama amidst a night of strippers and booze. One coach was run off campus as a bum; the other is in their hall of fame. I’m no comic book aficionado, but I am familiar with the concept of Bizarro World and we seem to be in it. Everything is backwards.
Has anyone else noticed that our nation’s disparate response to COVID, which has fallen almost entirely along political lines, has flipped the proverbial script? Conservatives are demanding personal autonomy. Progressives are clamoring for strictly-mandated restraint. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t conservatives be the ones eschewing movie theaters, indoor parties, and rock concerts—so they can isolate every night at home? Shouldn’t conservatives be the ones wanting their kids to do school in their own bedroom, far away from the dangerous and unclean peers who could contaminate them? And shouldn’t conservatives be the ones incessantly washing their hands, veiling their faces, and never touching anyone but their spouse and kids? Historically, Republicans have been the Pharisees and Democrats the libertines. Not anymore. It’s the Democrat response to COVID that’s been so quintessentially pharisaical. Just consider this modern retelling of Mark 7:1-8:
Now when the rulers of men gathered to him, with some of the media scribes, they saw that some of his disciples did not wear masks. For the rulers of men do not allow people to gather unless they wear masks, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless all the servers are wearing masks. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the sanitizing of all surfaces and the maintenance of six feet of separation.) And the rulers and scribes asked him, “Why have your disciples not been vaccinated according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled immunity?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
It’s not that Democrats and Republicans have actually traded places—not fundamentally. It only seems that way because of our new normal. The roles have shifted; the principles have not. Conservatives want order. Liberals prefer chaos. Conservatives cling to the tried and true. Liberals clamor for new ideas and experiences. Conservatives hold the line. Liberals push the envelope. As Jordan Peterson maintains, you need liberals to come up with groundbreaking ideas and conservatives to make them work. But here’s the thing. Shutting down the country was sold as a means of playing it safe. It wasn’t. There was nothing safe about it—which is why the political lines fell as they did. That’s why you have conservatives fighting the power in an effort to maintain the status quo and progressives bowing down to government mandates as a form of revolution.
How does all of this affect Oregon's abortion decline? My Portland friend speculates that there’s been a significant reduction in the social interactions that can lead to unplanned pregnancy. “Does an environment that is preoccupied with health and safety,” he wonders, “make one more mindful of other health matters like birth control?” Studies do indicate that Americans are having less sex since the COVID outbreak, and an increased vigilance regarding birth control seems entirely plausible. It’s also likely that casual sex decreased more than married sex amidst the lockdowns, which would mean that more of the sex happening in 2020 was the sex least likely to end in abortion, but that still doesn’t explain why the abortion ratio in Oregon fell so much further than it did in any of the other blue states. Were Oregonians just more afraid than the rest of the country? They probably were, but it turns out they had reason to be. U.S. News & World Report writes:
Nationally, homicides increased by nearly 30% from 2019 to 2020, based on FBI data. However, in Portland, deadly violence — which has been exacerbated by the pandemic — is increasing at a faster rate than nearly all major cities, with an 83% increase in homicides in 2020. Portland has had more homicides in 2021 than some larger cities, including San Francisco, and twice as many slayings as its larger neighbor, Seattle.
Portland’s CBS affiliate adds the following:
Portland had logged about 900 shootings (in 2020), compared to 393 shootings in all of 2019… (but) it’s not just gun violence that has rocked the city. Trendlon Brewer, 53, was arrested last week for a series of random attacks on people with a baseball bat. Violent behavior has spread much like the COVID-19 virus in 2020, creating unprecedented challenges for officers tasked with keeping the peace.
It’s been argued for years that abortion reduces crime—a claim that’s morally immaterial and impossible to substantiate, but is it possible that Oregon's crime wave may have reduced abortion? If the question is, why are Oregonians living with more fear than the rest of the nation?—this is certainly a viable answer. For seven months, the local press concedes, Portland was defined by protests and riots that included “vandalism sprees and violent clashes.” These are the same seven months that saw the greatest declines in abortion, and the rioting wasn’t isolated to Portland. It spread to Eugene and Salem as well. Simply put, Oregon had more to be afraid of than even Washington or California—more reasons not to go downtown and more reasons not to go to the kinds of areas where abortion clinics tend to be. And then there were the wildfires. More than a million acres burned, the second-most on record. In 2019, two Oregon homes were destroyed by wildfire. In 2020, it was more than 4,000. Though it’s a premise that can’t really be verified, these external threats do provide a plausible explanation for the blanket declines that were seen in all activities that required Oregonians to leave their home, including marriage and divorce. Oregon’s marriage rate fell 13% in 2020 (26% in Portland) while its divorce rate fell 19% (43% in Portland). Statewide, this resulted in 2,500 fewer divorces and 3,400 fewer marriages.
By my thinking, some percentage of Oregon women decided in 2020 that going to an abortion clinic was not worth risking their health and safety over—which is ironic, since going to an abortion clinic isn’t just a risk to the life of the child. It’s a death sentence. And going to an abortion clinic, even in the best of times, always threatens the health and safety of women. But I won’t complain about the end result. In 2021, births rose for the first time in Oregon since 2015. You can get pregnant without leaving your house, but in most cases, you can’t have an abortion without doing so. The one exception is the abortion method of the future: telemedicine—which in this context is a horribly misleading moniker. Abortion is many things, but it is not medicine. According to reports, 286 “TelAbortions” have been sent to women in Oregon and Washington since 2016. Medical abortions are counted in annual state totals, I can’t tell if TelAbortions are included as well. The Lund Report asserts that Oregon was among the four states originally chosen for the experimental program because “Oregon is the only state with no laws restricting abortion.” This is the described experience of a TelAbortion for one Oregon woman:
When Salina called the Eugene Planned Parenthood to ask about abortion options, they did not have available appointments for weeks. For an in-person abortion, she would’ve had to travel the two hours to Portland. Instead, she had her telemedicine appointments and calls while sitting in her garage in the early mornings, while her kids were still asleep… The abortion process was incredibly painful for Salina, who said she usually has a pretty high pain tolerance. Though the first pill she took had little to no side effects, the second one — which triggers contraction — set off waves of cramps that lasted several hours. On the phone with Planned Parenthood, she was told to expect to pass large blood clots but was not prepared for the intensity of the pain or the amount of bleeding she experienced. “I was pretty much inconsolable,” she said.
TelAbortion has now expanded to 16 states and seems a financial dream for Planned Parenthood—which can now sell abortions without having to employ an unsavory abortionist, without having to ever see the aborting woman in person, without having to be liable for having her on the premises, and without having to console her after she flushes her baby down the toilet. Planned Parenthood is currently the only provider of TelAbortion in Oregon and Washington, which should help them corner the market on abortion even further. CBS reportsthat “nearly a third of all independent abortion providers have either closed or stopped providing the procedure in the past five years.” Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood—with hundreds of millions of dollars in government largesse—continues to scoop up market share. “Planned Parenthood provide[s] about 37% of abortions in the country,” CBS tells us. Private physicians' offices account for a measly 3%.
So, where does all this leave us? That’s still a tough question to answer, but I’m inclined to conclude that women in Oregon faced an assortment of unexpected and unprecedented abortion deterrents in 2020 that were unique to their state—leading to a reduction in abortion that was unmatched among blue states. It’s also possible that precisely because of these collective threats to existence itself, more Oregon women simply looked for meaning in the bearing of children. Surrounded by violence, they chose against the violence of abortion. If true, that would be an even better development. To date, only two states saw a more significant abortion decline in 2020 than Oregon. They are Oklahoma and South Dakota—and they managed to do it without making people too afraid to leave their homes. I suppose my next task is to figure out how.
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