Libby Anne (part 3): A reply to her article, “How I lost faith in the pro-life movement”
|November 26, 2012||Posted by vjtorley under Intelligent Design|
In my previous two posts (see here and here) on feminist atheist Libby Anne’s Love, Joy, Feminism blog, I critiqued her embrace of evolutionary naturalism, and her rejection of the view that the cosmos was designed by an Intelligent Being. I then exposed the deficiencies in her ethical views, which have led her to conclude that human beings do not become persons until the moment of birth, and that abortion should be a woman’s legal right at any time before her baby is born.
In my final post, I’m going to address the factual claims that Libby Anne makes in a post that subsequently went viral, entitled, How I lost faith in the pro-life movement. Her opening paragraph immediately grabs the reader’s attention:
I was raised in the sort of evangelical family where abortion is the number one political issue. I grew up believing that abortion was murder, and when I stopped identifying as pro-life I initially still believed that. Why, then, did I stop identifying as pro-life? Quite simply, I learned that increasing contraceptive use, not banning abortion, was the key to decreasing the number of abortions. (N.B. All highlights in this post are mine – VJT.)
That last sentence invites the question: should the over-riding aim of the pro-life movement be to reduce the number of abortions? Or has Libby Anne overlooked something more important?
SECTION A. Is “reducing deaths” the ethical be-all and end-all? The case of Freda the firefighter
“What,” you might reasonably ask “could be of greater ethical importance than reducing the number of deaths?” I would answer: saving lives.
In her post, Libby Anne adds that her primary motivation, during the years she spent in the pro-life movement, was “a desire to save the lives of unborn babies.” However, I should point out that saving the life of a child in danger of dying is something quite distinct from preventing the coming-into-existence of a child who, if he/she were to exist, would almost certainly die. Someone might get a lot of personal satisfaction from performing the former deed, precisely because it involves rescuing a child from danger. The latter deed, on the other hand, doesn’t help a child, because there is no child to begin with. Both deeds can be described as “death-reducing,” but only the former deed actually saves a life.
Now let’s imagine a firefighter named Freda, who rescues a mother and her children from a burning fire. She subsequently notices that the children are wearing flammable pajamas, which have been banned from American clothing stores. Luckily the children’s pajamas didn’t catch fire on this occasion, but because Freda wants to save the children from being burned to death in the future, she warns the mother that the children’s pajamas are not safe. Afterwards, she and her team send out flyers in the mail, warning parents of the risk of flammable pajamas and encouraging them to buy flame-resistant pajamas instead. As a result, several children’s lives are saved that would otherwise have been lost. Now suppose that someone points out to Freda that if there were fewer people living in the area (which has many poor people), there would be fewer deaths from fires, and suggests that Freda should drop leaflets in residents’ mailboxes, advertising the benefits of birth control. Ask yourself this: do you think Freda would be impressed by that logic? Or would she be more likely to answer instead, “How many children people have is none of my business”?
Society A or society B?
“Eugenics cause happiness.” A Chinese propaganda poster from 1987. Image courtesy of IISH / Stefan R. Landsberger Collections and chineseposters.net.
Now this is important, because if you really want to save lives and do nothing else, then preventing pregnancies will hold no interest for you – except in cases of extreme poverty, where another pregnancy could put the life of the mother or her already-existing children at risk. If you live in an affluent country where life-endangering pregnancies are rare, and you simply want to save children’s lives, then what you will strive to do is to reduce the percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion. That’s quite a different goal from reducing the number of abortions. You could accomplish the latter goal quite easily in a militantly pro-choice society (let’s call it society A) where every girl or woman of child-bearing age received a free contraceptive implant unless she explicitly indicated that she was trying for a baby, and where male sterilization was widely available. But you wouldn’t save any children by doing that, and neither would you alter the blinkered attitudes of people in that society, who continued to regard the embryo/fetus as nothing more than a piece of disposable tissue. No pro-lifer would be happy to live in a society like that.
Now let’s compare society A with society B, where contraceptive usage is not as prevalent, and women sometimes have unplanned pregnancies, but where the vast majority of the populace believes abortion to be tantamount to murder. In society B, measures such as providing financial assistance and counseling to pregnant women, educating people about the humanity of the unborn child, and passing laws restricting the legal availability of abortion to cases where the mother’s life was at risk, would all count as life-saving measures, and if you were a pro-lifer, you’d probably get a lot of satisfaction from assisting in these activities. Of course, if you wanted to reduce poverty as well, then you might want to provide people with contraceptives. But you wouldn’t see that as a life-saving measure, and you certainly wouldn’t find it as personally rewarding as saving unborn children.
For many pro-lifers, protecting rights, rather than saving lives, is the name of the game
The United Nations General Assembly hall in New York City. Image courtesy of Patrick Gruban and Wikipedia. According to the 1959 Declaration on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted by UN General Assembly Resolution 1386 (XIV) of 10 December 1959, “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth” (Preamble), “[t]he child shall enjoy special protection, and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner” (Article 2), and “[h]e shall be entitled to grow and develop in health; to this end, special care and protection shall be provided both to him and to his mother, including adequate pre-natal and post-natal care” (Article 4).
Another important point that Libby Anne apparently failed to grasp during her years in the pro-life movement is that not all pro-lifers are motivated by the goal of saving lives as such. Rather, what motivates them is a desire to protect everyone’s right to life. Paul Pauker of Live Action News made this point very clearly in his powerfully worded opinion piece, Understanding the Right to Life (November 7, 2012):
While saving unborn babies is the “sole motivation” for some pro-lifers, for many – especially many pro-life conservatives – the goal is not saving life, per se; rather, the goal is protecting the right to life. And defined correctly, the right to life is the right to continuous existence from conception to natural death. In other words, the right to life is the right not to be killed…
For many, the right to life is an issue that primarily involves the correct role of government, and specifically, the correct interpretation of the Constitution. Using an originalist approach (which interprets the Constitution’s provisions as expressly stated in the text or clearly intended by the framers), the issue is simple. First, the right to life is unalienable. Second, the right to life is a negative right; that is, the right not to be killed, as mentioned above.
I should add, however, that the authors of the 1959 Declaration on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted by UN General Assembly Resolution 1386 (XIV) of 10 December 1959, seemed to have positive as well as negative rights in mind, when they resolved that “the child … needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth” (Preamble); that “[t]he child shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner” (Article 2); and that “special care and protection shall be provided both to him and to his mother, including adequate pre-natal and post-natal care” (Article 4). According to the United Nations Declaration, adequate pre-natal care is thus a basic human right.
The Western Front of the United States Capitol. Image courtesy of Architect of the Capitol and Wikipedia.
To illustrate the importance of legal protection for the unborn child, let’s imagine a Congresswoman named Lucy, whose driving passion is to have unborn children legally recognized as people. On her desk is a sign that defiantly reads, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Because her goal as a legislator is to help frame laws that recognize the unborn child as a person, and to protect the unborn child from current laws that neglect the right to life of the unborn child, Lucy spends a lot of her time in meetings discussing legislative measures to promote these ends.
When Lucy hears about another legal measure, proposed by her colleague Catherine, to reduce fetal mortality by requiring that iron and folate supplements be added to common snack foods, she naturally decides to vote in favor of it.
As it turns out, Catherine’s measure ends up saving the lives of 10,000 unborn children, while the legislative measures supported by Lucy have a much more modest impact during her life-time. Yet Lucy’s legislative initiatives exert a powerful influence over the thinking of an upcoming generation of lawyers, and 100 years after her death, America finally becomes a pro-life country.
So, who has accomplished more in her life-time: Lucy or Catherine? What do readers think?
Now that I’ve explained why the pro-life movement two main goals are (a) protecting the unborn child’s right to life and (b) reducing the percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion, rather than reducing the number of abortions, let’s return to Libby Anne’s post, and address her next point, which is that banning abortions doesn’t work.
SECTION B. Does banning abortions really work?
There is an impressive array of evidence, from the 19th century to the present day, that banning abortions saves millions of human lives. Before I present that evidence, I’d like to go back to Libby Anne’s post, where she tells of a surprising discovery she made in 2007, while she was actively involved in the pro-life student movement:
My journey began one blustery day in October of 2007 when I came upon an article in the New York Times. This article completely shook my perspective…
The first thing I learned from that New York Times article shocked me: it turns out that banning abortion does not actually affect the abortion rate.
Banning abortion does not actually affect abortion rates. I was could not have been more shocked. I learned that all banning abortion does is make abortion illegal – and unsafe… Overturning Roe, I realized, would not make women stop having abortions. Instead, it would simply punish women who have abortions by requiring them to risk their health to do so.
On this point, Libby Anne is wrong, completely wrong. And I have the empirical evidence to prove it.
(i) The Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion in the 19th century: Why you might not be alive today, were it not for a few courageous American doctors who campaigned to have abortion banned
Dr. Horatio Robinson Storer (1830-1922), the Father of American Gynecology, and a tireless campaigner on behalf of the unborn child. Picture courtesy of Frederick N. Dyer, Ph. D.
When I read the passage above, I thought to myself: “I wonder if Libby Anne has read about the Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion, in the nineteenth century?” The Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion, for those readers who have never heard of it, was an initiative launched by American doctors to outlaw abortions, after they became convinced, as a result of viewing the human embryo under a microscope for the first time in history, that what they were looking at was a human being. In the mid-nineteenth century, the common view, even among theologians who strongly condemned the practice of abortion, was that the fetus was “lifeless,” “a mere mass of matter,” until quickening occurred in the fifth month. However, following the discovery of the human ovum in 1827, obstetricians quickly came to a medical consensus that the embryo was a human being from conception onwards, as it showed clear signs of life. It was this discovery that prompted many of them to have abortion criminalized as homicide.
One of the great myths of the pro-choice movement is that abortion was criminalized in the United States of America in the late nineteenth century for petty, vindictive reasons: in particular, putting the “quacks” who performed many of the abortions out of business; increasing the numbers of “Americans,” i.e. native-born citizens, who were having many fewer children than Catholic immigrants; and keeping women in traditional child-bearing roles. This is pro-choice propaganda.
The truth is that abortion was outlawed in America primarily for humanitarian reasons: to save human lives. The story of how this happened has been chronicled by James C. Mohr, in his book Abortion in America (Oxford University Press, 1978), and more recently by Frederick Dyer in his work, “The Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion” (Science History Publications, USA, 2005), Dyer has summarized his research findings in a brief but fascinating online article entitled, The Physicians’ Crusade for the Unborn, from which I shall quote a short excerpt:
In 1857, while much of the nation was consumed with the issues that would soon lead to civil war, a young Boston doctor took action on another matter of life and death. Dr. Horatio Robinson Storer’s effort, dubbed the “physicians’ crusade against abortion,” was wonderfully successful. As a result of diligent lobbying by Dr. Storer and his colleagues, state and territorial legislatures enacted stringent laws against unnecessary abortions, most of which remained in effect with little or no change for more than a hundred years…
…Horatio Storer’s father, David Humphreys Storer, was Professor of Obstetrics and Medical Jurisprudence at the Harvard Medical School. In November 1855, he gave a lecture at the Medical School whose final section dealt with criminal abortion. In 1859, Horatio cited his father’s lecture as a major stimulus for his anti-abortion “undertaking.” In that lecture, David Storer had said:To save the life of the mother we may be called upon to destroy the fetus in utero, but here alone can it be justifiable. The generally prevailing opinion that although it may be wrong to procure an abortion after the child has presented unmistakable signs of life, it is excusable previous to that period, is unintelligible to the conscientious physician. The moment an embryo enters the uterus a microscopic speck, it is the germ of a human being, and it is as morally wrong to endeavor to destroy that germ as to be guilty of the crime of infanticide.
It was this fundamental moral conviction that motivated American physicians’ successful campaign to have abortion outlawed, in the nineteenth century.
How did 19th century American physicians talk women out of having abortions?
Left: John Harvey Kellogg, aged 29. Right: An early advertisement for Corn Flakes, which he helped invent. Images are public domain, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Storer’s crusade galvanized other physicians into action, including the New York physician Augustus Kinsley Gardner, who in 1860 published what may have been the first popular article dealing with criminal abortion, and John Harvey Kellogg, M.D., the co-inventor of Corn Flakes, who counseled many mothers against having abortions, and wrote a best-selling book on the subject of abortion, entitled, Plain Facts For Old and Young. In chapter 21 of his book, on pages 516-518, Kellogg described the following conversation he had had with a woman patient who had requested an abortion:
“Why do you desire the destruction of your unborn infant?”
“Because I already have three children, which are as many as I can properly care for; besides, my health is poor, and I do not feel that I can do justice to what children I now have.”
“Your chief reason, then, is that you do not wish more children?”
“On this account you are willing to take the life of this unborn babe?”
“I must get rid of it.”
“I understand that you have already borne three children, and that you do not think you are able to care for more. Four children are, you think, one too many, and so you are willing to destroy one. Why not destroy one of those already born?”
“Oh, that would be murder!”
“It certainly would, but no more murder than it would be to kill this unborn infant. Indeed, the little one you are carrying in your womb has greater claims upon you than the little ones at home, by virtue of its entire dependence and helplessness. It is just as much your child as those whose faces are familiar to you, and whom you love.”
Kellogg related that conversations like this one proved quite effective in dissuading women from having abortions. Other physicians related similar conversations in which they offered to kill an existing child, since it would be safer for the mother than having the abortion she requested. Most indicated that this approach – which vividly reminded their patients that abortion both constituted murder and was dangerous to the mother – was effective in persuading the woman to bear her child.
Did banning abortion really work, in the 19th century?
The arrest of abortionist Ann Lohman (also known as Madame Restell) by Anthony Comstock. From the 23 February 1878 edition of the New York Illustrated Times. Scanned from The Wickedest Woman in New York: Madame Restell, the Abortionist by Clifford Browder. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
One widely believed pro-choice myth is that criminalizing abortion in the 19th century failed to prevent it from occurring, and that 1,000,000 abortions were performed every year in the U.S. prior to the Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion in Roe vs. Wade, in 1973. This myth has been punctured by Dr. Bernard Nathanson, an American medical doctor from New York who supervised 75,000 abortions and who helped to found the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (N.A.R.A.L., now the National Abortion Rights Action League) in 1968, but who became a pro-life activist in the 1970s. In a testimony entitled, Confession of an Ex-Abortionist, Dr. Nathanson acknowledged that pro-choice campaigners manufactured the “one million abortions” statistic to further their cause:
We aroused enough sympathy to sell our program of permissive abortion by fabricating the number of illegal abortions done annually in the U.S. The actual figure was approaching 100,000 but the figure we gave to the media repeatedly was 1,000,000. Repeating the big lie often enough convinces the public… In fact,… the annual number of abortions has increased by 1500% since legalisation.
In his book, “The Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion” (Science History Publications, USA, 2005), Dr. Frederick Dyer acknowledges that the physicians’ crusade against abortion was not completely successful in banning the practice; nevertheless, the laws passed as a result of this crusade undoubtedly saved millions of lives:
…It must be conceded that even at the height of physician opposition to abortion, unnecessary abortions continued at a high rate, with the bulk of these being obtained by married Protestant women.
The reasons for the continuing prevalence of induced abortion are complex. Many newspapers, including some religious newspapers, carried thinly veiled advertisements for drugs that were presumed to cause miscarriages, and these ads made women aware that abortion could be induced and led them to believe that this was no major crime. Protestant clergy typically were unwilling to raise the issue in their sermons.
However, high as abortion rates were, they would have been even higher if it weren’t for the laws that dissuaded some women from seeking abortions and restrained many physicians who might otherwise have provided them. Of even more importance was physicians’ persuading women seeking abortions to continue their pregnancies. Dozens of physicians echoed John Harvey Kellogg in describing how it was the physician’s duty to convince women that they should not have abortions. Many reported large successes, including Frederick Taussig, who claimed that he was able to persuade almost one-half of the married women requesting abortions to have their babies instead. If you, the reader, are of Protestant stock going back 100 years in this country, the odds are good that you have at least one ancestor who was born alive because his mother heeded such counsel.
Not the least factor in keeping the rate of unnecessary abortions from being even higher was the Catholic clergy. Catholic readers can thank their grandmothers’, great grandmothers’, and great great-grandmothers’ priests for their own existence. Storer noted the rarity of abortion among Catholic women in 1859 and reported that there had been no change when he wrote in 1868. He gave credit for this fact to the Catholic confessional, as did numerous other physicians, including Alfred A. Andrews, of Windsor, Ontario.
We may conclude, then, that banning abortion in America from the late nineteenth century to the early 1970s, undoubtedly saved millions of lives. But what about the world today? Could banning abortion be effective now? Libby Anne thinks it would make no difference. However, the very evidence she brings forward to support her argument proves precisely the opposite. Banning abortion undoubtedly saves lives.
(ii) Does banning abortion work today? How the New York Times got its facts wrong
The New York Times building in New York, N.Y., across from the Port Authority. Picture courtesy of Haxorjoe and Wikipedia.
In her post, Libby Anne writes about a New York Times article that she came across in 2007, which presented research purporting to show that banning abortion does not actually affect the abortion rate:
I was shocked to find that the countries with the lowest abortion rates are the ones where abortion is most legal and available, and the countries with the highest abortion rates are generally the ones where the practice is illegal. It’s true.
The key here lies in the ambiguity of the term “abortion rate.” Does it refer to the number of abortions, or the percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion? The New York Times article defines the abortion rate as the number of abortions per 1,000 women per year. In other words, it tells us nothing about the percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion, which is what pro-lifers are concerned with, as I explained above. Libby Anne was therefore looking at the wrong statistic.
Libby Anne also quotes heavily from a January 2012 report by the Alan Guttmacher Institute entitled, Facts on Induced Abortion Worldwide. The report draws heavily on an article by Sedgh et al. entitled Induced abortion: incidence and trends worldwide from 1995 to 2008 (The Lancet, Volume 379, Issue 9816, Pages 625 – 632, 18 February 2012; published online 19 January 2012), and sponsored by the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization. Here, at last, I found what I was looking for, in a June 21, 2012 appendix entitled, “Abortion Ratios Worldwide in 2008.” It’s very revealing stuff. The abortion ratio that it talks about is the ratio of abortions to live births – specifically, the number of abortions per 100 live births. That’s the ratio that pro-lifers would want to bring down, as a reduction in the abortion ratio will also lower the percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion.
(a) Good news, from out of Africa
Many Africans, both women and men, are strongly pro-life. Picture courtesy of Human Life International.
Here’s how Libby Anne reports the statistics for abortions in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, based on the January 2012 Guttmacher Institute report, Facts on Induced Abortion Worldwide:
Highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates. For example, the abortion rate is 29 per 1,000 women of childbearing age in Africa and 32 per 1,000 in Latin America—regions in which abortion is illegal under most circumstances in the majority of countries. The rate is 12 per 1,000 in Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds.
Now, I could quibble with the Guttmacher Institute report, by pointing out that if we look at sub-regions, we find that the abortion rates in Northern and Southern Africa (18 and 15 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, respectively) are in fact roughly comparable with the abortion rates for Northern Europe (17 and 18 per 1,000, respectively). But that’s not where the real story lies.
The report cites Induced abortion: incidence and trends worldwide from 1995 to 2008 by Sedgh et al. as the source for its figures. But if we have a look at the data in the June 21, 2012 appendix to Sedgh, we get a completely different story. Here are the abortion ratios for Africa: Eastern Africa 21%, Middle Africa 18%, Northern Africa 18%, Southern Africa 17%, Western Africa 16%. For the African continent as a whole, the ratio is 18%. By contrast, the ratio in Western Europe is 23%. In Northern Europe it’s 28%, in Southern Europe it’s 37% and in Eastern Europe it’s a whopping 93%, giving a Europe-wide average figure of 54%.
In other words, the percentage of pregnancies that end in abortions is significantly higher in Western Europe, where it is legal, than in Africa, where it is “illegal under most circumstances in the majority of countries.” And for Europe as a whole, the abortion ratio is much higher: it’s triple Africa’s! And it’s not just Eastern Europe that’s the problem. The figure for Southern Europe, where all abortions are performed safely for women, is more than double that for Africa. (When we read about “safe” and “unsafe” abortions, let’s remember that abortion is 100% unsafe for the unborn child, and that in about 50% of cases, that child is a girl. So much for women’s rights!)
“What about North America?” you might be wondering. Well, it turns out that the abortion ratio in North America is 29% – once again, far higher than Africa’s.
It is true that the abortion ratio is high in Latin America: 41% for the region as a whole. But if we break it down by sub-region, we find that the ratio is highest in the Caribbean, where the law is the most liberal and “safe” abortions are most easily accessible, at 49%, and lowest in Central America, where “safe” abortions are non-existent, at 34%. Once again, the figures suggest that highly restrictive abortion laws are effective in lowering the ratio of abortions to live births.
The figures in Asia tell the same story. In Eastern Asia, where abortion is legal and all abortions are “safe,” the abortion ratio is 51%; in South-Central Asia, where abortion is legally restricted and nearly two-thirds of abortions are “unsafe,” it’s 26%. In Western Asia, where most abortions are “unsafe,” it’s also 26%. Only in South-Eastern Asia does the abortion ratio (46%) approach that of Eastern Asia (51%).
What these figures suggest to me is that restrictive abortion laws probably do deter pregnant women from seeking abortions, and that these laws save millions of lives every year.
The reader may still be wondering why the abortion rate is so high in Africa, at 29 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, compared to 12 per 1,000 in Western Europe, while the abortion ratio in Africa is so much lower than that in Europe. Actually, if we look at the abortion rate for Europe as a whole, we find that it’s 27 per 1,000 women of childbearing age – roughly the same as Africa’s – even though an African woman can expect to give birth to three times as many babies in her lifetime than a European woman, according to U. N. Figures. So let’s rephrase the question: why is Africa’s abortion rate barely any higher than Europe’s, even though European women are far wealthier, have far better access to contraceptives and have far fewer children during their lifetimes? The answer, I would argue, is that African women are far more pro-life in their attitudes than European women, and that Africa’s restrictive abortion laws help to reinforce that pro-life mentality, in a “virtuous cycle.”
The Appendix to Sedgh’s report attributes Africa’s low abortion ratios to high fertility rates, as if there were something freakish about Africa. But the question we really should be asking is whether there is something freakish about Europe. Why is it that in a wealthy continent like Europe, where most women enjoy ready access to contraceptives and abortion, women’s fertility has fallen well below replacement levels? (The Europe-wide fertility rate is about 1.6 children per woman.) Could it be that birth control creates a mentality that makes couples less welcoming of a new baby than they would be if they lived in a culture where there was a strong pro-life ethic?
But there’s more. Some of the best evidence that banning abortion saves lives comes from inside Europe.
(b) Legal restrictions on abortion have worked in Poland
Lech Walesa, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 and President of Poland from 1990-1995. Walesa presided over a 1993 law making abortion in Poland except in cases when the woman’s life or health is endangered by the continuation of pregnancy, when the pregnancy is a result of a criminal act (i.e. rape or incest), or when the fetus is seriously malformed. Abortions, which were already falling, subsequently plummeted to near zero. Walesa is a staunch opponent of abortion, and has publicly declared that he would rather have resigned the presidency twenty times than sign into law a bill permitting abortion in Poland. Image courtesy of MDEF and Wikipedia.
Further evidence that legal restrictions on abortion save children’s lives comes from a WHO report entitled, Facts and figures about abortion in the European Region, which notes that abortion ratios vary widely by country in the region: “According to HFA-DB, in 2006 the abortion ratio was 95 per 100 live births in the Russian Federation and 68 in Romania. At the lower end, Belgium’s rate was 14 and Switzerland 15 in 2005. Tajikistan reported less than 5 per 100 in 2006, and Poland less than 1.” The low figure for Poland undermines the WHO’s claim that “Legal restrictions on abortion do not affect its incidence,” for as the WHO report acknowledges, “In Poland and Ireland, legal abortion is severely limited in availability.”
The WHO is leery of the low abortion rates for Poland, and cautions that the data may be unreliable. However, the facts indicate otherwise. According to a Pro Life Campaign report entitled, Poland – Abortion rates and commentary, abortions in Poland have declined precipitously over the last 25 years:
When Lech Walesa became President, a new Constitution was framed and, in 1993, a law was enacted restricting abortion, except in so-called crisis situations…
The amazing thing was that Polish abortions declined sharply long before the 1993 legislation made it compulsory.
They dropped steadily from 123,500 in 1987, 59,500 in 1990, 11,500 in 1992, 1,200 in 1993, 559 in 1995 and 491 in 1996. Some forecast that it would lead to a surge in births, more illegal abortions posing as miscarriages, more maternal deaths, more infanticide and child murder. Polish social statistics showed no significant change in any of these; there was indeed a marked decline in hospitalisation after miscarriages and maternal deaths. Admissions for complications of pregnancy dropped from 178 to 144 per 10,000 women.
As far as I can ascertain, the fall in abortions in Poland that occurred before the 1993 legislation restricting its availability seems to have been linked to the rise of Solidarity and the Catholic Church, and the fall of Communism. The ban was the final coup de grace which reduced the abortion rate to near zero, destroyed the “pro-abortion culture” of Communist Poland, and ensured that this poisonous culture would never appear again. Dr. William Robert Johnston, who is a research physicist in the field of space physics, has compiled a table on historical abortion statistics in Poland, showing a drop of about 40% from 1981 to 1982, followed by a drastic fall in frequency between 1987 and 1993. (Incidentally, Dr. Johnston’s international archive of abortion statistics can be found hereand is quite impressive, in terms of its scope and depth.)
“What about illegal abortions in Poland?” you might be wondering. It turns out that the percentage of pregnancies terminated illegally is also very low. A 2006 report (updated in 2011) by four doctors from the Polish Association for the Protection of Human Life, entitled, The abortion underground in Poland – myths and facts estimates the number of illegal abortions performed in Poland each year at somewhere between 7,000 and 14,000 – well below the inflated estimates of 80,000 to 200,000 made by pro-choice advocates:
The number of illegal acts [of abortion – VJT], dangerous for health or even life and expensive is certainly lower than the number of the same acts after their legalisation, carried in good sanitary conditions and free of charge.
Providing overestimated data about the scale of illegal abortions, as it could be seen from the abovementioned facts, is a permanent element of pro-abortion campaign…
It has been shown, that the estimates (80 -200 000 illegal abortions) disclosed recently by pro-abortionists, are completely inconsistent with reality. Reliable analyses say, that [the] number of so-called abortion[s] underground amounts to 7 – 14 thousands abortions annually.
Dr. William Robert Johnston comes to a similar conclusion in his online article, Data on abortion decrease in Poland. He points out that Polish authorities are actively enforcing the abortion law in Poland, by prosecuting abortionists as well as individuals who assist women in obtaining abortions abroad. Johnston also notes: “Available data on abortions by region in Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Russia do not show high numbers of abortions close to the Polish border.” Johnston concludes:
We cannot document what we cannot observe. I would, however, argue that the annual numbers of abortions by Polish women are significantly lower as a result of the anti-abortion laws. This is based on the following:
- continued decline in numbers of births;
- only a slight (2%) rise in miscarriages in 1992-93, followed by continued decline (note that miscarriages are the favored evidence of clandestine abortions in many countries);
- no increase in pregnancy-related deaths;
- aggressive actions by authorities to deter illegal abortion;
- no evidence of abortion tourism in very large numbers.
Certainly the numbers of abortions by Polish women are significantly larger than the number legally performed in Poland (average 635 per year, 1993-2004). Figures of 5,000-15,000 per year obtained abroad are credible. I could believe a figure of 10,000 per year for illegal abortions in Poland, but I doubt that the totals are anywhere near the figures of 100,000+ reported abortions per year as in the late 1980s.
A final comment of Dr. Johnston’s is worth quoting: “If the Polish abortion law were routinely circumventable, there wouldn’t be so much hostility towards it, I would think.”
If we compare Johnston’s figure of 10,000 illegal abortions per year in Poland with the number of births (413,300 in 2010, 388,416 in 2011) then we can calculate the ratio of abortions to live births: about 2.5%, which is well below that of other European countries. By contrast, the abortion ratio for England and Wales in 2010 was 26.2%, according to official statistics compiled by ProLife Campaign.
I should also add that in recent years, Poland has become increasingly pro-life, with 76% of Poles aged 15–24 favoring a total ban on abortion (“Polish Abortion Ban Defeated; Pro-Life Leaders Optimistic”, by David Bohon, in Thenewamerican.com, 13 September 2011).
(c) The effects of banning abortion in Ireland
The Coat of Arms of Ireland. The Eighth Amendment to Ireland’s Constitution, which was passed in a referendum in 1983, reads: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” Image courtesy of Tonyjeff and Wikipedia.
I mentioned earlier that Ireland is the other major country in Europe where abortion is subject to severe legal restrictions. So, what percentage of women who become pregnant in Ireland terminate their pregnancies? It turns out that the abortion rate for Irish women (who usually travel to England to get their abortions) is less than a quarter of the abortion rate for women from England and Wales. Here are the latest figures from a Pro Life Campaign report entitled, Pro Life Campaign says downward trend is “very encouraging” (24 May 2011):
The latest Irish abortion figures released today by the British Department of Health* show a further reduction in the number of Irish women travelling to Britain for abortions.
In 2010, 4,402 Irish women travelled to Britain for abortions, down from 4,422 for the previous year. It is the ninth consecutive year that Irish abortions have declined after more than a decade of upward trends. It marks a 34% decline since the high of 6,673 Irish abortions in 2001…
Ireland’s abortion rate is now 4.4 per 1,000 female residents aged 15-44 where England’s is 17.5.
*Statistical Bulletin, Summary Abortion Statistics, England and Wales: 2010 (24/05/11)
The above figures relate to the abortion rate in Ireland, versus England and Wales. What about the abortion ratio? In 2010, the ratio of Irish women’s abortions (performed in the U.K.) to live births in Ireland was 6%, according to a report by ProLife Campaign, tabulated here, based on official abortion statistics for 2010, released by the British Department of Health in May 2011. A more precise figure would be 5.9%. By contrast, the abortion ratio for England and Wales in 2010 was 26.2%, according to official statistics compiled by ProLife Campaign. In other words, the ratio of abortions to births is 78% lower in Ireland than in England and Wales.
In case readers are wondering about Northern Ireland: Unionist politicians there are even more strongly opposed to abortion than Irish nationalist politicians, according to a News Letter report, dated 18 November 2012. Abortions in Northern Ireland remain heavily restricted, according to BBC news reports – see here and here. Hence it is not surprising that the abortion ratio in Northern Ireland is only 4.9%, according to 2010 figures, compared with 26.2% in England and Wales.
The evidence is clear: the imposition of legal restrictions on the availability of abortion definitely works, as a measure for bringing down the abortion ratio as well as the abortion rate.
NOTE: In view of recent publicity surrounding the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, I’d like to point out that as far back as 1992, Ireland’s Supreme Court had already ruled that it had jurisdiction derived from the constitution to allow abortion in the case of a “real and substantive risk” to the mother’s life. That was a wise decision. Recently, Dr. Peter Saunders has argued that there is no reason to change Ireland’s pro-life law, as it already protects the life of the mother, and he concludes that the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar was wholly unnecessary. He also points out that section 21.4 of the Irish Medical Council’s Guide to Professional Conduct and Behavior for Registered Medical Practitioners allows necessary medical interventions, even if that treatment results in fetal death, when life-threatening maternal illness is present. These guidelines would have allowed an induced labor, in order to save Savita’s life. Nevertheless, I do think it would be helpful if the Irish government passed a law specifying exactly what it expects doctors to do in cases where the mother’s life is at risk, leaving absolutely no room for doubt as to what the law demands.
In further developments, Frank Schnittger, a reporter for the left-wing Daily Kos who has spoken to medical personnel with some knowledge of the staff and the hospital where Savita died (but not the details of her particular case) has written a thoughtful article entitled, Would an abortion have saved Savita Halappanavar? Schnittger reminds his readers that Savita developed septicemia and subsequently died of an E.coli infection, and notes that in such a situation, “an earlier miscarriage, induced birth or abortion would not necessarily have reduced her risk of becoming infected,” as any surgical intervention “has its own risks of mishap or infection.”
Finally, statementby the American Association of ProLife Obstetricians and Gynecologists expresses their sincere condolences to the family of Savita Halappanavar makes a very telling point:
As obstetrician-gynecologists involved with the care of women, we know that fatal infections can progress rapidly and have observed deaths from infections in pregnant women of a similar gestational age in our own institutions in the U.S. where abortion is legal.
SECTION C. Is the pro-life movement responsible for killing thousands of women worldwide?
Libby Anne believes that banning abortion is responsible for the deaths from abortions worldwide every year:
I found that almost 50,000 women worldwide die each year from unsafe abortions, and that many more experience serious injury or infertility. These deaths happen almost entirely in countries where abortion is illegal – and thus clandestine.
In fact, when abortion was made legal in South Africa, the number of abortion related deaths fell by over 90%.
There are three general points which I’d like to make in reply to Libby Anne. My first point is that adequate medical care, rather than access to legal abortion, is the key to reducing maternal deaths around the world, especially in Africa. What African women want is not legalized abortion, but access to proper medical care, before and after birth.
Second, the sharp drop in maternal deaths worldwide in recent years that has occurred in countries restricting abortion as well as in those permitting it, is due to improvements in medical care for mothers.
Third, we really don’t know how many women die in illegal abortions around the world every year. The Guttmacher Institute figure of 50,000, quoted by Libby Anne, is likely to have been inflated for political reasons. To put it bluntly: pro-choice lobbyists have a long track record of lying. In the 1960s, these lobbyists exaggerated the number of women dying from illegal botched abortions in the United States by a factor of 25 or more, as I’ll demonstrate below. We should therefore take any statistics touted by the pro-choice lobby with a very large grain of salt.
Finally, the pro-choice movement is being hypocritical in condemning the deaths of up to 50,000 women around the world every year from illegal abortions, while remaining silent about the millions of women who are forced to undergo abortions every year, by the Chinese government. Now that’s what I call cruelty to women.
(i) What African women really want is good medical care, not legalized abortion
An African woman from Benin. Picture courtesy of Jacques Taberlet and Wikipedia.
It is commonly said that Africa is a continent whose people are in dire need of birth control, including access to safe, legal abortions. But that statement rests on the assumption that most African women want to stop having babies. The fact is, they don’t. If you want to know what the women of Africa really want, it certainly helps if you ask one. Obianuju Ekeocha is a 32-year-old Nigerian woman who, for the past six years, has been working as a biomedical scientist in Canterbury, England. Recently she composed An open letter to Melinda Gates, in response to Melinda Gates’ pledge to raise $5 billion for the people of Africa, in order to give its people more access to birth control. I’d like to quote an excerpt:
Growing up in a remote town in Africa, I have always known that a new life is welcomed with much mirth and joy…
All I can say with certainty is that we, as a society, LOVE and welcome babies.
With all the challenges and difficulties of Africa, people complain and lament their problems openly. I have grown up in this environment and I have heard women (just as much as men) complain about all sorts of things. But I have NEVER heard a woman complain about her baby (born or unborn). Even with substandard medical care in most places, women are valiant in pregnancy. And once the baby arrives, they gracefully and heroically rise into the maternal mode.
I trained and worked for almost five years in a medical setting in Africa, yet I never heard of the clinical term “postpartum depression” until I came to live in Europe. I never heard it because I never experienced or witnessed it, even with the relatively high birth rate around me. (I would estimate that I had at least one family member or close friend give birth every single month. So I saw at least 12 babies born in my life every year.)
Amidst all our African afflictions and difficulties, amidst all the socioeconomic and political instabilities, our babies are always a firm symbol of hope, a promise of life, a reason to strive for the legacy of a bright future.
So a few weeks ago I stumbled upon the plan and promise of Melinda Gates to implant the seeds of her “legacy” in 69 of the poorest countries in the world (most of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa).
Her pledge is to collect pledges for almost $5 billion in order to ensure that the African woman is less fertile, less encumbered and, yes, she says, more “liberated.” With her incredible wealth she wants to replace the legacy of an African woman (which is her child) with the legacy of “child-free sex.”…
I see this $4.6 billion buying us misery. I see it buying us unfaithful husbands. I see it buying us streets devoid of the innocent chatter of children. I see it buying us disease and untimely death. I see it buying us a retirement without the tender loving care of our children.
Please Melinda, listen to the heart-felt cry of an African woman and mercifully channel your funds to pay for what we REALLY need.
- Good healthcare systems (especially prenatal, neonatal and pediatric care)…
- Food programs for young children…
- Good higher education opportunities…
- Chastity programs…
- Support for micro-business opportunities for women…
- Fortify already established NGOs that are aimed at protecting women from sex-trafficking, prostitution, forced marriage, child labor, domestic violence, sex crimes, etc…
$4.6 billion dollars can indeed be your legacy to Africa and other poor parts of the world. But let it be a legacy that leads life, love and laughter into the world in need.
With regard to the claim that legalizing abortion will save women’s lives, Catholic blogger Marc Barnes makes a very telling point, in his article, All Banning Abortion Does Is Make It Unsafe (Rebuttal Part 2) (November 3, 2012):
[W]hile legalizing abortion may reduce abortion-related deaths to a point, a far more effective way to achieve the same goal is to give women better than abortion — to give them care. The legalization of abortion is unnecessary, and worse than that, it draws attention away from the actual problem…
What should be absolutely primary for the health and protection of pregnant women is not the legalization of abortion but the education of women, increased attention and funding to medical facilities, clean procedures, professional midwifery and gynecology…
(ii) Maternal Mortality is falling all over the world, even in countries where abortion is illegal
Maternal Mortality Rate worldwide, given as “the annual number of female deaths per 100,000 live births from any cause related to or aggravated by pregnancy or its management (excluding accidental or incidental causes). The MMR includes deaths during pregnancy, childbirth, or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy, for a specified year.” Source: the CIA World Factbook, 2010. Image courtesy of Gunmap, Mikael Haggstrom and Wikipedia.
In a recent article, entitled, All Banning Abortion Does Is Make It Unsafe (Rebuttal Part 2) (November 3, 2012), Catholic blogger Marc Barnes notes that improvements in medicine and sanitation are rapidly bringing down maternal mortality rates, even in countries where abortion is illegal:
Are we, the young, pro-life majority, damning women to death by seeking to ban abortion? Is our fight against abortion only making it clandestine and unsafe?
Nope. The recent study “Women’s Education Level, Maternal Health Facilities, Abortion Legislation and Maternal Deaths: A Natural Experiment in Chile” shows the opposite:“During the 50-year study period, the MMR [maternal mortality rate] decreased from 293.7 to 18.2/100,000 live births, a decrease of 93.8%. Women’s education level modulated the effects of TFR, birth order, delivery by skilled attendants, clean water, and sanitary sewer access… After abortion was prohibited, the MMR decreased from 41.3 to 12.7 per 100,000 live births (-69.2%). The slope of the MMR did not appear to be altered by the change in abortion law.”
…Banning abortion did not increase abortion-related death…
But it’s not as if Chile is the only example of banned abortion being associated with less maternal death, not more. According to the World Health Organization’s Trends in Maternal Mortality, the Central American nations of Nicaragua and El Salvador, in which abortion is completely illegal (laws passed in 2006 and 1998 respectively), have both seen a 44% drop in their maternal mortality ratios (which include abortion-related death) since 1990. Ireland and Poland both have bans on abortion, and boast of some of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world (Poland’s maternal mortality rate has decreased 67 percent since 1990, having severely restricted abortion in 1997).
I would like to add that according to the CIA World Factbook (2010 figures), Chile, where abortions are illegal, has the lowest maternal mortality rate of any nation in South America, at 25 per 100,000 live births. The country with the highest maternal mortality rate is Guyana, at 280 per 100,000 live births, which is over 11 times higher that of Chile. Guyana has allowed abortion with virtually no restriction since 1995, the only nation in South America to do so. It is indeed an irony that one of two main justifications for liberalizing Guyana’s law was to enhance the “attainment of safe motherhood” by eliminating deaths and complications associated with unsafe abortion.
And what of the 90% drop in abortion related deaths in South Africa, when abortion was made legal there? It turns out that the alleged drop occurred over the period between 1994 and 2001. The problem with this rosy picture is that “legal abortion” does not necessarily equal “safe abortion.” Whenever the provision of maternity care in a developing country declines in quality, the number of abortion-related deaths also inevitably rises. In South Africa, abortion-related deaths are thought to make up 5% of all maternal deaths, according to an article by Dr. Eckhart Buchmann Maternity and morbidity – still not right. Unfortunately, according to a Guardian report entitled, South Africa’s maternal mortality rate increases fourfold by Alex Duval Smith (12 August 2011), maternal mortality in South Africa has recently skyrocketed, as the quality of maternal care has declined. We may therefore infer that the number of abortion-related deaths in South Africa has risen dramatically. The Guardian report paints an appalling picture of maternal health care in that country:
The Human Rights Watch report, called “Stop Making Excuses: Accountability for Maternal Health Care in South Africa”, asks how it is possible that more than 4,500 mothers die each year in a country where 87% of women give birth in clinics or hospitals, maternity care is free and the government spends $748 per person, per year on public health. According to government figures, South Africa’s maternal mortality ratio increased from 150 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1998 to 625 in 2007.
The report concedes that South Africa’s high HIV prevalence plays a role. However, through interviews with 157 women in the country’s poorest province, the Eastern Cape, it found widespread evidence of unprofessional practices. Some women had been chastised for being pregnant, made to clean up their own blood, or denied services because they were foreign. One South African woman delivered a stillborn baby after waiting for three hours to see a doctor at a district hospital; nurses had told her she was lying about being in labour.
Will anyone, reading the description above, dare to say that the real problem here is lack of access to legal abortion? South Africans have had the most liberal abortion laws in Africa for almost two decades now. As of 2010, according to the CIA World Factbook, the maternal mortality rate has improved from 2007 levels, but still stands at 300 per 100,000 live births. Compare that figure with 66 per 100,000 live births in Egypt and 58 in Libya – countries whose abortion laws are much more restrictive, allowing abortion only to save the mother’s life. The South African model touted by Libby Anne is beginning to look badly flawed.
Ireland has been in the news lately, because of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, which I have already discussed above. Nevertheless, I’d like to point out that the low maternal mortality rate in Ireland compares favorably with just about any country on the planet. Ireland’s maternal mortality rate is 6 per 100,000 live births, and that of Europe’s other major pro-life country, Poland, is even lower, at 5 per 100,000 live births, according to the CIA World Factbook (2010 figures). That compares with 7 in Australia, 12 in the United Kingdom and Canada, 15 in New Zealand and 21 in the United States. I have to ask: do people living in these English-speaking countries have the right to criticize Ireland and Poland for their pro-life laws? There is more than a whiff of hypocrisy here.
(iii) Do unsafe abortions really kill tens of thousands of women every year?
Dr. Bernard Nathanson (1926-2011), an American medical doctor from New York who supervised 75,000 abortions and who helped to found the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (N.A.R.A.L., now the National Abortion Rights Action League) in 1968, but who later became a pro-life activist. By Dr. Nathanson’s own admission, pro-choice advocates in the 1960s inflated the number of deaths from illegal abortions in the United States by a factor of more than 25. Author: Jorosmtz. Source: Wikipedia.
The third point I’d like to make about pregnancy-related deaths is that we don’t know how many women die every year from unsafe abortions, but Libby Anne’s figure of 50,000 is almost certainly a gross exaggeration.
Libby Anne’s claim that “almost 50,000 women worldwide die each year from unsafe abortions” is highly dubious, and seems to be based on “politically motivated guesswork” by the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute. British Journalist Ed West recently addressed the oft-repeated claim that illegal abortion kills 70,000 women every year (a figure that has recently been revised down to 47,000) in an article entitled, Is abortion killing 70,000 women a year? Yes, no, maybe (Daily Telegraph, October 15, 2009). I shall quote a few excerpts here:
On Radio 4 yesterday morning there was an alarming report which stated that, while the number of abortions worldwide has decreased in the past decade, unsafe abortions kill an amazing 70,000 women a year….
But while the Today presenters were kind enough to point out that this wasn’t an exact figure – in fact it seems to be a wild guess – they told us nothing about the groups who compiled these statistics. The Guttmacher Institute was created out of the pro-choice Planned Parent Federation of America, while as the anti-abortion Lifenews.com (I’m declaring a bias here) points out, they compiled this figure with the help of pro-choice advocates such as International Planned Parenthood, Population Council and Centre for Reproductive Rights, and a senior member of Marie Stopes also gets a mention in the report.
I don’t doubt many women die as a result of unsafe abortion, but no one can possibly have any idea of the real figure, especially as so much of it goes on it countries where there are virtually no statistics for anything.
In its 2007 report, Unsafe Abortion, the World Health Organisation admitted: “Where induced abortion is restricted and largely inaccessible, or legal but difficult to obtain, little information is available on abortion practice. In such circumstances, it is difficult to quantify and classify abortion. What information is available is inevitably not completely reliable.” The United Nations Population Division calls the estimates “quite speculative since hard data are missing for the large majority of countries”.
In other words – politically-motivated guesswork.
That doesn’t stop people trying. The Guttmacher Institute also claims there are up to 800,000 illegal abortions a year in the Philippines, which would make its rate three times that of the UK, where abortion is on demand and subsidised by the taxpayer. Does anyone believe that figure? Before the Abortion Act Britain had roughly 9,000 “legal” abortions a year and 14,600 illegal ones (that’s from a SPUC report, and yes they’re a pro-life group as well) according to the Royal College of Gynecologists. That’s roughly one-eighth of the UK’s current figure – and while sexual habits have changed since, availability has almost certainly increased demand (and in turn changed sexual habits, since men no longer fear a father’s shotgun). And besides which, Filipino sexual and social mores certainly have more in common with Wilson-era than Brown-era Britain.
Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a former pro-choice campaigner who turned to the pro-life cause, has said on several occasions that his former side used to spout statistics with little evidence. “We claimed that between five and ten thousand women a year died of botched abortions,” he said. ”The actual figure was closer to 200 to 300 and we also claimed that there were a million illegal abortions a year in the United States and the actual figure was close to 200,000. So, we were guilty of massive deception.”
Given such a history of deceit by leaders of the pro-choice movement, I submit that their latest claim that 50,000 women around the world die in illegal abortions every year should be treated with a high degree of skepticism.
(iv) Why is the pro-choice movement silent about the millions of Chinese women who are forced to have abortions, every year?
Chinese women working in rice fields. These women, like many others in China, are only allowed to have as many babies as the Chinese government allows: one baby or in a few cases, two. Image courtesy of Mostafa Saeednejad and Wikipedia.
I find it deeply ironic that the pro-choice movement condemns pro-life advocates for heartlessly allowing women in Third World countries to die from illegal abortions, while remaining largely silent about the barbaric practice of forced abortions in China, which not only destroy unborn children (mostly children) but scar women for life, physically and emotionally. Whose “choice” is this?
The practice of forced abortions in China was first brought to the attention of the Western world by Steven Mosher in 1979. Mosher was the first American social scientist to visit mainland China. He was invited there by the Chinese government, where he had access to government documents and actually witnessed women being forced to have abortions under the new “one-child policy.” Mr. Mosher was a pro-choice atheist at the time. (He is now a practicing, pro-life Roman Catholic.)
And what was the response of the International Planned Parenthood Federation? It enthusiastically proclaimed that “China is the most extraordinary success. Irrespective of media speculation about that [population control] program, on the whole this is carried out in a very responsible way.” (Family Planning World, Volume 2, Number 2, March/April 1992.) As far back as the mid-1980s, a Planned Parenthood panel said that “Coercion [in population programs] may become necessary. Such force may be required in areas where the pressure is the greatest, possibly in India and China.” (Planned Parenthood panel, quoted by Richard D. Glasow, Ph.D. “Ideology Compels Fervid PPFA Abortion Advocacy.” National Right to Life News, March 28, 1985, page 5.)
Indeed, some pro-choice advocates deny that forced abortions in China even occur. During her keynote speech at the 1990 National Organization of Women (NOW) National Convention, then-President Molly Yard had the gall to claim that the Chinese government only encouraged women to abort extra children, using education not force. (Debra J. Saunders, Los Angeles Daily News. “NOW’s Shrillness Becomes Embarrassment to Feminism.” August 7, 1989, page D4.)
Readers who would like to learn more about the practice of forced abortions in China might want to have a look at this article here.
Forced abortions in China are still common and make up a majority of the abortions performed there, according to a recent report by Vicky Jiang in The Epoch Times (August 31, 2009), entitled, “Of the 13 Million Abortions in China, Most Are Forced”:
Forced abortions in China are not a thing of the past. Under the one child policy, many women in late term pregnancy are still forced to abort their children. Chinese provincial authorities are responsible for mass forced sterilizations, and abortions are often performed by people with inadequate training in unsterile conditions.
“The one child policy causes more violence toward women and girls than any other policy on the face of the earth,” said Reggie Littlejohn, a one child policy expert and president of the newly-founded Women’s Rights Without Frontiers….
China Daily, a state-controlled newspaper, recently published annual abortion figures of 13 million and a live birth rate of 20 million, as recorded by China’s National Family Planning Commission.
The recent China Daily article, echoed by a BBC report, attributes the high number of abortions to lack of education on contraception. However, experts say that most of the abortions are due to the one child policy.
“[We are] fairly certain most of [the 13 million] are forced abortions,” says Colin Mason, who conducted field work in Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces in March this year for the nonprofit Virginia-based Population Research Institute. The two provinces are “models” in China, where the one child policy is strictly enforced and all birth quotas are met. Based on his experience in China, he said most people would have more than one child if they could…
Officials have emphasized that the one child policy will remain unchanged in most parts of China and continue to be “strictly enforced as a means of controlling births for decades to come as overpopulation is still a major concern,” according to state-run media Xinhua.
Not so, says Dr. Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist, demographer, and senior adviser to the National Board of Asian Research. He says that China’s fertility patterns are below the level needed for long term population stability in the absence of migration for the next two decades…
According to his estimates, more than half of all second pregnancies with female fetuses must have been terminated to bring about the sort of gender imbalance China sees today.
“Chinese leadership just has to snap its fingers and the coercive policy disappears,” he said.
“A single sturdy sprout.” A Chinese population control poster from 1990. Image courtesy of IISH / Stefan R. Landsberger Collections and chineseposters.net.
A report in LifeSiteNews (October 6, 2011) carries a harrowing article entitled, ‘Like pigs in the slaughterhouse': The day Chinese officials brutally murdered my unborn child. The article contains excerpts from the testimony from a statement by a Chinese woman, Wujian (an alias), before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 10, 2009.
In her account, Wujian tells how she became pregnant for the second time in 2004. At the time, Chinese family planning policy required her to abort her child. She went into hiding for a while, but Communist party officials beat and tortured her father, threatening to kill him if she did not come out of hiding. Eventually, several family planning government officials broke into the house where she was hiding, dragged her into a van and drove her to a local hospital. Here is Wujian’s gut-wrenching account of what happened next:
As soon as I was drug out of the van, I saw hundreds of pregnant moms there — all of them just like pigs in the slaughterhouse. Immediately I was drug into a special room, and without any preliminary medical examination, one nurse did an oxytocin injection intravenously. Then I was put into a room with several other moms.
The room was full of moms who had just gone through a forced abortion. Some moms were crying, some moms were mourning, some moms were screaming, and one mom was rolling on the floor with unbearable pain. …
I was pulled into another small room. One nurse pulled out one big, 8-inch long needle for the intramuscular injection….
I could hear the sound of the scissors cutting the body of my baby in my womb. … I preferred to die together with my baby at that moment. …
Eventually the journey in hell, the surgery was finished, and one nurse showed me part of a bloody foot with tweezers. Through my tears, the picture of the bloody foot was engraved into my eyes and into my heart, and so clearly I could see the five small bloody toes. Immediately the baby was thrown into a trash can. …
Finally, I was allowed to go home from the hospital. I did not eat anything, or even drink any water, for several days. I barely talked with anyone. From time to time at home, I could hear the mourning of my father. He was released after I was caught, but he had been beaten terribly; it took him over a month to recover physically. Looking at my father, thinking of my dead baby, I cried day and night, and frequently the picture of the little bloody foot came up in my mind. Physically I recovered after about one month, but psychologically and spiritually — never! …
Defenders of China’s one-child policy often cite the need for the Chinese government to control population growth, in order to feed its people. However, an article from China’s Xinhua news agency, entitled, From self-sufficiency to grain contribution, China’s agriculture passes 60 memorable years (26 August 2009), gives the lie to those claims. It reveals that China’s grain self-sufficiency rate has remained above 95 percent for many years, and that in 2005, China stopped receiving grain assistance from other countries and donated 577,000 tons of grain instead, becoming the third largest grain donor in the world, after the U.S. and the European Union.
I ask again: when will the leaders of the pro-choice movement speak out on behalf of the women of China? And when will they stop ignoring the millions of aborted girls in that country?
SECTION D. Does the Pro-Life Movement Really Care about Unborn Children?
In her article, Libby Anne accuses the pro-life movement of not really caring about unborn children. What the pro-life movement really wants to do, she claims, is to regulate women’s sexual behavior and control women’s bodies:
The reality is that so-called pro-life movement is not about saving babies… If it were about babies, they would be making access to birth control widespread and free and creating a comprehensive social safety net so that no woman finds herself with a pregnancy she can’t afford. They would be raising money for research on why half of all zygotes fail to implant and working to prevent miscarriages. It’s not about babies. It’s about controlling women. It’s about making sure they have consequences for having unapproved sex.
This is a serious charge, so I’d like to examine the evidence Libby Anne puts forward to back it up.
(i) Why No 5K to Save the Zygotes?
The first few weeks of embryogenesis in humans, beginning with the fertilized egg and ending with the closing of the neural tube. Image courtesy of Zephyris and Wikipedia.
The credibility of the pro-life movement would be severely undermined if it were shown to be ethically inconsistent. This is precisely what Libby Anne claims. The heart of her contention is that pro-lifers display righteous indignation at the destruction of unborn children through medically induced abortion, but that they show a complete lack of empathy regarding the far greater loss of human embryos that naturally fail to implant in women’s wombs after being conceived, and are spontaneously aborted. In her article, How I lost faith in the pro-life movement, Libby Anne wonders why we never see any pro-life fund-raising events to find ways of saving the lives of early human embryos that fail to implant:
… I came upon [an article] by Fred Clark. In it, he argues that if those who oppose abortion really believe that every fertilized egg is a person we ought to see 5K fundraisers to save these zygotes.
…[T]he focus here is whether the 50% of all zygotes – 50% of all fertilized eggs – that die before pregnancy even begins could be saved. Fred suggests that if the pro-life movement really is about saving unborn babies, and if those in the pro-life movement really do believe that life begins at fertilization, then pro-lifers really ought to be extremely concerned about finding a way to save all of these lives. But they’re not.
I have to disagree with Libby Anne’s claim that pro-lifers don’t care about the deaths of zygotes. Actually, many pro-lifers would like to see scientific research done into saving the lives of zygotes, morulas and blastocysts which die before implantation. Failure to implant is a leading cause of infertility, a problem which currently affects about 1 in 7 couples – many of whom are pro-life.
I should like to add that many pro-lifers have suffered the loss of an unborn child through miscarriage. Telling these people that the miscarriage was “Nature’s way” does not console them; it only adds to their grief. Libby Anne ignores the pain felt by these pro-lifers in her sweeping generalization about the pro-life movement’s lack of concern for unborn children who perish prior to implantation.
Realistically, however, discovering ways of saving the lives of zygotes that are flushed out naturally is likely to be a technologically formidable task, for several reasons. To begin with, doctors currently have no reliable way of confirming that fertilization has occurred inside a woman’s body, prior to implantation. So some sort of scanning device to verify the presence of a fertilized egg inside a woman’s body would need to be invented, first of all. Additionally, the fertilized egg would need to be safely extracted from a woman’s body and rigorously checked for genetic abnormalities, all of which would need to be somehow repaired, before the fertilized egg was placed back inside the woman’s body again. Doing all this would be no small feat.
Research into preventing miscarriages is an ongoing process, and it will likely take decades before any breakthroughs are achieved with reducing the deaths of unborn children prior to implantation. In the meantime, there needs to be more medical research into reducing the mortality of unborn children who are already growing in the womb. It is in this area that advances are most likely to be made. I think it would be an excellent idea for the pro-life movement to get involved in raising money for this kind of research.
(ii) Libby Anne’s claim: the Pill doesn’t kill zygotes, but unprotected sex does
Diagram of a human blastocyst, about 5 days after fertilization. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
In her article, How I lost faith in the pro-life movement, Libby Anne criticizes the pro-life movement for its opposition to the birth control pill, on the grounds that it could theoretically destroy a fertilized egg:
Now, the birth control pill works primarily by preventing ovulation in the first place, and also by impeding sperm so that it can’t get to the Fallopian tubes to fertilize the egg. But leading organizations in the pro-life movement argue that there is some chance that women on the pill will have “breakthrough ovulation,” and if this occurs and sperm somehow make their way into the Fallopian tubes, you could technically end up with a fertilized egg. Pro-life organizations further suggest that because the pill also thins the uterine lining, this fertilized egg would be flushed out of a woman’s body through her vagina rather than implanting in her uterus…
… I later learned that an increasing pile of evidence suggests that the pill does not actually result in fertilized eggs being flushed out of a woman’s body…
… What I found was that for every 100 fertile women on birth control each month, only 0.15 fertilized eggs will be flushed out. In contrast, for every 100 fertile women not on birth control in a given month, 16 fertilized eggs will be flushed out…. It is the people not using birth control that are “murdering” the most “children,” not women on the pill.
After … doing the math using the pro-life movement’s own numbers, I concluded that the idea that the pill is an abortifacient is used as a smokescreen. It has to be. If the pro-life movement believes that even a very small chance of a zygote being flushed out is enough reason to oppose the use of the pill, then there should be an extreme amount of concern about the much, much higher number of fertilized eggs flushed out of the bodies of women not using the pill.
… You simply can’t be against the pill for fear that it will result in flushed out zygotes and yet not concerned at all about the vastly greater number of zygotes flushed out naturally every day. At least, not if you really truly believe a zygote has the same worth as an infant, toddler, or adult, and not if you’re truly motivated solely by a desire to save the lives of these “unborn babies.”
Before I go on, I’d like to make a terminological correction. The term “fertilized egg” is a common way of describing a zygote, but it is hardly an accurate way of describing a morula or a blastocyst. Implantation takes place six to twelve days after fertilization. By that time, the new human individual can longer be accurately described as a “fertilized egg.” Instead, I propose to use the term “early embryo” to describe a human individual at all stages prior to implantation. (Another term that could be used is “proembryo“, but that’s not a term in everyday usage.)
First, let me say that I would be immensely heartened if it could be shown that the Pill does not destroy early embryos, after all. These embryos are unborn children at a very early stage of development. If the Pill does not harm unborn children, then we can draw a much sharper ethical boundary between abortifacients and contraceptives, and women who are taking the Pill would not need to worry that they were destroying human lives.
Second, I should point out that the article Libby Anne cites as evidence that the Pill does not destroy early embryos fails to support her claim. That article is not about the Pill, but about emergency contraceptives, such as Plan B and Ella. The latest evidence suggests that Plan B works by inhibiting ovulation, rather than destroying an embryo before it can implant in the womb. The evidence for Ella is less clear. (RU-486, on the other hand, works by killing unborn children which have already implanted in the mother’s womb.) Concerning the birth control pill, the article admits:
Experts say implantation was likely placed on the label partly because daily birth control pills, some of which contain Plan B’s active ingredient, appear to alter the endometrium, the lining of the uterus into which fertilized eggs implant. Altering the endometrium has not been proven to interfere with implantation. But in any case, scientists say that unlike the accumulating doses of daily birth control pills, the one-shot dose in morning-after pills does not have time to affect the uterine lining.
That seems to put morning-after pills in the clear, but it leaves a question mark hanging over daily birth control pills, which do alter the lining of the womb. Libby Anne would have done better to cite the article, “Combined oral contraceptives (COCs)” by Anita L. Nelson and Carrie Cwiak, in Contraceptive technology (20th revised ed., 2011) by Hatcher, Robert A.; Trussell, James; Nelson, Anita L. et al. New York: Ardent Media, pp. 249–341. The article states:
COCs [combined oral contraceptives – VJT] prevent fertilization and, therefore, qualify as contraceptives. There is no significant evidence that they work after fertilization.
For an alternative point of view on how the Pill acts, readers might like to have a look at this (very honestly written) article by Randy Alcorn, entitled, Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?: A Short Condensation, which summarizes the medical evidence in a fair-minded manner. For a more complete treatment of the subject, I’d recommend that the latest (2011) edition of Randy Alcorn’s book (available online): Does the birth control pill cause abortions?. The book has been endorsed by a dozen doctors.
Libby Anne omitted to mention the IUD in her article. It has been claimed that it works purely as a contraceptive (see, for example, IUDs are contraceptives, not abortifacients: a comment on research and belief by I. Sivin, in Studies in Family Planning, Nov-Dec 1989; 20(6 Pt 1):355-9). However, the online WebMD Web site acknowledges that the IUD works partly by inhibiting implantation:
Both types of IUD prevent fertilization of the egg by damaging or killing sperm. The IUD also affects the uterine lining (where a fertilized egg would implant and grow).
Third, the term “murder” refers to intentional killing. Women who are having sex without using birth control may lose early embryos (which are really unborn children) from time to time, but they have no knowledge of this fact when it occurs; nor do they intend it to happen; nor do they attempt to do anything that would prevent the implantation of an embryo. There is no way that these women can be described as “murdering children,” as Libby Anne suggests, with tongue heavily in cheek. This is completely different from the (hypothetical) case of a woman who knows that fertilization has already occurred inside her body, but deliberately seeks to prevent implantation. In such a case, the woman would be intentionally denying her unborn child its ordinary means of sustenance, and thereby robbing it of life. That could be described as a homicidal act. Different again is the case of a woman who takes some medication, knowing that fertilization may have already occurred inside her body, and knowing (but not intending) that the medication may prevent implantation. You could describe the woman’s behavior as showing reckless disregard for human life, but it would be quite wrong to describe her action as “homicidal,” as she doesn’t know if there is a human being inside her, and she does not want it dead. Taking the Pill is thought by some pro-lifers to be like the last case, although it should be pointed out that the vast majority of women taking the Pill believe it to be nothing more than a contraceptive and are therefore guilty of no wrongdoing.
Fourth, I do feel that Libby Anne is right to insist that pro-lifers should be concerned about the natural wastage of early embryos that are flushed out of the bodies of women who are not using birth control. Human beings are worth saving, no matter how small and immature they are. Consequently, the endeavor to reduce or even eliminate wastage of human embryos prior to implantation is a worthy and laudable medical goal, as it is directed at a noble end: saving human lives.
However, I disagree with Libby Anne when she argues that “if you truly believe that a zygote – a fertilized egg – has the same value and worth as you or I – the only responsible thing to do is to put every sexually active woman on the pill,” as the number of early embryos lost in this way would be far lower. She seems to think the world would be a better place if unborn children whose lives are lost before they can implant in the womb were never even conceived in the first place. But I would ask: Better for whom? Better for the couple? No: they aren’t even aware of the life that is lost. Better for the child, then? No, because if it weren’t conceived, then it wouldn’t exist. What’s more, there is no question of suffering involved here, as the child perishes long before it is sentient. And if you happen to believe (as many religious people do) that unborn children go to God when they die, then the notion that these children will be somehow better off had they never existed will seem even more nonsensical.
Readers will recall that I drew a distinction earlier between preventing deaths and saving lives. As we saw, the two are not the same. Couples could prevent the deaths of unborn children that die from spontaneous abortion simply by not bringing them into existence in the first place, but no lives would be saved in the process. Given that the pro-life movement is about saving lives, there is no reason for it to promote birth control.
Fifth, finding ways of saving the lives of early embryos that are flushed out naturally will be no easy task, for reasons that I have discussed above. It will almost certainly require a considerable amount of research funding. In a world in which there are limited funds available for saving lives, it is reasonable for doctors to focus on those lives which can be saved most easily.
Sixth, should it ever become technically feasible to save the life of the unborn child at this early embryonic stage, the life-saving medical procedure would surely qualify as what moralists refer to as an extraordinary measure, as it would require a high degree of surgical skill to repair the embryo’s genes, as well as a great deal of time, money and effort. While saving a human life at great cost is a commendable thing, we should recall the oft-quoted words of the poet Arthur Hugh Clough, in The Last Decalogue:
Thou shalt not kill; but need’st not strive; Officiously to keep alive.
In the short term, it might be better if doctors concentrated their life-saving efforts on “low-hanging fruit”: finding ways of saving the lives of unborn children who are at risk during the later stages of pregnancy, before tackling the earlier stages. Of course, this “cost-benefit equation” could change dramatically, if scientists ever find an easy way to scan women’s bodies for embryos, before they have even implanted, or if they find some rapid way to identify genetic abnormalities and repair them, if they are severe.
Finally, I would like to point out that there are many people in the pro-life movement whose foremost concern is defending the unborn child’s right to life, rather than saving the lives of unborn children. Paul Pauker of Live Action News explains the difference in his opinion piece, Understanding the Right to Life (November 7, 2012):
While saving unborn babies is the “sole motivation” for some pro-lifers, for many – especially many pro-life conservatives – the goal is not saving life, per se; rather, the goal is protecting the right to life… [T]he right to life is the right not to be killed.
…[A] zygote has the same worth as an infant, toddler, and adult; therefore, a zygote has the same right to life. But the equal worth of a zygote does not create a special right for a zygote to be saved from natural death.
Clearly, the natural death of a zygote is not a violation of the right to life, whereas an induced abortion is a violation of the right.
SECTION E. Is making birth control available the best way to combat abortion?
In her post, Libby Anne describes how her research into the most effective ways of reducing abortion showed very clearly that widespread availability of birth control was the key:
…I found that making birth control widespread and easily accessible is actually the most effective way to decrease the abortion rate. Even as I processed this fact, I knew that the pro-life movement as a whole generally opposes things like comprehensive sex education and making birth control available to teenagers.
Libby Anne is conflating several issues here: (i) should contraceptives be legally available, (ii) should the government sponsor contraceptive programs to encourage teenagers to use birth control, and (iii) should contraceptives be subsidized by the government, to make them more affordable to poor women? Let’s deal with them one at a time. As we’ll see, the available evidence suggests that only the first measure has any quantifiable impact on the abortion rate, and even then, the impact is very mixed.
(i) Does the legal availability of contraceptives tend to reduce the incidence of abortion?
The regions of Europe: Northern (dark blue), Western (light blue), Southern (green) and Eastern (pink). Pro-choice advocates like to point out that abortion rates have fallen in Eastern Europe, as contraceptives have become more available. What they omit to mention is that in Eastern Europe, abortion was legalized before modern methods of birth control, giving rise to an “abortion culture”, where abortion was used as the primary method of birth control. Image courtesy of Kolja21 and Wikipedia.
Libby Anne is on her strongest argumentative ground when she contends that making contraceptives legally available can help to bring down the abortion rate. Her star piece of evidence is a January 2012 report by the Alan Guttmacher Institute entitled, Facts on Induced Abortion Worldwide, which compares abortion rates in Western and Eastern Europe:
Both the lowest and highest subregional abortion rates are in Europe, where abortion is generally legal under broad grounds. In Western Europe, the rate is 12 per 1,000 women, while in Eastern Europe it is 43. The discrepancy in rates between the two regions reflects relatively low contraceptive use in Eastern Europe, as well as a high degree of reliance on methods with relatively high user failure rates, such as the condom, withdrawal and the rhythm method.
In addition to having a higher abortion rate, the abortion ratio in Eastern Europe is also much higher than that of Western Europe, according to a June 21, 2012 Appendix (entitled “Abortion Ratios Worldwide in 2008”) to a widely-cited article by Sedgh et al. entitled Induced abortion: incidence and trends worldwide from 1995 to 2008 (The Lancet, Volume 379, Issue 9816, Pages 625 – 632, 18 February 2012; published online 19 January 2012), the research for which was sponsored by the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization. According to the Appendix, the abortion ratio is 23% in Western Europe, compared with 93% in Eastern Europe.
The most conclusive evidence that contraceptives can bring down abortion rates comes from a WHO report entitled, Facts and figures about abortion in the European Region, which notes that in recent years, “eastern Europe has seen a dramatic decline in abortion incidence. It was estimated to be 90 per 1000 women of childbearing age in 1995 and 44 by 2004. The decrease coincided with substantial increases in contraceptive use in the region.”
Taken together, then, these pieces of evidence seem to suggest that access to modern contraceptives will lower the incidence of abortion.
Why Eastern Europe isn’t a typical case
However, Eastern Europe is hardly a typical case, as the Catholic writer Marc Barnes, known online as the BadCatholic, notes in a recent article entitled, Does Contraception Reduce the Abortion Rate? (Rebuttal Part 3) (November 5, 2012). Unlike Western Europe, abortion had already been widely practiced in Eastern Europe for several decades, as the primary method of birth control, before contraceptives were made legally available:
The difference in both areas’ legalizations of abortion is crucial. The vast majority of Eastern Europe had legalized abortion before modern contraception. The vast majority of Western Europe had legalized abortion after modern contraception, between 1973-1980. The problem with claiming that Eastern Europe’s high abortion rate is caused by a lack of contraceptive methods is this: Eastern Europe used and does use abortion as its primary method of family planning.…
Eastern Europe’s high abortion rate is not merely the result of their lack of contraception. Eastern Europe’s high abortion rate is largely a result of their “abortion culture”, a culture in which little opposition to abortion exists, and in which abortion is engrained as the primary method of family planning.
Barnes concludes that the “success” of Eastern Europe in reducing its abortion rates only shows that the introduction of contraception decreases the incidence of abortion in a society which relies on abortion to limit births:
Contraception reduces abortion rates primarily in regions that already use abortion as a primary method of family planning, and thus already have extremely high abortion rates. Contraception does not get rid of the abortion culture. Indeed, the countries Guttmacher cites still have some of the highest abortion rates in the world.
But what happens if we leave aside regions like Eastern Europe, where an abortion culture artificially boosted the abortion rate? Strangely, we find that the introduction and spread of modern contraceptives into a country often results in an increase in abortions, rather than a decrease. This fact is acknowledged by no less an authority than the Guttmacher Institute.
Many people around the world use contraceptives that don’t work very well
The combined oral contraceptive pill has a typical user failure rate of 8% in the first year. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Before I try to explain why the increased availability of contraception often causes an increase in abortions, I’d like to talk about the various kinds of contraceptives used around the world.
The first thing that needs to be understood is that contraceptive failure is a common occurrence. “Why is that?” you might ask. After all, theoretically, most methods work quite well. The answer is that many of the most commonly used methods – including modern ones – have a higher user failure rate, as shown by the following table. The combined oral contraceptive pill, for instance, has a typical user failure rate of 8%, which means that 8 out of every 100 women using it will fall pregnant within the first year of use. The user failure rate is the same for the progesterone-only pill, the contraceptive patch and the Nuva ring: 8%. The use failure rate for the condom is 15%, and for the diaphragm and spermicide, it’s 16%. For the female condom, it’s 21%. (The user failure rate of natural methods varies: for the older “standard days” and calendar methods, it’s 25%, while for symptoms-based fertility awareness, it’s 1.8%.) Methods with a user failure rate of less than 1% include subdermal implants, male and female sterilization, monthly injections, and IUDs using copper or progestogen.
Birth control methods are commonly classified into “modern” and “traditional” – the latter group including the rhythm method and withdrawal. But as we have seen, many “modern” methods have a high user failure rate. So instead of dividing contraceptives into these two categories, I propose to split them into “effective” methods (i.e. those with a user failure rate of less than 1%) and “ineffective” methods (i.e. those with a user failure rate of more than 1%). When we categorize contraceptive methods in this way, an interesting picture emerges.
If we look around the world, we see that according to UN figures for 2009, even in Europe (the continent that Libby Anne admires most), the contraceptive prevalence rate for “effective” methods (i.e. those with a user failure rate of less than 1%), is only 22% (female sterilization 4%, IUD 14%, injectable/implant 1%, male sterilization 3%). The contraceptive prevalence of “less effective” methods, with a user failure rate of more than 1%, is much higher: a total of 50% (pill 20%, condom 14%, vaginal barrier 2%, traditional methods 14%). That leaves 28% of European couples of childbearing age who are not using any contraceptive method. For North America, the split is as follows: 37% use effective methods, 38% ineffective methods, and 25% use no birth control. For Latin America, the split is: 43% use effective methods, 29% ineffective methods, and 28% use no birth control. In Asia, 50% use effective methods, 17% ineffective methods, and 33% use no birth control. For Africa, 12% use effective methods, 15% ineffective methods, and 75% use no birth control.
As an aside, it seems to me that Asians could definitely teach Europeans a thing or two about effective methods of birth control – at 50% to 22%, it’s no contest. So could Latin Americans (43%) and North Americans (37%). Even in Africa, where relatively few couples use birth control, the ratio of the percentages for effective and ineffective methods (12:15, or 1:1.25) is higher than that of Europe (22:50, or 1:2.27), which means that when Africans do use birth control, they are more likely than Europeans to choose methods that really do work. If I wanted some advice about birth control, Europe is the last continent I would look to.
At any rate, the picture that emerges is that many people around the world are not using effective methods of contraception. Once we appreciate this fact, it is a lot easier to understand why the introduction of modern contraceptives into a country often results in an increase in abortions, rather than a decrease.
It’s official: the increased availability of contraception actually leads to an increase in abortions
To many readers, the notion that increased availability of contraception leads to an increase in the number of abortions may appear paradoxical. Why would the increased availability of contraception create a need for more abortions?
Guttmacher Institute researcher Stanley K. Henshaw provides a hint in his paper, Unintended Pregnancy in the United States (Family Planning Perspectives, Volume 30, Number 1, January/February 1998), when he observes that “contraceptive users appear to have been more motivated to prevent births than were nonusers.” Note that word: “motivated.” Can you guess what it means? In a nutshell: many people who are having sex while using contraceptives have already firmly resolved that they do not want another baby. In the event of contraceptive failure, these “highly motivated” people are statistically more likely to seek an abortion than people who are not using contraceptives.
Explicit acknowledgement that the increased availability of contraception initially leads to more abortions comes from a Guttmacher Institute paper entitled, Relationships Between Contraception and Abortion: A Review of the Evidence (International Family Planning Perspectives, Volume 29, Number 1, March 2003), authors Cicely Marston and John Cleland explain why the increased availability of contraception often leads to an increased demand for abortion in societies where most people are not yet using what they call “highly effective” contraceptive methods. Only when the proportion of people using such methods rises to 80% will demand for abortion start to fall:
Why … does the relationship between levels of contraceptive use and the incidence of induced abortion continue to provoke heated discussion? And why do some observers claim that increased contraceptive use leads to higher abortion rates?
The reason for the confusion stems from the observation that, within particular populations, contraceptive prevalence and the incidence of induced abortion can and, indeed, often do rise in parallel, contrary to what one would expect. The explanation for these counterintuitive trends is clear. In societies that have not yet entered the fertility transition, both actual fertility and desired family sizes are high (or, to put it another way, childbearing is not yet considered to be “within the calculus of conscious choice”). In such societies, couples are at little (or no) risk of unwanted pregnancies. The advent of modern contraception is associated with a destabilization of high (or “fatalistic”) fertility preferences. Thus, as contraceptive prevalence rises and fertility starts to fall, an increasing proportion of couples want no more children (or want an appreciable delay before the next child), and exposure to the risk of unintended pregnancy also increases as a result. In the early and middle phases of fertility transition, adoption and sustained use of effective methods of contraception by couples who wish to postpone or limit childbearing is still far from universal. Hence, the growing need for contraception may outstrip use itself; thus, the incidence of unintended and unwanted pregnancies rises, fueling increases in unwanted live births and induced abortion. In this scenario, contraceptive use and induced abortion may rise simultaneously.
As fertility decreases toward replacement level (two births per woman), or even lower, the length of potential exposure to unwanted pregnancies increases further. For instance, in a society in which the average woman is sexually active from ages 20 to 45 and wants two children, approximately 20 of those 25 years will be spent trying to avoid pregnancy. Once use of highly effective contraceptive methods rises to 80%, the potential demand for abortion, and its incidence, will fall. Demand for abortion falls to zero only in the “perfect contraceptive” population, in which women are protected by absolutely effective contraceptive use at all times, except for the relatively short periods when they want to conceive, are pregnant or are protected by lactational amenorrhea. Because such a state of perfect protection is never actually achieved, a residual demand for abortion always exists, although its magnitude varies considerably among low-fertility societies, according to levels of contraceptive use and choice of methods…
Note that sentence: “Once use of highly effective contraceptive methods rises to 80%, the potential demand for abortion, and its incidence, will fall.” Unfortunately, in their study, Marston and Cleland fail to define the term “highly effective,” although they go on to describe IUDs as falling into this category. Strangely, too, the authority that they cite for their “80%” claim (Bumpass L. and Westoff C.F., “The ‘perfect contraceptive’ population”, Science, 1970, 169(951):1177-1182) is over 40 years old! [By the way, the date of 1977 for the article, given in the footnotes of Marston and Cleland’s article, is incorrect; it’s actually 1970.]
Marston and Cleland cite the United States as an example of a country in which abortion has declined since the early 1980s. (Denmark and the Netherlands follow a similar pattern of decline.) On this point they are correct, even if we focus on the abortion ratio, rather than the abortion rate. The abortion ratio in the United States peaked at 434.6 abortions to every 1,000 births in 1981; in 2008, it was down to 285.4 – a drop of one-third, and it seems to have declined again in 2009. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the abortion ratio is unlikely to decline to anywhere near zero in the foreseeable future. The problem is that too many contraceptive users continue to use ineffective methods of birth control. This pattern of irrational behavior is not confined to the United States – it’s true no matter where we look, around the planet.
Above, I defined as “effective” those contraceptive methods having a user failure rate of less than 1% per year – including the IUD. Marston and Cleland suggest that once use of “highly effective” contraceptive methods rises to 80%, declines in abortion will occur. As we’ve seen, some decline has already occurred in some developed countries. But in order to get a massive decline in abortion among a contraceptive-using population, we need to have nearly everyone using effective methods of contraception. But as we saw above, no continent in the world approaches the figure of 80% cited by Marston and Cleland. Even in Asia, it’s only 50%. What that means, then, is that abortion is here to stay, for a very long time to come, and any decline we see in the future will be a gradual one.
Putting it another way, abortion will never be “safe, legal and rare,” to quote the words of former U.S. President Bill Clinton. It will always be a common occurrence, as long as it remains legal.
Let’s go back to Libby Anne’s statement:
I found that making birth control widespread and easily accessible is actually the most effective way to decrease the abortion rate.
What she doesn’t tell us is that even in highly developed countries, easy access to birth control can only decrease the abortion rate to a limited degree. This is even more true for the abortion ratio. To see this, one need only think of couples who are absolutely determined to have no more than two children, but who are using a failure-prone method such as the Pill, whose user failure rate is 8% per woman year.
There is just one country on the planet that I know of, where the percentage of married women aged 15-49 using an effective method of contraception reaches Marston and Cleland’s threshold of 80%, and that’s Communist China, where 40% of women use an IUD, 33% of couples rely on female sterilization and 7% rely on male sterilization.
Annual number of abortions in selected countries
Annual number of abortions performed in China, compared with the U.S.A., the U.K., Canada and Australia. U.S.A. stats for 2005, Alan Guttmacher Institute; Australian stats for 2003, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; Canadian stats for 2005, Statistics Canada; China stats from China Daily, 2009; U.K. stats for 2004, U.K. Department of Health. Note that although China’s population is only four times that of the U.S.A. and 21 times that of the U.K., the annual number of abortions in China is 11 times that of the U.S.A and 70 times that of the U.K. A pie chart of these figures can be found in an article in The Epoch Times by Vicky Jiang (31 August 2009).
And what do we find in China? 13 million abortions are performed there every year – most of them forced, according to a report by Vicky Jiang in The Epoch Times (August 31, 2009), entitled, “Of the 13 Million Abortions in China, Most Are Forced.” According to the report: “China Daily, a state-controlled newspaper, recently published annual abortion figures of 13 million and a live birth rate of 20 million, as recorded by China’s National Family Planning Commission.” That’s an abortion ratio of 65 abortions for every 100 live births, or 65% – compared with 16% in Africa, 23% in Western Europe, and 29% in North America. Is this the model that Libby Anne would have us follow?
Empirical Evidence that Contraception Increases Abortions
In his article, Does Contraception Reduce the Abortion Rate? (Rebuttal Part 3) (November 5, 2012), Catholic blogger Marc Barnes marshals a formidable array of evidence indicating that in most other countries, the increased availability of contraception actually leads to a rise in abortions, at least in the short-term:
An honest look at the data shows that in virtually every country that increased the use of contraception, there was a simultaneous increase in that country’s abortion rate. In England (Rise in contraceptive use: simultaneous rise in abortions), France (Rise in contraceptive use: simultaneous rise in abortions), Australia, (Rise in contraceptive use: simultaneous rise in abortions), Portugal (Whose abortion rate only began to rise after 1999, after oral contraceptive methods were made widely available), Canada (Whose abortion rate only began to rise after the legalization of oral contraceptives in 1969), and, as the Guttmacher Institute shows, Singapore, Cuba, Denmark, the Netherlands, and South Korea, to name a few.
And of course, we saw this rise in the land of the free and home of the brave. Contraceptive devices gained popularity throughout the 1900’s, and were “legalized” in 1965. The widespread proliferation of contraceptive devices followed. The abortion rate began to creep up at this same time, after 1965, from 0.02 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 in 1965 to 16.33 in 1973, when abortion was legalized.
(Critics will be sure to point out that the 1965 figures for the U.S.A. are for legal abortions only. However, in view of Dr. Bernard Nathanson’s admission – see above – that the pro-choice “statistic” of 1 million illegal abortions performed per year was inflated by 1500%, we can be quite certain that America’s abortion rate today is far higher than it was in 1965. The true figure back then was probably about 1 per 1,000 women aged 15-44.)
But that’s not all – there’s more! A recent medical article by 1flesh.org, a grassroots student movement that promotes natural family planning (and of which Barnes is a member), entitled, Contraception Increases Abortions, uses the Guttmacher Institute’s own data to show how the introduction of contraceptives has been associated with an increase, rather than a decrease, in abortions, in several countries:
It’s important to recognize that, while contraception has been a factor in many of the relative decreases in abortion around the world, it is as often a factor in relative increases around the world.
Funnily enough, this was seen in Turkey, one of the three countries the Guttmacher Institute cites to support their claims without an “abortion culture”. In the study The Role of Contraceptive Changes in the Decline of Induced Abortion in Turkey – which Guttmacher cites – it is shown that in 1983, when contraception laws were liberalized, abortion ended 12.1% of all pregnancies. As contraceptive used increased, the abortion rate increased, until 1988, when abortion ended 23.6% of pregnancies. Thanks to the improved use and availability of contraception, the rate then began to decrease, until, by 1998, abortion ended 15.7% of all pregnancies. Here the abortion rate dipped, rose, and leveled, and by 2007, abortion ended 17.0% of all pregnancies in Turkey. The Guttmacher Institute see this as evidence of the success of contraception in reducing abortions. We see it as evidence of the success of contraception in increasing abortions, given that 17.0% is a higher percentage than 12.1%..
In the 2011 study Trends in the use of contraceptive methods and voluntary interruption of pregnancy in the Spanish population during 1997-2007, surveys of about 2,000 Spanish women aged 15 to 49 were taken every two years from 1997 to 2007. Over this period of time, the number of women using artificial contraceptives increased by about 60%. In the exact same period, Spain’s abortion rate more than doubled, from 5.52 per 1,000 women to 11.49.
Similar results can be found in England. The government implemented their Teenage Pregnancy Strategy in 1995, spending over $454 million promoting the use of contraception. Teenage pregnancies and subsequent abortions continued to increase…
To recap: Excepting countries with an already ingrained culture of abortion, the introduction of contraception to a country is associated with a simultaneous increase in abortions, an increase which tends to level and experience periodical decreases thanks to the improved use and availability of contraception, but which never decreases back to where it was before contraception was introduced to that country.
I conclude that Libby Anne’s claim that increased availability of contraceptives reduces abortions is, at best, true under restricted circumstances. In real life, contraceptives are just as likely to increase the number of abortions.
(ii) Do contraceptive programs for teenagers tend to reduce the incidence of abortion?
A crowded dance floor at a prom. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
In her post, Libby Anne argues that contraceptive programs are the best way to bring down abortions among American teenagers. However, the facts contradict Libby Anne’s rosy picture.
According to Dr. Michael J. New, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan–Dearborn, contraceptive programs “have no effect on abortion rates.” In an article entitled, An Open Letter to Pro-Lifers (First Things, November 9, 2012), Dr. New laid out what works and what doesn’t:
I frequently cite numerous academic studies, including my own research, which shows that public funding restrictions, parental involvement laws, and properly designed informed consent laws all reduce abortion rates. I also detail how the strategies our opponents promote, like greater spending on welfare or contraceptive programs, have no effect on abortion rates — or are, in many cases, counterproductive.
Dr. New outlined his case in greater depth in a recent article entitled, Contraception Programs and Teen Pregnancy Rates (National Review Online, September 28, 2012):
In fact, there is good reason to believe that a more contraceptive-friendly approach to sex education will be ineffective or even counterproductive. A 2012 Centers for Disease Control study of 5,000 teen girls who gave birth after unplanned pregnancies found that only a small percentage had difficulty accessing contraception. Furthermore, in 1999 the British government launched its Teenage Pregnancy Strategy program, the goal of which was to cut the number of teen pregnancies in half by promoting comprehensive sexual education and birth control. Since then, some £300 million ($454 million) has been spent on this initiative. Unfortunately, the British teen-abortion rate has climbed steadily.
In fact, in 2009, the London Daily Mail reported that teen-pregnancy rates in England are now higher than they were in 1995 and pregnancies among girls under 16 (below the age of sexual consent) are also at the highest level since 1998. Unfortunately, stories about the failures of contraception programs both at home and abroad typically receive scant attention from the mainstream media.
A 2012 study by David Paton entitled, Underage conceptions and abortions in England and Wales 1969-2009: the role of public policy (Education and Health, Vol.30, No. 2, 2012, pp. 22-24) contained the following admission:
Easier access to family planning reduces the effective cost of sexual activity and will make it more likely (at least for some teenagers) that they will engage in underage sexual activity. Given high failure rates of contraception amongst this group, the overall impact of access to family planning on underage pregnancy rates is impossible to predict a priori. Trends in family planning takeup and abortion over the past 40 years (reported in Figure 2) illustrate the complex nature of their relationship.
The accompanying figure shows that despite a huge increase in family planning among 13-15 year-old teenagers, the abortion rate has not fallen for the last 40 years. The report’s conclusion was very forthright:
In conclusion, despite recent decreases in the overall underage conception rate, unwanted pregnancy amongst minors in England and Wales has proved remarkably resilient to policy initiatives implemented by different Governments over the past 40 years. Looking forward, the time appears ripe for a shift in focus from policies aimed at reducing the risks associated with underage sexual activity to those which are aimed more directly at reducing the level of underage sexual activity.
Libby Anne’s claim that contraceptive programs reduce the incidence of abortion among teenagers thus appears to be at variance with the facts, at least in English-speaking countries.
(iii) Does subsidized birth control (endorsed by Obamacare) reduce the incidence of abortion?
In her post, Libby Anne writes:
Obama has already done more to reduce the number of abortions than any other president ever has or ever will.
… Obamacare stands to cut abortion rates by 75%. And yet, the pro-life movement has been leveraged in opposition to Obamacare, and most especially in opposition to the birth control mandate. They don’t believe women should be guaranteed access to free contraception even though this access is the number one proven best way to decrease the number of abortions. That access would, to use the rhetoric of the pro-life movement, prevent the murders of 900,000 unborn babies every year.
Benjamin Domenich has written a devastating rebuttal of this claim, in an editorial for the Heartland Institute, entitled, No, President Obama is Not a Pro-Life President. Here are the highlights of his incisive critique:
What Libby Anne completely ignores is that the majority of abortions are sought by women who are the least likely to have employer-based insurance – namely, the poor… While abortion rates are trending down overall, they are increasing among the poorest Americans – 42% of all abortions were from American women below the federal poverty line in 2008.
For these women, the likeliest to seek out and obtain abortions, Obama’s contraception mandate for employers will make no difference whatsoever.
What will make a difference for them is the dramatic eligibility expansion of Medicaid – the most sizable difference in Obamacare’s coverage, adding as many as 25 million Americans up to 133% of the federal poverty level to the system by 2020 if fully implemented – which will likely only increase the number of abortions. Americans are generally unaware of the fact that the Hyde Amendment applies only to federal funds, not to state funds, and states that currently fund abortions under their Medicaid programs for virtually any health related reason… If you pay taxes in these states, your tax dollars are used for this purpose. Under the Medicaid expansion to 138% of the federal poverty level, millions more women will be eligible for these subsidies.
… And this funding makes a difference, as Guttmacher notes: “Approximately one-fourth of women who would have Medicaid-funded abortions instead give birth when this funding is unavailable.” That’s why pro-life governors are fighting to defund Planned Parenthood.
In sum, Libby Anne’s claim that “Obamacare stands to cut abortion rates by 75%” is completely fraudulent. Obama’s contraception mandate is unlikely to result in any significant increase in access to contraceptives among those women likeliest to have abortions, and for those same women, his Medicaid expansion will result in an increase in access to taxpayer subsidies for abortions. One can debate the morality of either policy, but to suggest either of these steps is “pro-life” is absurd.
Methodological flaws in the Peipert study on preventing teen pregnancies
A photo of St. Louis, Missouri, by night, showing the Gateway Arch and the Old Courthouse. A recent study in Obstetrics & Gynecology by Peipert et al. of 9,256 women living in St. Louis claimed to show that the free provision of long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) could reduce the incidence of abortion by up to 78%. Image courtesy of Daniel Schwen and Wikipedia.
But there’s more. Where did Libby Anne get her 75% figure from? It turns out that it derives from a single study (Jeffrey F. Peipert, Tessa Madden, Jenifer E. Allsworth, Gina M. Secura, “Preventing Unintended Pregnancies by Providing No-Cost Contraception,” in Obstetrics & Gynecology, October 3, 2012: 1 DOI: 10.1097/AOG.0b013e318273eb56) that suffered from severe methodological flaws. Here’s how Science Daily breathlessly reported the study’s findings, in an October 4, 2012 article entitled, Abortion Rates Plummet with Free Birth Control:
Providing birth control to women at no cost substantially reduced unplanned pregnancies and cut abortion rates by 62 percent to 78 percent over the national rate, a new study shows.
The research, by investigators at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, appears online Oct. 4 in Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Among a range of birth control methods offered in the study, most women chose long-acting methods like intrauterine devices (IUDs) or implants, which have lower failure rates than commonly used birth control pills. In the United States, IUDs and implants have high up-front costs that sometimes aren’t covered by health insurance, making these methods unaffordable for many women.
“The impact of providing no-cost birth control was far greater than we expected in terms of unintended pregnancies,” says lead author Jeff Peipert, MD, PhD, the Robert J. Terry Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “We think improving access to birth control, particularly IUDs and implants, coupled with education on the most effective methods has the potential to significantly decrease the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions in this country.”
Although women participating in the study were allowed to choose their own method of contraception, they were strongly encouraged to choose a long acting reversible contraceptive — either an IUD or an implant. In the end, 75 percent of women taking part in the study chose a long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC). The following excerpts from the study explain why:
Contraceptive counseling included all reversible methods but emphasized the superior effectiveness of LARC methods (IUDs and implants). (p. 1)
All participants were read a brief script informing them of the effectiveness and safety of LARC methods at initial contact and completed an in-depth, evidence-based contraceptive counseling session at enrollment. (p. 2)
In addition, the project provided education to promote the use of the most effective contraceptive methods, IUDS, and implants in an effort to alter population outcomes. (p. 5)
Mainstream media reports on the study were very enthusiastic. Dr. Michael New, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, was one of the few reviewers who dared to question the study, in an online article entitled, Misleading Study Claims Obamacare, Birth Control Cuts Abortions (LifeNews.com, 10 October 2012):
The main problem with this study is that it fails to include an adequate control group. Each of the 9,256 participants in the study was a volunteer. As such, women in the study very likely had a stronger desire to avoid a future pregnancy than women who declined to participate. Most research indicates that a desire to avoid pregnancy has a significant impact on the likelihood of becoming pregnant…
…. [T]he authors use a weighting method and, as such, do not provide the actual number of abortions performed on program participants.… In the spirit of full disclosure, the authors should publicly provide the raw, unweighted data on the birthrate and abortion rate of study participants. That would provide a much better measure of the effectiveness of this program.
The authors state that IUDs are more popular in Europe than they are in the United States. There are a variety of reasons for this. However, one factor the authors overlook is that many physicians in the United States are unwilling to insert IUDs because of liability issues. Indeed, IUDs users have an increased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease and perforation of the uterus. Also, if a woman using an IUD wants to get pregnant, her IUD would have to be removed by a physician. For this reason, even if these long-term methods were available at no cost, it is not clear that many women would choose to use them.…
There was no effort to analyze how the provision of no-cost contraception impacted sexual activity, the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, or any other public-health outcomes.
In a follow-up article entitled,How Dare Pro-Lifers Criticize a Contraception Study? (National Review Online, October 25, 2012), Dr. New identified another serious methodological flaw:
…[R]ecent developments indicate that the skepticism of pro-lifers and conservatives was justified. Writing for 1flesh.com, a medical student contacted the authors of the study to ask how they obtained pregnancy and abortion data from study participants. As it turns out, the researchers used telephone surveys. Overall, this is extremely problematic. Many women who submit to an abortion will not voluntarily reveal that information. As such, this study likely undercounts abortions and overestimates the effectiveness of contraceptives. This is obviously a significant methodological limitation to the study — one no mainstream-media outlet has yet to cover.
The writer, philosopher and cultural critic Dr. Lydia McGrew was also extremely critical of the study’s data-massaging in her online article, My Present Thoughts on the “Contraception Prevents Abortion” Study. She highlights a revealing passage from the study:
Because the CHOICE cohort represents a higher-risk population (median age of 25 years and 50% black) than the general population, we standardized the CHOICE abortion rate to the age and racial (black and white) distribution of females who reside in the St. Louis region using data from the 2010 U.S. Census (direct standardization). We compared the CHOICE standardized rate with the St. Louis regional rate…(p. 3)
Dr. McGrew offers the following “plain English” translation of the authors’ language:
Translation: Because our study group was unrepresentative of the St. Louis female population by race and age, we expected to get more abortions among our study group than we would have gotten if the group had been representative demographically. So the abortion numbers we’re giving you aren’t the real abortion numbers, even if we did collect the real abortion numbers to begin with. They are numbers which have been massaged by a weighting factor to give the number of abortions we believe would have occurred if more of the study participants had been white and over 25 years of age.
Dr. McGrew’s “translation” highlights the racism of current the pro-choice abortion policy of certain family planning organizations in the U.S., where the abortion rate is nearly four times higher for black Americans than it is for whites. As James Taranto notes in a recent Wall Street Journal article (November 14, 2012):
According to U.S. Census estimates, the overall abortion rate in 2007 was 19.5 abortions for every thousand women between 15 and 44. But the rate is much lower for whites (13.8) than for blacks (48.2). For women classified as “other”–neither black nor white–the rate is slightly above the national average (21.6).
Dr. McGrew also takes issue with the study’s authors, for evasively withholding the raw data:
The raw data are given nowhere in the article. Neither, ipso facto, is the precise calculation showing the weighting factor and the derivation of the stated “abortion rates” among study participants from the initial data.
Benjamin Domenich, in an editorial for the Heartland Institute, entitled, No, President Obama is Not a Pro-Life President, raised similar criticisms:
There are numerous methodological critiques of this study. The biggest one, from my perspective, is that the actual figure of abortions from this population was apparently estimated, not tabulated. This is a major issue…
An even more troublesome issue with this study is that it was focused from the beginning on increasing the level of buy-in for implants and IUDs… Peipert required that all participants in the study had to be willing to change their method of contraception, precisely because the stated case for the study was “to promote the use of the most effective contraceptive methods (IUDs and implants).”…
Again, this makes the study less representative of the population as a whole, and more representative of a specific type of population.
Why bringing down the abortion rate by 75% is a behavioral impossibility, even in a secular society
Left: A copper IUD (Paragard T 380A). Image courtesy of A. Swann and Wikipedia.
But there was a more fundamental flaw in the study: even if its conclusions were correct, its goal of putting all sexually active individuals on long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) – apart from those trying for a baby – would be politically unrealistic even in Europe, let alone America.
The objective of the Peipert study was “To promote the use of long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods (intrauterine devices [IUDs] and implants) and provide contraception at no cost to a large cohort of participants in an effort to reduce unintended pregnancies in our region.” But there are good reasons to believe that the use of long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods will never be universal in the general population, in the foreseeable future. Evidence for this claim comes from a study of contraceptive usage in various countries in Europe.
To see why this is an unrealistic objective for America as a whole, it will help if we examine a recent study by J. de Irala et al., entitled, Choice of birth control methods among European women and the role of partners and providers (Contraception, December 2011; 84(6):558-64. Epub June 8, 2011). The study lists a table showing European women’s preferred method of birth control, in several countries:
Table 2 Current birth control methods used by women, by country
|Modern FAB methods||1.0||1.0||1.5||0.4||1.3||1.1|
Column totals may exceed 100%, as women may be using more than one method.
Calendar method: includes Rhythm method (Ogino method) and “avoiding days when it is more likely to get pregnant, without using a specific rule.”
Female barrier: cervical cap, diaphragm, female condom.
Modern FAB (fertility awareness-based) methods: Billings method, Symptothermal method, Lactational Amenorrhea method and devices that identify fertility.
As the table shows, nowhere in highly secular Europe was the percentage of women using long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods higher than about a quarter of the population. The highest percentage was in Sweden. So what chance is there of getting all or even 80% of sexually active Americans to use these methods as their primary method of birth control, in order to bring down the abortion rate by 75%, as Libby Anne claims can be done? In a word: zero.
SECTION F. Is The Pro-Life Movement Making It Harder to Afford Children?
Do pro-lifers care about pregnant women? Five questions for Libby Anne
A medical ultrasound scanner, of the kind commonly used in a crisis pregnancy center. Many women who are shown the image of their unborn child on an ultrasound screen decide not to abort. America’s 4,000 crisis pregnancy centers play a valuable role in reducing the number of abortions performed in the United States. Image courtesy of Daniel W. Rickey and Wikipedia.
In her post, Libby Anne writes:
If those who oppose abortion really believes that abortion is murder, they should be supporting programs that would make it easier for poor women to afford to carry pregnancies to term. Instead, they’re doing the opposite. Overwhelmingly, those who oppose abortion also want to cut welfare and medicaid. Without these programs, the number of women who choose abortion because they cannot afford to carry a given pregnancy to term will rise.
Regarding Medicaid, let’s recall what the Guttmacher Center says about its funding for abortions: : “Approximately one-fourth of women who would have Medicaid-funded abortions instead give birth when this funding is unavailable.”
I don’t think a consistent pro-lifer could support Medicaid in its present form. However, that still leaves us with the question of welfare support for pregnant women.
I’ll answer Libby Anne’s challenge by asking her five questions.
1. A free decision is an informed decision. If Libby Anne truly believes that women who are pregnant should have a choice about whether to terminate their pregnancies, then she must also believe that as part of their pregnancy counseling, they should be told about the full range of government and non-government assistance programs they will be eligible for, should they decide to continue with their pregnancy. A woman may falsely believe that she cannot afford to have a child, because she has not heard about these programs. Does Libby Anne agree that a pregnant woman should automatically be given this information by her physician? If so, then maybe we have something to talk about.
2. What does Libby Anne think of Birthright International, one of the top three non-profit organizations that operate crisis pregnancy centers in the United States? What does she think of its philosophy and its approach to helping pregnant women? Some crisis pregnancy centers have come under criticism for allegedly scaring pregnant women out of having abortions, but that’s certainly not true for Birthright, which is non-judgmental in its approach and avoids such tactics.
3. Has she read about Dr. John Bruchalski, an OB-GYN from Virginia and a former abortionist who now leads one of the largest pro-life medicine practices in the U.S., as well as offering a safe haven for women in crisis pregnancies? See here and here.
4. Why does she portray crisis pregnancy centers as religiously motivated and manipulative on her blog, when secular pro-lifers have exploded these myths? See here.
5. Here’s a final question. If Libby Anne believes in pregnant women making informed choices, then why shouldn’t they get to see exactly what their unborn child looks like, before they make their choice? Does any woman have the “right” to make an uninformed choice, simply because they feel that viewing a sonogram of their unborn child might upset them?
What really helps pregnant women?
In her article, How I lost faith in the pro-life movement, Libby Anne writes:
One thing I realized back in 2007 is that, given that six in ten women who have abortions already have at least one child and that three quarters of women who have abortions report that they cannot afford another child, if we want to bring abortion rates down we need to make sure that women can always afford to carry their pregnancies to term.
… But the odd thing is, those who identify as “pro-life” are most adamant in opposing these kind of reforms. I knew this back in 2007, because I grew up in one of those families. I grew up believing that welfare should be abolished, that Head Start needed to be eliminated, that medicaid just enabled people to be lazy. I grew up in a family that wanted to abolish some of the very programs with the potential to decrease the number of abortions.
The first point I’d like to make here is that Libby Anne’s claim that generous welfare payments reduce abortion is highly debatable at best. Dr. Michael New, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, disagrees sharply with social commentators who argue that the provision of social welfare programs reduces abortion. In an article entitled, Let’s Actually Get Real about Abortion (National Review Online, November 2, 2012), Dr. New warned against following the European model:
On Monday, David Frum wrote an essay for CNN entitled “Let’s Get Real About Abortions.” Frum chides pro-lifers for placing too much emphasis on legally restricting abortion while neglecting the material needs of women facing crisis pregnancies…
Like other commentators, Frum touts Europe as a model to follow. He argues that the reason why abortion rates are lower in Germany is that they have more generous social programs. However, while the U.S abortion rate has fallen, Germany’s abortion rate has gradually increased since the early 1980s. Frum also cites the Netherlands as a country with low abortion rates. Again, despite the generous social programs, over 60 percent of pregnancies to women under 20 in the Netherlands still end in abortion. Overall, there is no body of peer-reviewed research that shows that increased welfare spending reduces abortion rates. Furthermore, studies of abortion rates in the U.S. states found that the level of welfare benefits failed to have a statistically significant impact on the incidence of abortion.
Of course pro-lifers do certainly realize that many women seek abortion because of economic hardship. That is why pro-lifers enthusiastically support the thousands of pregnancy resource centers in the country. Pro-lifers may disagree about what types of assistance the government should provide to women facing crisis pregnancies, but nearly all pro-lifers agree that pregnancy resource centers have played a valuable role in helping countless women who decided to bring a crisis pregnancy to term.
The second point I’d like to make is that Libby Anne is making sweeping claims about the pro-life movement, based on her own limited experience. A New Zealand blogger named The Radical Feminist made this point in a hard-hitting response to Libby Anne’s article, entitled, How I Lost Faith in the “Pro-Life” Movement… & blindly embraced some cray cray thinking instead (November 8, 2012):
This next section of [Libby Anne’s] blog post is yet more political policy advertising that is flawed in the following ways:
a. is grossly unfair to the pro-life movement and the individual pro-lifers who make it up
The pro-life movement doesn’t just exist in America, or in Tea Party circles. It is in fact made up of a myriad of views about financial polices, not just the anti-welfare ones, which Libby wrongly implies are official pro-life movement fiscal policies.
b. it wrongly assumes that there is only ONE way (state welfare) to support people in need
Financial policies are actually hugely complex matters, as anyone who has ever worked in these areas can attest to, and it is overly simplistic to suggest that any one policy (i.e. more state welfare) is the complete, or only possible way of resolving poverty in a given population.
c. it wrongly assumes that people who don’t support state welfare type polices don’t want to address the issue, or that they want to see people living in poverty
These same pro-lifers who Libby accuses of being heartless poor-people haters, are in fact usually the very same people who give hundreds of volunteer hours per year, or make regular generous contributions to crisis-pregnancy centres that offer women in unplanned pregnancies free alternatives and support in order to help them avoid abortions…
d. it confuses the validity of the pro-life ethic/movement with financial policy ideas that some pro-lifers hold
The financial policies that pro-lifers (even if ALL pro-lifers happen to hold such policies) do not have any bearing on whether the pro-life ethic is true or not, or whether the existence of the pro-life movement is a valid thing or not.
In this post, I have carefully examined the empirical arguments made by Libby Anne to buttress her pro-choice position, and I have found them wanting. I find it very sad that she has now moved onto a position where she regards abortion as a woman’s right, right up until the moment of birth. I hope that she will re-evaluate her views, beginning with her embrace of evolutionary naturalism and also including her inconsistent ethical views with regard to what makes someone a person. I hope she will find it in her heart again to love and value the unborn child as a true human person.