“Pro-Lifers” Oppose Measures That Decrease the Abortion Rate

Some individual pro-lifers have finally gotten on board with proven, long-standing pro-choice tactics to decrease the abortion rate, and anti-choice leaders are not happy.

Frustrated by the failure to overturn Roe v. Wade, a growing number of antiabortion pastors, conservative academics and activists are setting aside efforts to outlaw abortion and instead are focusing on building social programs and developing other assistance for pregnant women to reduce the number of abortions.

Some of the activists are actually working with abortion rights advocates to push for legislation in Congress that would provide pregnant women with health care, child care and money for education — services that could encourage them to continue their pregnancies.

That makes sense. According to National Right to Life, 23 percent of women terminate pregnancies primarily because they can’t afford a baby. An addition 19 percent terminate because they have other children/family responsibilities. In a Guttmacher study (pdf), 73 percent of women listed “can’t afford a baby right now” as one of their reasons for having an abortion (the wide difference between the numbers comes because the Guttmacher study allowed women select multiple reasons for why they were terminating; the study quoted on the National Right to Life site had women pick one reason). The highest abortion rates occur in countries where birth control access is highly limited; worldwide, socioeconomic reasons are a leading factor in women choosing abortion. Low rates of abortion strongly correlate with universal health care, widely available contraception, and gender egalitarianism. There is little correlation between the legal status of abortion and the incidence of abortion — that is, there’s no evidence that countries where abortion is illegal have lower abortion rates than countries where it is legal. Case in point:

In Uganda, where abortion is illegal and sex education programs focus only on abstinence, the estimated abortion rate was 54 per 1,000 women in 2003, more than twice the rate in the United States, 21 per 1,000 in that year. The lowest rate, 12 per 1,000, was in Western Europe, with legal abortion and widely available contraception.

Some countries, like South Africa, have undergone substantial transitions in abortion laws in that time. The procedure was made legal in South Africa in 1996, leading to a 90 percent decrease in mortality among women who had abortions, some studies have found.

Abortion is illegal in most of Africa, though. It is the second-leading cause of death among women admitted to hospitals in Ethiopia, its Health Ministry has said. It is the cause of 13 percent of maternal deaths at hospitals in Nigeria, recent studies have found.

Outlawing abortion only puts women’s lives in danger; it doesn’t actually address the underlying cause of abortion. So, some pro-lifers have finally looked at the facts on the table and gotten on board:

“If one strategy has failed and failed over decades, and you have empirical information that tells how you can honor life and encourage women to make that choice by meeting real needs that are existing and tangible, why not do that?” said Douglas W. Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Kmiec, a Catholic who opposes abortion, was criticized by some abortion foes because he endorsed Obama.

Honoring life and helping women? Nope, the mainstream anti-choice movement can’t have that:

The new effort is causing a fissure in the antiabortion movement, with traditional groups viewing the activists as traitors to their cause. Leaders worry that the approach could gain traction with a more liberal Congress and president, although they do not expect it to weaken hard-core opposition.

“It’s a sellout, as far as we are concerned,” said Joe Scheidler, founder of the Pro-Life Action League. “We don’t think it’s really genuine. You don’t have to have a lot of social programs to cut down on abortions.”

Well, I suppose you don’t have to have a lot of social programs to cut down on abortions, but you do have to somehow (1) give women the tools to prevent pregnancy in the first place, and (2) allow women the resources to make childbirth a viable option. Outlawing abortion doesn’t do either of those things, which is why it’s phenomenally unsuccessful at actually decreasing the abortion rate.

Unless you don’t actually care about decreasing the abortion rate, and you’re more interested in turning women into criminals or making them put their lives at risk or controlling what they do in their bedrooms. Because, come on, this stuff is common sense:

A study sponsored by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good cited recent research that found that the abortion rate among women living below the poverty line is more than four times that of women above 300 percent of the poverty level. The authors of the study found that social and economic supports, such as benefits for pregnant women and mothers and economic assistance to low-income families, have contributed significantly to reducing abortions in the United States over the past two decades.

“Clearly, poverty impacts the abortion rate,” said Alexia Kelley, the group’s executive director.

But established abortion opponents dispute that approach. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said last week during a meeting of the conference that social-service spending is no substitute for legal protections for the unborn. He also questioned research showing that improvements in areas such as employment and health care can reduce the likelihood that a woman will want to end her pregnancy. “It’s still to be proven what the connection is between poverty and abortion,” he said.

…um. Except it has been proven, over and over and over. Will eradicating poverty end abortion? Of course not. But it’ll sure help.

Unless helping to decrease the abortion rate isn’t actually the goal:

Undeterred by critics, the activists are pushing for the passage of legislation that would increase funding for social services for pregnant women, such as low-cost health care and day care; provide grants at colleges for pregnant women and new mothers’ education; and set up maternity group homes. Two House bills with backing from various groups are the Pregnant Women’s Support Act, sponsored by Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.), and the Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act, sponsored by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who oppose abortion.*

Those bills are largely opposed by antiabortion groups. “You don’t work to limit the murder of innocent victims,” said Judie Brown, president of the American Life League. “You work to stop it.”

And if abortion has never been stopped in any modern society? Well… then I suppose the only other option is criminalizing women while simultaneously opposing measures that improve health care access, help families to be healthier and more stable, and reduce abortion.

That said, individual pro-lifers getting on board with the pro-choice movement’s long-standing goals is a good thing for all of us. For too long, pro-choicers have been sidelined in our efforts to work for a full array of reproductive rights because the abortion wars sucked up all the time and energy. Most self-identified pro-life Americans support contraception access, and are uncomfortable with abortion and want to see it happen less often. Pro-choicers are offering an actual plan of action to decrease the abortion rate without punishing women or compromising women’s health. All mainstream anti-choice groups can offer is “make it illegal.” So it’s not suprising that pro-life people who actually want to see fewer abortions are supporting programs which have been proven to do just that. So credit where credit is due:

The diverse group that has come together to try a different tack includes prominent pastors such as Joel Hunter; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good; Sojourners, a progressive evangelical organization; and RealAbortionSolutions.org, a coalition of Catholics and evangelical leaders.

Others include Catholics United, a progressive Catholic lay group; Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals; the Rev. Thomas Reese of Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center, a prominent Jesuit thinker; and Nicholas Cafardi, former dean of the Duquesne University School of Law and a Catholic canon lawyer.

And it’s telling that the big anti-choice groups almost always oppose those programs. Let’s hope that the old anti-choice guard is soon replaced with pro-life people who actually want to see abortion decrease, and who want to see that happen in a life-affirming way.

*Rosa DeLauro has a strong pro-choice voting record.

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40 comments for ““Pro-Lifers” Oppose Measures That Decrease the Abortion Rate

  1. Joan
    November 18, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    You are right in saying that abortions will be no less frequent whether they are legal or illegal. The problem with its being legal is that it suggests that we tolerate–and even sanction–a society that allows baby-killing. Making it illegal wouldn’t totally stop it, but it would at least show the world that we do not sanction barbarism in our civilization.

  2. November 18, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    Right, because allowing women to LITERALLY FUCKING DIE because we’re too busy wagging a goddamn finger at them to make sure that they have access to medical care totally shows that we don’t sanction barbarism in our civilization! At least, not towards fetuses. Grown women are a completely different story.

    Thanks Joan. Recent comment threads already had me in a really shitty mood, but you saying that you would literally rather have me — yes, me, someone who never, ever wants kids and would to to any length to make sure I didn’t — risk my life than have access to a simple and safe medical procedure and then calling that humane really tops the shit cake.

  3. Matt
    November 18, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    I’m very concerned with convincing the fundamentalist Christians and Muslims that I am not a barbarian. After several hundred years of bringing oppression and death to the world via the sword, at least Christians have calmed down and are merely trying to bring it via legislation. I’m sure the Muslims will quit with the terrorism in a hundred more or so years, and start merely oppressing their women via Shiaric law.

    Religion has outlived its usefulness to society. I can’t wait till it’s gone.

  4. Joan
    November 18, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    The point is the fetus didn’t have a choice in the first place. If you don’t want children you could simply *not* get knocked up.

    Women who are at risk–who are being killed by a fetus–that’s one thing. But carelessly getting pregnant and then killing a life which does you no *harm* whatsoever, that’s something else.

    Glad I could make your day.

  5. November 18, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    The point is the fetus didn’t have a choice in the first place. If you don’t want children you could simply *not* get knocked up.

    Uh, right. Because women get “knocked up” on purpose and then decide later, “Oops, don’t want children! Abortion time!”

  6. November 18, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    Jill, I get knocked up at least twice a year, just because my “abortion doctor” is so damn cool. I just love seeing her, you know? And I think we all know how much fun abortion aftercare is, am I right?

    Dear Joan,

    Go to hell.

    Hugs & Kisses,

  7. November 18, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    Actually pro-life advocates support measures that decrease abortions. It’s blogs that Feministe that oppose them.

    Measures like not forcing people to pay for abortion, like allowing parental notification, like giving women information on abortion’s risks and alternatives. These are laws that research has proven reduce abortions by as much as 50 percent in some states. Yet Feministe, Barack Obama and the Obama backers quoted in this Washington Post story oppose them. Talk about hypocrisy.

  8. November 18, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    But carelessly getting pregnant and then killing a life which does you no *harm* whatsoever, that’s something else.

    Because pregnancy is just a walk in the park! At no time during the nine months of fetal development does the mother even notice! And birth? Simple as pie. I can’t understand why anyone would even mind!

    Or something like that.

  9. November 18, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    Actually, those measures haven’t been proven to decrease the abortion rate generally, although they have been shown to decrease the first trimester abortion rate and correspondingly increase the second-trimester abortion rate. So good work — you’ve promoted later-term abortions.

  10. Joan
    November 18, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    “Uh, right. Because women get ‘knocked up’ on purpose and then decide later, ‘Oops, don’t want children! Abortion time!’ ”

    As I think Eminem put it: What? You slipped, fell, and landed on his dick?!

    Maybe the first time I should have said: every time you have sex you run the risk of getting knocked up. That’s a choice you make, irregardless of contraception.

  11. November 18, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    Wow. Now I feel way less bad telling you to fuck off, Joan.

  12. Kristen from MA
    November 18, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    My, the trolls are coming out of the woodwork today, aren’t they?

  13. November 18, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    Yeah, I don’t know what the hell is going on, but Joan is banned because she just got on my last nerve.

  14. November 18, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    Maybe the first time I should have said: every time you have sex you run the risk of getting knocked up. That’s a choice you make, irregardless of contraception.

    Oh noes. That must mean I’m attempting murder a whole lot of times every year. Such a bad person, I am, with my non-procreative sex.

    Really, I’m just amused at this point.

    And sigh. Yes Kristen, we’re not sure from where, but they certainly have been for the past couple of days.

  15. Bagelsan
    November 18, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    I get knocked up at least twice a year, just because my “abortion doctor” is so damn cool. I just love seeing her, you know?

    Cara, Cara, Cara… you aren’t as hard-core as you think you are. Why not cut out the middleman? Get a male “abortionist” and the whole knocked-up-aborted thing can be done at the clinic in only one visit. Or even marry an abortionist! Get your daily abortions from the comfort of your own home!

    I get one everyday before I go to work. Sometimes two, if I’m gonna be working late. It’s like Starbucks, but more delicious! :D

  16. November 18, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    Damn, Bagelsan, that is hardcore. I stand in awe of your personal dedication to the Ultimate Feminist Goal of killing as many babies as possible.

  17. November 18, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    Is it already time for Shame the Slut? I need a bingo card to keep up.

    Go to hell, Joan.

    I guess it is also more humane to bring children into an already over populated planet and into homes where they may not be wanted?

    Or, where they won’t be cared for?

    Shit, then why bother punishing all those mothers for neglect?

    There is no point engaging these people. Reason walked out a long time ago.

  18. Bagelsan
    November 18, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    My favorite part was Eminem-as-family-planning-counselor. That’s reputable!

  19. Bagelsan
    November 18, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Thanks, Cara! *modest blush* What with going to a women’s college and all, I really try to do my best!

  20. akeeyu
    November 18, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    It’s weird that in Joan’s world, males and male responsibility/involvement in pregnancy does not exist, except as an inanimate object that some whory whory woman fell upon, because she is irresponsible. And probably a whore. Did I mention whore?


    You know what would be nice from the anti abortion trolls? A fresh argument. Seriously.

  21. November 18, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    As I think Eminem put it: What? You slipped, fell, and landed on his dick?!

    Nice to see the old feminist theorists are making a comeback!

  22. Angela
    November 18, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    Jill, the studies you cited are several years old (2004 and 2005). Perhaps the WHO and the NIH can give more up-to-date data for your readers to review.

    I know the NIH also has a DBS (Demographic and Behavioral Sciences) branch that has funded serveral studies. And, then there’s the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute on Child Health and Human Development you might want to take a look at. They also have studies on minority heath too.

    The WHO has a more recent study on reducing maternal and newborn deaths in the developing world. This study was done back in 2006.

    One more thing, the Guttmacher Institute has new fact sheets on abortions in the US and Worldwide dated January and October of this year.

    I do hope you will find the time to review the material. These statistics will help bolster your case. Even though I’m personally against abortion, I agree a much better approach is needed to make sure women and men have a good understanding that their reproductive health is a part of their overall health. Comprehensive sex ed in the US is a start.

    BTW, I’m the same Angela you think obnoxous(sp) . But hey, my patients think I’m a pain too. (I make some of them get up after they’ve had surgery so they don’t develop blood clots or wake them up at night to give them their meds.) That’s life in the ICU for ya.

    Chou, gotta cover for the night shift.

  23. November 18, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    Okay, look.

    The trolls come in with their slut-shaming and their lack of logic and their valuing of fetus’s lives over women’s, and it’s disgusting.

    But when they start using “words” like irregardless, they have gone too far. TOO FAR.

    Can’t we just delete these fools?

  24. Jessica
    November 18, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    Jill- well said. And thank you for dealing with the trolls- I don’t know how you do it. You and Cara both rock.

    One nitpicky comment: right after the first block quote, rather than saying 23% of women abort primarily because they can’t afford a baby, it would be more accurate based on that NRLC study to say that 23% of women who had abortions did so because they can’t afford a baby.

  25. sleepyhead
    November 18, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    Yeah–abortion is barbarism. It is the only time when it is legal to forbid something else from using your body to sustain itself, even if it means death. I mean, there are all those laws requiring you to give your kidney to your children or anyone else who needs it, and mandatory blood donating has been around for years. It’s time for some consistency!

  26. November 18, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    Ignoring the trolls; it is heartening to see those who are pro-life for reasons that have to do with [what they see as] valuing children and not so much with slut shaming have a place to go to promote their agenda. And if that agenda includes helping moms, helping kids, and increasing access to good sex ed, I will not have any problems with them.

    For some women, abortion is in a difficult moral area; is it a child before birth, if so, when, and how do you choose between yourself and your own child? Obviously, it’s a lot easier to have those discussions earlier in pregnancy. Which is why I think Plan B and RU 486 are extremely moral options, in that they allow a woman to be at peace with her own self much more easily, should she feel any ambiguity. And of course contraception, even more so.

    The attempts by the Catholic Church and (lately) full-quiver types to move the goalposts back so far that even preventing conception is akin to murder are in themselves immoral, for they would make “murderers” out of women who are simply acting responsibly for themselves and their families. It does violence to the whole idea of morality, in my opinion.

  27. Morningstar
    November 18, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    “You are right in saying that abortions will be no less frequent whether they are legal or illegal.”


    “As I think Eminem put it: What? You slipped, fell, and landed on his dick?!”

    and this needs several lols.

    please dont ban joan.

    this was classic.

  28. Kristen from MA
    November 18, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    But when they start using “words” like irregardless, they have gone too far. TOO FAR.

    You said it, sister! ;)

  29. November 19, 2008 at 1:20 am

    Wow! Joan lives in a world where rape and coercion don’t exist, accidents don’t happen, and everyone has all the knowledge, power and access to stuff they need to avoid pregnancies at all times – and people’s circumstances never change drastically once they’ve had sex! How can I move there?

  30. Josie
    November 19, 2008 at 1:42 am

    The problem that I have with people like Joan saying that a fetus didn’t get the choice to live or die when a woman decides to abort, is that she is assuming that the woman in question had the choice to get pregnant or not. Living in a well developed country as we do, having access to contraceptives, having education about how not to get pregnant and having a voice in our sexual lives is a privilige. What about women who live in places where they don’t have access to education (girls are the least likely to attend schools in numerous regions of our world). Those women don’t have access to or are prevented from taking contraceptives. They don’t get a say about when or whether their ‘husband (who might have several other wives) has sex with them….and if they say no, they risk the consequences of domestic violence, which is sometimes sanctioned in many cultures – or at the very least silently accepted. And asking their husband to wear a condom is tantamount to admitting that you may have HIV/AIDS (because why else would you need a condom?) The number of times I have heard people say that women in developing countries should stop having babies – it will help poverty rates, reduce HIV/AIDS, increase education, access to health care……
    After I lived in an African country for 2 years and worked very closely with a community of women, I am only too aware of the options these women have……almost none.

    So I have a question for Joan. Supposing you, Joan, are HIV positive, have 6 children (none of whom are in school…maybe some are sick, and certainly all are undernourished andhungry), are HIV positive, lived in a mud cave (you can hardly call those houses), your ‘husband’ has three other ‘wives’, and beats you every other night before essentially raping you (but you can’t complain because according to the law in your country, husbands own their wives so it isn’t rape), and you are now pregnant. Just think about what that would be like, and what that life is like for millions of women around the world. Wouldn’t YOU want an abortion??? And while we are at it…let’s just say for arguments sake, that the fetus did get a choice. What do you think it would say???? (I can just hear it now telling me that it can’t wait to be born into that life full of promise and opportunity – I hope that you are detecting my sarcasm).

    Personally (as in ME), I don’t believe in abortion…but I ABHOR people who think that THEY have the right to tell ME what to do with my body. And telling women who had no control over their circumstances that an abortion is wrong. Who do they think they are??? Why aren’t you speaking out against all the other things that really ARE wrong?

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  32. November 19, 2008 at 9:23 am

    Rosa DeLauro is pro-choice. the Washington Post story, which you rely on, got it wrong.
    Check out her voting record here:

  33. SarahMC
    November 19, 2008 at 10:15 am

    Why do anti-choicers think they have to educate pro-choicers about the birds and the bees? Oooooh, you mean penis+vagina sometimes = pregnancy!? God damn.

    I am sick and tired of the anti-choice lobby insisting that pro-choicers must “compromise” and work towards our alleged common goals. WE are the ones who support comprehensive sex-ed, readily available birth control, structural support for mothers, more accessible pre-natal and maternal healthcare, etc. etc. NONE of this country’s “pro-life” groups do. But like Joan admitted, “pro-lifers” don’t actually give a shit about people’s lives.

  34. Opportunities
    November 19, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Katha is right, Rosa is a pro-choice leader with long record or supporting reproductive rights.

    I think this article and Rosa’s leadership point to an opportunity to work with strange bed-fellows to get some things accomplished. We should take it.

  35. November 19, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Ah, thanks Katha, I didn’t know that. I’ll update that in the post.

  36. Ali
    November 19, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    holy crap, I take a break from feministe for a few days (what can I say, I have to actually work every now and then), come back, and it’s trollville!

    Thanks for detailing all tis Jill, and I too am incredibly glad to see some of the (actual) pro-life people seeing the light.

    And I’ll try to comment more often to help swing the human being to troll ratio back in your favor :)

  37. November 19, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    Hello, a friend on Facebook likes to link to your articles so I thought I’d drop a comment here. It doesn’t seem contrary opinions are well received here, but I will try to offer contrary data, analysis, and historical perspective, nothing personal.

    I looked at the National Right to Life link. They list the 23% category as “feels” unable to afford a baby. Pro-life clinics usually are able to show or find or produce the essentials to afford a baby. CareNet is one group I am familiar with. Charities are often helpful as well as WIC. Adoption is another method to address concerns of affordability. Since the mother considering abortion does not want the child anyway, perhaps adoption will not be difficult. When the baby is handed over, affordability as an issue goes away.

    The Catholics in Alliance study has questionable conclusions from their data. One critical response can be found by Michael New PhD at http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/viewarticle.php?selectedarticle=2008.10.30_New_Michael%20J._Does%20Increased%20Welfare%20Spending%20or%20Pro-Life%20Legislation%20Reduce%20Abortion%253F_.xml

    According the the Guttmacher Institute, the Netherlands has the lowest abortion rate in Europe, yet it’s legal restrictions might not be attractive to the writers of this blog. I would welcome the restrictions the Netherlands has in our own country. See a wiki entry on Netherlands abortion laws. Regarding improved social services in our own country, we tried that for 40 years, it was called welfare. Ironically, it was Bill Clinton who eliminated welfare as we knew it in the 90’s yet still claims abortion rates fell under his administration. They fell under Bush’s as well. So bringing back welfare as we knew it then might not be the answer to the problems.

    God is good

    In the meantime, we still feel that babies in the utero should have the same human rights the out of womb babies have and their mothers, which is why, there is little satisfaction on our side until those babies have those rights.

  38. mike b.
    June 3, 2009 at 5:05 am


    Have you looked at any other features of law in the Netherlands besides abortion restrictions? They do a much better job than the U.S. at providing access to health care and social services of the kind proven to reduce abortions.

    And welfare does work for most of the people who need it. Your average welfare recipient is white, is on welfare for less than 2 years, and never returns to the welfare rolls, though you almost never hear any of this mentioned. If we really want to reduce abortions in this country, the best place to start is with a universal single payer health care plan. National health care and effective sex education are the primary reasons European countries, including the Netherlands, have much lower rates of abortion, unintended pregnancy and teen pregnancy than the U.S. As long as we keep health care a priviledge and rely on abstinence only models of sex “education,” we are going to continue to experience much higher rates in these categories than Europe, whether we further restrict abortion or not.

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