Contraception use up, abortion down

Unsafe abortion still kills 70,000 women every year, almost exclusively in countries where the procedure is illegal. But as abortion laws liberalize around the world, the abortion rate has actually decreased. Why? More women have access to contraception.

Guttmacher estimated previously that the number of abortions worldwide fell from 45.5 million in 1995 to 41.6 million in 2003 — the latest year for which global figures were available.

A key reason for that drop, the new report said, was that the portion of married women using contraception increased from 54 percent in 1990 to 63 percent in 2003 as availability increased and social mores changed. Guttmacher’s researchers said contraceptive use had increased in every major region, but still lagged badly in Africa — used by only 28 percent of married women there, compared with at least 68 percent in other major regions.

The report notes that abortions worldwide are declining even as more countries liberalize their abortion laws. Since 1997, it said, only three countries — Poland, Nicaragua and El Salvador — substantially increased restrictions on abortion, while laws were eased significantly in 19 countries and regions, including Cambodia, Nepal and Mexico City.

While it’s good news that contraception use is up and therefore the abortion rate is down, forty percent of the world’s women still live in places where abortion is highly restricted. According to the Guttmacher survey that spawned this article, 92 percent of African women and 97 percent of Latin American women live under severely restricted abortion laws. The results are devastating:

Unsafe abortion causes an estimated 70,000 deaths each year, and an additional five million women are treated annually for complications resulting from unsafe abortion. Approximately three million women who experience serious complications from unsafe procedures go untreated.

Besides the horrific human cost, illegal abortion is also a public health crisis and a major expense.

We know that illegal abortion kills women. We know that contraception and sexual health education are the best tools out there to decrease the unintended pregnancy rate. So why aren’t “pro-lifers” out there on the front lines promoting birth control access?


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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12 Responses to Contraception use up, abortion down

  1. So why aren’t “pro-lifers” out there on the front lines promoting birth control access?

    because God (apparently) thinks women are evil for killing potential babies, because preventing potential people is horrific. /snark.

    oh, and they don’t give a shit about the lives of women. or children.

    i think it’s ridiculous that the solution is oh-so-obvious, and there are still people willing to fund programs that have continually proven to fail.

  2. peanutbutter says:

    You’ll notice that all the concern for Teh Babies is from the moment of conception to the moment of birth. After that, it’s hasta la vista, baby.

  3. Willow says:

    People who oppose contraception can be *generally* divided into two groups:

    1. People who oppose it for the same reason they think abortion is wrong, i.e. it is human beings thwarting God’s will. These people usually at least have consistency in their beliefs (also opposing stem cell research and such) and can often back it up with a coherent, usually-theological argument. I don’t understand how, but for some reason, these people honestly cannot see how abortion could possibly be a women’s rights issue. (Basis: three years at a Catholic university, and 1+ years as a theology grad student).

    2. People who oppose it because they don’t like the idea of people having sex outside of marriage, and can’t seem to think of any other reason why someone would ever use contraception. These are the people who often (not always) have no problem with in vitro fertilization. Their argument is usually, “It’s murder.”

    /sigh

    Although, it’s worth noting that the health center of my undergrad school had a policy of not prescribing birth control unless you had a “medical reason.” The sex/drugs/alcohol peer educators group did an informal survey…approximately 70% of the female, majority-Catholic student population had “medical reasons.” And that was counting only the ones who had prescriptions through the school. Hope for the future?

  4. Femnist says:

    Almost 70 years back, Periyar of Tamilnadu, India made a statement that the main reason for women being tied to their homes was childbearing. He advocated controlling the number of children, so that the childbearing years become two or at the max five. At that point of time, it was common for a woman in Tamilnadu to have children every two years from her teens to menopause. Of course, education and careers were out of the question.

    Most pro-life organisations equate contraception to abortion, as the birth control pills may stop a fertilized egg from implantation. Though this is the “official” reason, I think the real reason is that contraception gives a woman control over her body.

  5. Kristen from MA says:

    . People who oppose it for the same reason they think abortion is wrong, i.e. it is human beings thwarting God’s will. These people usually at least have consistency in their beliefs (also opposing stem cell research and such) and can often back it up with a coherent, usually-theological argument.

    That’s all well and good. These people have a right to believe as they wish, but they don’t have a right to make those beliefs the law of the land. To parrot the wingnuts, Why do they hate democracy?

  6. Jesurgislac says:

    So why aren’t “pro-lifers” out there on the front lines promoting birth control access?

    Because they don’t care if these women die.

    Their argument is, fairly consistently, that a woman who gets pregnant ought to have the baby. If a woman decides to terminate, they don’t care if she lives, dies, goes to jail, or becomes sterile.

    Pro-lifers have the most consistent ethos – you just have to understand what it is. It has nothing to do with preventing abortions, nothing to do with valuing human life: it has to do with forcing women through pregnancy and childbirth against their will. Children in this ethos are regarded as a punishment for sex – explicitly not as a welcomed choice. It’s an anti-sex anti-woman ethos, profoundly misogynistic. It is in no way connected with any value for human life: their claims that it is are lies. No one who supports the pro-life movement actually values human life to any degree.

  7. No one who supports the pro-life movement actually values human life to any degree.

    Hence why they also tend to be anti-daycare, anti-universal healthcare, and pro-death penalty.

  8. Erm, let’s try that again.

    No one who supports the pro-life movement actually values human life to any degree.

    Hence why they also tend to be anti-daycare, anti-universal healthcare, and pro-death penalty.

  9. Willow says:

    Two things:

    1. @ Kristen:
    I absolutely agree. Catholic dogma should not be U.S. law.

    2 @ Jesurglisac and Molly:
    That is not a blanket statement. Almost everyone else is my religion department is pro-life, but *very* anti-death penalty, anti-war, pro-univ. healthcare, pro-govt provided daycare, and just about every other progressive-ish cause you can think of (probably 50-50 on gay marriage, which for a Christian school is improvement).

    My point is basically that most anti-abortion rhetoric is consciously anti-woman, but there are some people for whom it is simply not a women’s issue at all. I do suspect the male dominance in the Catholic Church has something to do with this–it’s basically that they are so busy focusing on protecting the fetus (and to be fair, most of them seem to care about the babies after they are born as well) that they don’t even see the woman. Not that this is a good thing (it is, in fact, atrocious), but it’s not the same as “not valuing human life to any degree.”

    People with this standpoint, of course, are a minority in the anti-abortion movement. And their opinion IN NO WAY should become law. But please don’t dismiss them all pro-life/pro-birth people so brusquely.

    Just, um, most of them.

  10. Persia says:

    What Molly said. It’s not about ‘the children’ to most pro-life leaders, it’s about controlling women’s sexuality, end of story.

  11. Jesurgislac says:

    My point is basically that most anti-abortion rhetoric is consciously anti-woman, but there are some people for whom it is simply not a women’s issue at all.

    Yes: and I’d say those people are also anti-women. Not consciously, perhaps, but anyone for whom women’s lives, women’s bodies, are so utterly unimportant that they can be disregarded and pregnancy and childbirth can be discussed only and exclusively as the issue of developing a fetus into a baby, is operating with a profoundly misogynistic worldview. This is not to say that they are consciously misogynistic, which I believe was your point, but that they have been handed a misogynistic worldview that they have never troubled themselves to examine. Rather like the kind of guy who repeats rape jokes: he may not actually himself be misogynistic, but the worldview which he was handed is pro-rape culture, and he has never troubled himself to examine it.

    But please don’t dismiss them all pro-life/pro-birth people so brusquely.

    Why not? They are dismissing the lives of 70,000 women that brusquely.

    Part of the reason the pro-life movement masquerades as a respectable political movement rather than the foully misogynistic terrorist organisation that it is, is that they have conned so many people into thinking that “pro-life” just means “I think abortions are bad”. How many people who routinely identify themselves as “pro-life” actually think that all abortions ought to be illegal or that under no circumstances ought a pregnant woman be allowed to make the decision for herself?

    Funny, I used to get into arguments with people who’d claim they didn’t believe in abortion after (15, 20, 24 weeks…) because the “baby” had rights after that point. Oddly enough, after Doctor George Tiller was murdered, and woman after woman began standing up to talk about how Doctor Tiller had saved her life by performing a late-term abortion on a fetus that would not have lived past birth, not one of those people responded to the real life effects of their views with “Oh, but those babies had rights!” Not that they were hypocrites, to be fair: they had just literally never thought what the real world reasons could be for a woman deciding she needed an abortion in the third trimester, and in their fantasy land, it seemed much more likely that it would be a woman who’d discovered she didn’t fit into her dress, than a woman who’d discovered her wanted baby had a malformed brain and wasn’t going to live.

  12. William says:

    People with this standpoint, of course, are a minority in the anti-abortion movement. And their opinion IN NO WAY should become law. But please don’t dismiss them all pro-life/pro-birth people so brusquely.

    Do they tithe to churches which support anti-choice initiatives through powerful lobbying arms, thus giving their moral and monetary support to the organizations they fund? Do they parrot the same misogynistic, anti-human rhetoric we see from the rest of their ilk? Do they march at the same marches? Internal consistency doesn’t absolve someone of being fundamentally opposed to human rights, and being acceptable “progressive” on other issues doesn’t mitigate the fact that they hold positions which essentially cast 50% of the population as means to produce more people because God said so. Their reasoning doesn’t matter, period.

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