Abortions more common in places where it is restricted

Gil Bailie writes:

We have been told that allowing mothers to hire medical professionals to end the life of the child in their womb is the quintessence of social progress, comparable only to regarding homosexual coupling as the moral and legal equivalent of the conjugal embrace. So now we are to have women serving in combat, and, again, we imagine that we are making progress. All this is so conspicuously a sign of civilizational degeneration that one can hardly believe people capable of seeing it otherwise.

Sophie Sommers responds:

Allowing mothers to hire medical professionals to perform abortions seems to have at least two salutary effects. One is that it significantly reduces maternal mortality: the World Health Organization says that abortion is a leading cause of maternal death in countries where it is unsafe or illegal. The other benefit is that abortion rights are invariably accompanied by rights to contraception, and contraception reduces abortion rates.

Across the globe, abortions are more common in places where it is restricted. Where abortion is illegal (Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean), the rates are two to five times higher than in countries where it is legal (Europe, North America).

The urge to flatly prohibit behaviors that we deem immoral seems to be deeply ingrained in human societies. But that urge is sometimes flatly counter-productive.

Women don’t stop having abortions because they are illegal. Faced with prohibition, many women just endanger their own lives and, because of the difficulties they encounter, their procedures may take place well past the time when they would have wanted to abort.

The data seem to be telling us that the best way to reduce the number of abortions while safe-guarding the health of the mother is to provide comprehensive family planning that includes access to contraception and, when that fails, to early-stage abortion under safe medical conditions.

Rick Boone responds to Sophie Sommers:

Ms. Sommer’s analysis is either factually questionable (access to contraception reduces abortion rates) or irrelevant. If the practice of abortion is wrong, it should be prohibited. We don’t allow other forms of murder just because we know they’ll occur despite our prohibitions and penalties. If abortion is not wrong, then it doesn’t matter at all that there are varying rates (a statistic that’s rather meaningless without taking into account the number of live births, the number of women capable of child-bearing and, I suspect, other factors). Whatever rate exists is acceptable. Sort of like the varying rates of movie-goers or farmers. Maternal death is certainly nothing to be taken lightly, but, to the extent that we should care about the life of any person, taking the life of another clearly should not be our default answer to the concern.

Sophie Sommers responds to Rick Boone:

Mr. Boone, why would it be “questionable” that access to contraception reduces abortion rates? That would seem to be a no-brainer.

If 50 million abortions have been performed in this country in the last 40 years, maybe it is because most people don’t consider an abortion to be “murder.” If they did, then there would surely be more revulsion against it. Obviously, most people in this country still do not consider a blastocyst or an early-term fetus to be a person, and therefore they do not consider an abortion to be a murder. This is an entirely reasonable and defensible view, whereas assigning “personhood” to an embryo that doesn’t yet have a functioning nervous sytem may not be. Because this is such a grey area, women are granted the right to choose.

I certainly would not discount the value of the mothers’ lives. Legalized abortion, coupled with access to contraception, reduces both maternal mortality and abortion rates. You are not going to eliminate abortions by driving them underground. You will only increase their incidence and make them more dangerous.

Gordon Savage responds to Sophie Sommers:

You suggest it’s a “no-brainer” to say “access to contraception reduces abortion rates.” Yet in your last post you said access to contraception leads to a culture in which “sexual activity without commitment was increasingly expected in premarital relationships.” Not just sex without commitment, but a cultural expectation of sex without commitment, by some alchemy morphs into fewer abortions than sex with someone you love and expect to spend your life with? Really?

Sophie Sommers responds to Gordon Savage:

Gordon, sex without commitment doesn’t necessarily lead to abortion. In Europe, the marriage numbers are down and so are the abortion rates. Contraception is easily available there. In Africa, the marriage numbers are up and so are the abortion rates. Contraception is not freely available there.

Not having sex at all certain prevents abortion, but so does contraception.

I don’t see how you can get around the fact that contraception reduces abortion rates.


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