Monday, November 24, 2008

How to Reduce Abortions? Prevent Unintended Pregnancies in the First Place

There was a steady drumbeat of articles last week calling for new common ground on abortion in light of the election of a pro-choice President. Articles quotes such anti-choice religious leaders as David Gushee, Jim Wallis, Professor Kmeic, and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good as calling in Gushee's words in the Baptist Press for "reducing the demand for abortion" by expanding adoption services and providing pregnant women with health care, child care, and education.

Missing from every one of these calls was a call to work to prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place through sexuality education and contraceptive services.

These leaders use the Guttmacher Institute's research that shows that women often choose abortion for financial reasons and that poverty impacts the abortion rate. But what they fail to mention, is that it first affects the unintended pregnancy rate: that poor women are at least five times more likely to become pregnant unintentionally.

Here's what Guttmacher Institute's Susan Cohen wrote the last time this abortion reduction strategy was floated by Democrats for Life in 2006:

While it is theoretically possible that increased social supports for pregnant women and even more “adoption-positive” problem-pregnancy counseling could have some impact, neither can hope to approach the real reductions in the abortion rate that could be achieved by preventing unintended pregnancy in the first place.

That's what the science says -- and I also think it's the moral position. I've worked with thousands of women facing unintended pregnancies. They aren't looking for "abortion on demand"; with less than a handful of exceptions, they sat with me (and often their partners or their parents) and wept as they tried to decide what was best to do. They often did have financial concerns, but they were rarely short term (how would I pay for prenatal care or infant care?) but rather about how they could afford to raise a child (or in many cases another child in a family that already had them) to adulthood. And they too often didn't have partners who they wanted to spend their lives with or who could support them. In the words of one of colleagues, "they had too much responsibility already and too few resources, both personal and economic."

So, here's my suggestion for common ground. Let's stop talking about reducing the numbers of abortions as a goal by itself, and let's start talking as a country about reducing unintended pregnancies in the first place. We'll work with you to make sure that every pregnant woman who wants to carry her pregnancy to term can afford to do so and you'll work with us to reduce the number of women and couples who have to face an unintended, unplanned, and often unwanted pregnancy.

Sounds like a plan.

Hopefully the one that the Obama administration and the new Congress (as well as my evangelical colleagues) will adopt.


Bill Baar said...

That's a Bill Clinton plan... and Bill Clinton a good example of how hard it can be manage urges.

There is a moral issue and people concerned with moral questions should not dance around it.

What is the moral status of a fetus and can the government compel a woman to take the risks for carrying her child to term vs abortion.

The plan does nothing to answer that question.

Anonymous said...

Margaret Sanger opposed abortion. Instead, she argued, if safe and effective birth control methods and devices are freely available to all who desire them, there would be no need for abortion.

Anonymous said...

Bravo! I do not understand how others DON'T understand that women usually don't terminate a pregnancy that is intended but that a high number of women who experience an unplanned pregnancies terminate. I agree that if we want to reduce abortion then we need to focus on reducing the unintended pregnancies in this country. Thank you for stating it so clearly!

Anonymous said...

You make a good point that birth control is key to this discussion. That's why many of these new leaders are supporting the Ryan-Delauro bill that includes birth control and sex ed as part of the package. And, even though some leaders are only supporting the Pregnant Women Support Act (which doesn't include birth control), isn't more funding for pregnant women and children a good thing? Does something have to be perfect to be useful?

Steve Caldwell said...

The reduction of abortion demand through education has been done successfully in many European nations.

Here's a link to a video clip about this on this from the Advocates for Youth web site:

Bill Baar said...

Your all dodging the moral question though.

If we only have one abortion during the year, is it moral?

Volumen doesn't count.

If we refuse to tackle that question, we're not serious.. least about morality and ethics and the difficult decisions when rights clash... unless we believe unborn have no rights what so ever...

either way we need to say.

Debra W. Haffner said...

Anonymous, I'd rather people support the PREVENTION FIRST Act, which puts the emphasis on helping people prevent pregnancies in the first place. But, yes, it's positive that at least some anti-choice people are giving up on trying to overturn Roe -- and yes, I believe pregnant women who want to go to term deserve supports.

And Bill, we address the value of fetal life in our Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion As A Moral Decision. Have you read it? It's at