Two Under the Radar Triumphs for American Society

Two Under the Radar Triumphs for American Society

By David M. Simon

The teenage birth rate has declined by 67 percent. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that in 2016, there were 20.3 births per thousand 15-19 year old women, compared with 61.8 in 1991.

The rate for black teenagers has declined by an even more astounding 75 percent, from 118.2 in 1991 to 29.3 in 2016.

There is more good news. The abortion rate is at the lowest level since abortion was legalized nationwide in 1973. Data from the Guttmacher Institute show that at 14.6 abortions per thousand 15-44 year old women, the 2014 rate is less than half the rate of 29.3 in 1981.

And even while the U.S. population increased by about 75 million, the total number of abortions annually in the U.S. declined by almost 700,000, from 1,608,600 in 1990 to 926,190 in 2014.

These are stunning achievements. Abortion is a sad and gruesome event. Few women benefit from giving birth as teenagers. Dramatically fewer abortions and births to teenagers are triumphs for American society.

Yet these triumphs have received little attention. Why are they under the radar?

Perhaps because no interest group stands to gain by highlighting them. Pro-choice, pro-life, and groups focused on teen pregnancy issues wouldn’t want the declining numbers of abortions and teenage births to minimize the importance of their respective causes – or to reduce their funding.

Perhaps because these achievements unfolded through decades of small steps.

Or perhaps because no one is in a position to take credit for them.

There is no big government program or national plan to credit. The credit instead overwhelmingly goes to millions of Americans who made individual decisions about their most intimate matters.

A Pew Research Center report succinctly explained the decline in the teenage birth rate: “Less sex, use of more effective contraception and more information about pregnancy prevention.”

A Vox article distilled Guttmacher Institute research concerning the decline in the abortion rate to a similar conclusion: “The abortion rate mostly fell because more women used birth control, and used more reliable methods.”

In other words, there were fewer abortions and teenage births mostly because millions of Americans who will never be famous took responsibility for their own lives and made decisions to avoid circumstances that would otherwise have lead them or their partners to have abortions or become teenage mothers.

These achievements reflect a key aspect of American history and, indeed, the history of free societies around the world. As with the exponential expansion of agricultural productivity and industrial innovations that have fueled the amazing improvement of human lives over generations, free people will find ways to overcome even the most difficult challenges.

These triumphs often will take years or even decades and receive little or no publicity or acknowledgement. That these triumphs are under the radar is all the more reason to celebrate them.

David M. Simon is a lawyer in Chicago. The views expressed in this article are his own and not those of the law firm with which he is affiliated. For more, please see