Changing the Conversation on Abortion

If we can agree that data and facts exist and that we can use data and facts to prove things, then let’s talk about abortion.

Something that has been proven (here, and here) is that no matter what, women will always get abortions. Making abortion illegal does nothing to deter women from seeking out the procedure. As reported by the Guttmacher Center for Population Research Innovation and Dissemination - highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates. In fact, the data shows that the rate of abortions for countries where the procedure is prohibited by law is 37 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, whereas it is 34 per 1,000 women of childbearing age in countries where the procedure is available upon request. This is a very insignificant difference, but even if you take the difference into account, there are less abortions in the countries where it is available upon request (source).

If we genuinely want to reduce the number of abortions - which, as someone who is passionately pro-choice, I agree we should aim to do - then we need to talk about preventing pregnancy, not about preventing abortion itself.

There is recent evidence that shows that education around family planning, does in fact reduce abortion rates. In the US, the abortion rate dropped 14% between 2011 and 2014, reaching a record low. Evidence suggests that this is due to fewer unintended pregnancies (and not restrictive laws), as well over 60% of the decline occurred in states that have not seen restrictive legislation (source).

In addition, we know that most women who are having abortions did not intend to get pregnant, and that “81% of unintended pregnancies in developing countries occurred among women who have an unmet need for modern contraception” (source). Which means that if we can meet the need for contraception, we can reduce unintended pregnancies, and thus reduce abortions.

With all this information, it is incredibly disappointing and dangerous that Trump has now enacted the global gag rule (GGR). The global gag rule was first put in place in 1984 by the Reagan administration, and it has been removed, and reenacted by different presidents since then. Trump reinstated it almost immediately after taking office. This policy “prohibits foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that receive U.S. family planning funds from advocating for abortion or providing abortion as a method of family planning” (source). This leaves the international reproductive rights community in an urgent state where there are only two viable options - quickly secure alternate funds, or close down all abortion related education, advocacy, counselling, and related work. The second of the two options is known to cause grave harm to women, not just through an increase in unsafe abortions, but also through reduced sexual safety.

The GGR has been shown to lead to reduced access to condoms and to sexual health services generally. “For example, during the Clinton Administration, the Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association received 426,000 condoms over two years from USAID. When the GGR went back into effect in 2001 [under the Bush administration], USAID had to suspend condom shipments to Lesotho because Planned Parenthood was the only provider of condoms in that country. At the time condom shipments were ceased, one in four women in Lesotho was infected with HIV” (source).

We need to understand that focusing solely on the prevention of abortion (instead of the prevention of pregnancy), will inevitably put women’s lives at risk. The mortality rate of safe abortions is incredibly low at 0.7 deaths per 100,000 procedures (source). Meanwhile, the mortality rate of unsafe abortions is a staggering 30 deaths per 100,000 procedures (source). If we know that making abortion illegal does nothing to stop abortion, and we know that unsafe abortions are killing women globally, then we need to be honest with ourselves and admit that we are effectively killing women by making abortion illegal. We have the facts, we have the data, we KNOW what the result of making abortion illegal will be. Making abortion illegal could not be any less “pro-life”.

As I said from the beginning, I agree that reducing the number of abortions is a good goal. I don’t want any women to have to go through any preventable medical procedures (even if they are low risk). However, we need to get real about what is going to reduce the number of abortions, while also protecting women’s lives from the dangers of unsafe abortions.

We need to ensure that abortion remains safe and legal while we also:

  1. Work to improve education around family planning and contraceptives
  2. Ensure contraceptives remain affordable and covered by health insurance
  3. Ensure a variety of contraception options are available (both hormonal and non hormonal)
  4. Increase research for a viable male contraceptive pill (men currently only have one contraception option available to them - condoms, putting the burden on women alone to prevent pregnancy)
  5. Ensure organizations doing this work continue to receive adequate funding

With the GGR in effect, and American politicians working hard to defund Planned Parenthood, I would ask you to consider joining me in donating to one of the following organizations: