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The real numbers behind abortions in the United States

How many abortions are actually performed? Numbers reveal the complexity in the raging debate.

Getty Images.
  • The American society is close to split on the legality of abortions.
  • 45,789,558 abortions were carried out in the U.S. between 1970 and 2015.
  • The abortion numbers are at an all-time low now, trending almost half of what they were.

WHAT AMERICANS THINK ABOUT ABORTION

Abortion is an extremely divisive issue that splits the country close to down the middle. About 48% of Americans consider themselves "pro-choice," but the same number – 48% are "pro-life," found a May 2018 Gallup poll. The numbers of pro-choicers is higher, however, in a Pew Research Poll from October 2018 which counted 58% of Americans saying abortion should be almost always legal in contrast to 37% who thought abortion should in illegal in most cases.

The views continue to go in separate ways when you drill down further. With regards to first trimester abortions, 90% of pro-choice Americans support their legality in most cases, while 60% of pro-life voters think it should be illegal [Gallup].

In the political arena, the divide couldn't be more clear. 59% of Republicans think abortion should be mostly illegal, while 76% of Democrats say abortion should be legal in most cases, discovered the Pew Center poll. Notably, these positions have become hardened over time as in 1995, just 49% of Republicans supported keeping abortion legal and 64% of Democrats.

Where Americans do seem to agree is in cases where a woman's life is in danger, with 83% saying abortion should be legally allowed (including 71% of pro-lifers). In cases of rape and incest, 77% support abortion rights (96% of pro-choicers and 57% of pro-life Americans). [Gallup].

While Americans take complex positions on abortion, it should be pointed out that only 18% of all U.S. adults think it should be illegal in all circumstances. Most support some form of abortion being allowed.

WHAT ALABAMIANS THINK ABOUT ABORTION

In Alabama, the ground zero of the abortion debate due to a recently passed abortion ban, repeated polling has shown that most of the voters oppose abortion rights, women included. A 2014 Pew Research Center poll found 58% of residents saying abortion should be illegal in mostly all cases. 51% of the pro-life respondents were women. Other polling indicates similar patterns.

The New York Times reports that in 2017, the citizens of Alabama approved modifying the State Constitution to include the language that the state must "to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life."

Most Alabamians, however, do think the extreme abortion ban recently passed by their legislature goes too far. Only 31% supported having no rape/incest exception in a 2018 poll.

Americans generally agree on the legality of abortions in cases of a woman's life being endangered or those involving rape and incest.

Gallup.

HOW MANY ABORTIONS ARE PERFORMED

According to CDC stats, 638,169 abortions were performed in 2015. Compare that to the period from the late 70s till the late 90s when the number of abortions was regularly fluctuating between 1 - 1.4 million per year.

Taken as a whole, there were 45,789,558 abortions performed in the U.S. between 1970 and 2015.

Current abortion rates are actually at an all-time low, reported Vox. It declined by 26% from 2006 until 2015, according to the CDC. Improved access to contraceptives is likely the cause of that.

While lower, it is still a fairly widespread procedure, with about 23.7% of American women having an abortion before reaching 45, concluded Guttmacher Institute's 2017 research. Before 30, the percentage is 19%. Before 20 it's 4.6%.

In Alabama, the numbers went from 11,267 abortions in 2007 to 6,768 abortions in 2017.

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

Gear
  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
  • The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
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Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
Mind & Brain
  • A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
  • The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
  • This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.

Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

A homeless man faces Wall Street

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
  • It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
  • The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
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Unhappy at work? How to find meaning and maintain your mental health

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