common ground on abortion?

President Obama has drawn both praise and criticism for meeting with groups on both sides of the abortion issue and attempting to find “common ground.”  One of the things I like about Obama, that I think many people like about him, is that he seems the type to listen to people with whom he both agrees and disagrees, and then try to come to a thoughtful conclusion.

The one problem with all this common ground on abortion stuff?

People who think that making abortion illegal will end or even put a dent in the number of abortions performed annually are wrong.

Yep. A new report from the Guttmacher (I always see this word and think gut-muncher for some reason) Institute found that

While the incidence of abortion is closely related to that of unintended pregnancy, it does not correlate with abortion’s legal status. Indeed, abortion occurs at roughly equal rates in regions where it is broadly legal and in regions where it is highly restricted.

Making abortion illegal does not change the number of abortions. Period. We should look at people who want to overturn Roe v. Wade about the same way as we look at people who supported Prohibition.

Moreover, what is the main difference between abortions performed in countries where abortion is “broadly legal” and countries where it is “highly restricted”?  The safety of the procedure.  The report notes:

Illegal, clandestine abortions cause significant harm to women, especially in developing countries…Unsafe abortion causes an estimated 70,000 deaths each year, and an additional five million women are treated annually for complications resulting from unsafe abortion. Approximately three million women who experience serious complications from unsafe procedures go untreated.

So. People who think abortion should be illegal and people who support the right for women to choose abortion actually DO have some common ground, since obviously both sides would prefer that women not be faced with unintended pregnancies that leave them considering abortion. Rather than attempting to prevent abortions by means of laws, which is basically ineffective and causes (additional in the case of those who believe abortion to be murder) deaths, the data shows where the real common ground should be: preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

And how do you do that? Contraception!

A piece from Jezebel on the Guttmacher report notes:

Worldwide, the rate of unintended pregnancy has dropped, just as the rate of contraceptive use among married women has risen. And Eastern Europe, where the greatest decline in abortion was reported, has seen a corresponding rise in contraceptive use. Unfortunately, only 28% of married African women use contraception, and one in four has an unmet need for contraceptives — meaning she is fertile and sexually active but does not currently want to have a child. Most commonly, the problem is lack of availability.

The data is again clear. When contraception access and usage rises, abortion rates decline. Seems that instead of focusing their energies on making abortion illegal when the illegality would have little to no effect on abortion rates, people who really want to reduce the number of abortions should support wider access to contraception.

The Jezebel piece makes another great point which didn’t show up in the Guttmacher release I read: the status of women in these developing countries where women are dying because of unsafe abortions is also important to consider.  The Catholic Church, which holds great sway in many of these developing countries, advocates “natural family planning” instead of hormonal or barrier contraception.  However, Anna, the writer of the Jezebel piece, notes:

Given that “natural family planning” can require careful timing on the part of both partners, it may not be an effective method in places where women’s status in a relationship is low.

If you live in a society in which you lack the power to say no to sex, be the partner your spouse or just a man on the street, asking you to use “natural family planning” as a sole source of pregnancy prevention is pretty cruel.

Now, up to this point, I have avoided addressing the “morals” of either abortion or extra/premarital sex. Why? Because what I think of morals really doesn’t matter to other people’s choices, and because really, the data is amoral.  Want to prevent abortion? There’s one way to do that which actually works, and that’s supporting access to contraception.  People who refuse to support access to contraception as a solution, claiming they simply want to outlaw abortion because they think access to contraception will encourage extra/premarital sex reveal their true motives: controlling the sexuality of others, particularly women. Safe, legal, rare, it’s one of Planned Parenthood’s mottos, and it’s one of mine as well.

3 Replies to “common ground on abortion?”

  1. That is the crux of the problem, when it comes to issues such as abortion: morals. Specifically, the desire of some to impose their moral values on others. The strength of this nation, as spelled out in the First Amendment, is that the State shall not establish or support a solitary religion. This makes it possible for people with any belief system to live in this country. While the Founding Fathers were mainly of Christian bent, they were also cognizant of the destructive power of a State religion on a political system, and sought to remove one from the other.

    Whatever you may think of abortion — and it is my fervent hope that someday there need be no more of them — the fact is, it is a legal medical procedure, any woman may have one (subject to state restrictions), and whether or not it is a “moral” issue is between a woman and her conscience. We have no right to cajole her into making a decision one way or another because of how we feel. It is her choice to make.

    That said, you are right. Contraception would be a big part of the answer. And yet, the same forces that wish to eliminate the right to a safe, legal abortion, also do not wish women (or men) to use contraception, again because of their “moral” view.

    So, I applaud the President for what he is try to do, but it is like shoveling fleas across a barnyard, because the anti-choice forces have aligned themselves to such an extent, that no direction is acceptable. At some point, he will have to come to the same conclusion many of us have — we will simply have to continue the fight.


  2. “We have no right to cajole her into making a decision one way or another because of how we feel. It is her choice to make.”

    Except that you just took a stance there – specifically, a pro-choice stance. You decided that there is only one person involved in an abortion – the mother. A pro-lifer would undoubtedly disagree, and claim that there are two people, a mother and a baby.

    I’m pretty sure if we actually applied your standard, that the offender is the one who decides on the personhood of their victim, we’d still be a slave-owning patriarchy.


  3. We still live in a patriarchy, Eric, and various levels of slavery are still in effect.

    It sounds like you want it to remain that way for women.


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