Heritage Foundation “Index of Culture and Opportunity”: Life Is on the Right Track

Charles A. “Chuck” Donovan  


On July 20, 2017, The Heritage Foundation published the fourth installment of its annual Index of Culture and Opportunity (“Index”). The Index is an exercise in civil society that tracks and analyzes data that affects freedom and opportunity. Heritage writers explore three indicators: (1) cultural indicators, (2) poverty and dependence indicators, and (3) general opportunity indicators. Among the cultural indicators, Heritage analyzes America’s abortion rate.


In his Introduction for the 2017 Index, J.D. Vance, author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, contends that Heritage is on to something often lost in politics. He suggests that “…culture and opportunity are linked together, that the opportunities that exist in our society and our citizens’ perceptions of those opportunities shape our shared culture, and that our culture in turn shapes the opportunities available to individuals and communities.”


On a fundamental level, the linkage between culture and opportunity is clearest in the arena of life. A culture of life is necessary to achieving the individual’s most basic opportunity—life. Echoing Vice President Mike Pence, March for Life Education and Defense Fund President Jeanne Mancini argues in her 2017 Index contribution that “…life is indeed winning in the United States, and this is cause for celebration.”


How do we know that a culture of life is winning?


Unborn children continue to retain the most basic opportunity—life— more frequently year over year. In my contribution to the inaugural 2014 Index, I noted that the U.S. abortion rate declined from 20.9 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 to 16.9 per 1,000 women between 2001 and 2011. As of 2011, the 10-year abortion rate declined by four abortions per 1,000 women and the five-year abortion rate declined by three abortions per 1,000 women.


Better yet, according to the 2017 Index, the 10-year abortion rate from 2004 to 2014 declined by 5.1 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44,and the five-year abortion rate declined by 3.9 abortions per 1,000 women—both substantial improvements from the 2001 to 2011 data set.


How is a culture of life improving opportunity for unborn children?


Mancini argues that the hundreds of state level pro-life laws enacted since 2010 signal a cultural shift. She identifies laws related to parental consent and notification, laws that prohibit certain late-term abortion procedures, and laws that provide for informed consent. Also, abortion facilities continue to decline nationwide from 2,380 in 1992 to 1,671 in 2014—and they are outnumbered now by pregnancy help centers that provide genuine alternatives on a personable basis.


Additionally, Mancini highlights recent polling data that reveals eight out of 10 Americans would limit abortion to the first three months of pregnancy or earlier. Moreover, most Americans believe that abortion is immoral and that taxpayer funding of abortion is inappropriate.


Ultimately, what does Heritage conclude regarding the American abortion rate and its accompanying data?


2014 Index: Right Track.


2015 Index: Right Track.


2016 Index: Right Track.


2017 Index: Right Track.


Amid many deeply disconcerting cultural signals, evidence exists of increasing rejection of abortion as a solution to unexpected pregnancy. A nation that desires a new birth of freedom and opportunity can see in this trend a powerful gleam of hope.


Chuck Donovan is President of the Charlotte Lozier Institute.


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