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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