The report on abortion rates from the Guttmacher Institute suggests that the evolution of attitudes has transformed behavior. Since 1990, the number of abortions has dropped from 1.61 million to 1.21 million. The abortion rate among women of childbearing age has declined by 29 percent.
Those changes could be the result of other factors, such as more use of contraception: If fewer women get pregnant, fewer will resort to abortion. But the shift is equally marked among women who do get pregnant. In 1990, 30.4 percent of pregnancies ended in abortion. Last year, the figure was 22.4 percent.
Pro-choice groups say women are having fewer abortions only because abortion clinics are growing scarcer. But abortion clinics may be growing scarcer because of a decline in demand for their services and a public opinion climate that has gotten more inhospitable.
This growing aversion to abortion may be traced to better information. When the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, most people had little understanding of fetal development. But the proliferation of ultrasound images from the womb, combined with the dissemination of facts by pro-life groups, has lifted the veil. In the new comedy "Juno," a pregnant 16-year-old heads for an abortion clinic, only to change her mind after a teenage protester tells her, "Your baby probably has a beating heart, you know. It can feel pain. And it has fingernails."
"Juno" has been faulted as a "fairy tale" that sugarcoats the realities of teen pregnancy. But if it's a fairy tale, that tells something about how abortion violates our most heartfelt ideals -- and those of our adolescent children. Try to imagine a fairy tale in which the heroine has an abortion and lives happily ever after.
The prevailing view used to be: Abortion may be evil, but it's necessary. Increasingly, the sentiment is: Abortion may be necessary, but it's evil.