Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Contraception and Legal Abortions Save Women's Lives Globally: Speak Out

Yesterday, I was at a meeting of the United Nations Foundation. The Religious Institute is a new grantee of the UN Foundation and will be developing a new initiative to engage U.S. religious leaders and people of faith in advocating for international sexual and reproductive health.

I was inspired by the other grantees' projects and commitments.

I was reminded again this morning why this work is so important. The Guttmacher Institute has published a new study, "Abortion Worldwide: A Decade of Uneven Progress." Read it here at

In brief, the study found that global contraceptive use is contributing to a significant decrease in the number of unintended pregnancies, and thus a decline in the number of abortions. The unintended pregnancy rate declined from 69 per 1000 in 1995 to 55 per 1000 in 2008. That's still too high, but provides clear evidence that there must be more U.S. and global support for family planning programs. And not surprisingly, Guttmacher found evidence that abortion rates fall when unintended pregnancies go down.

It's a wonder, then, that anti-abortion groups aren't working FOR contraception rather than against it.

But more, they need to know that making abortion illegal or having it highly restricted does NOT decrease the number of abortions. In a somewhat surprising funding, Guttmacher discovered that abortion occurs at roughly equal rates regardless of its legal status.

There is a difference, though: where abortion is illegal, women die. To be more precise, an estimated 70,000 women DIE each year from unsafe abortions, and an additional five million experience serious medical effects.

EVERY ONE OF THOSE 70,000 WOMEN'S DEATH IS PREVENTABLE through safe and legal abortion services and high quality, post-abortion medical care.

I don't see how any anti-abortion advocate could dare to use the term "pro-life" in the face of these statistics.

Outraged? Get involved. If you are a religious leader, endorse our Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion As A Moral Decision. If you are a person of faith, join our newsletter list to find out more about the plans we have for an "International Women's Health Sabbath" later this fall. Write the White House and Congress about your support for international family planning. Speak out.


Unknown said...

I read your post.

You start out by celebrating the fact that contraceptive use is up and unwanted pregnancy is down. Good.

Next, you point out that laws restricting abortion access do not lower the abortion rate. Good.

Then, you discuss the fact that 70,000 women die each year after procuring an illegal abortion. It is, of course, tragic that so many women die but I urge you to consider the fact that many of these women would have died even if abortion were legal. Do you realize that 536,000 women die every year in pregnancy or childbirth? That's 466,000 over and above those who sought illegal abortions. These women didn't die because they did anything illegal. They died because they were unfortunate enough to live in a country that doesn't provide women adequate health care.

We're looking at a problem that runs much deeper than legal barriers to abortion -- we're looking a person's right to have her health protected. That is definitely a Pro-Life issue!

I'll bet you didn't realize that the safest place in the world for a woman to be pregnant is in Ireland -- and Ireland doesn't allow abortion. A woman in the US is 11 times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy complications than a woman in Ireland. How does a country with restrictive laws manage to keep its women safe? Ireland makes gynecological, obstetric and prenatal care affordable and convenient. That's the way to save lives!

Finally, you urge religious people to endorse An Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion As A Moral Decision. I'm not going to sign.

On the one hand you say, "Religious traditions have different beliefs on the value of fetal life, often according greater value as fetal development progresses. Science, medicine, law, and philosophy contribute to this understanding. However, we uphold the teaching of many religious traditions: the health and life of the woman must take precedence over the life of the fetus."

But on the other hand you also say, "No government committed to human rights and democracy can privilege the teachings of one religion over another. No single religious voice can speak for all faith traditions on abortion, nor should government take sides on religious differences. Women must have the right to apply or reject the principles of their own faith without legal restrictions. We oppose any attempt to make specific religious doctrine concerning abortion the law for all Americans or for the women of the world."

Can't you see the contradiction? You want to uphold the doctrine that fetal rights are inferior to maternal rights. A lot of people do, and the society is at odds on the question of whether or not your doctrine is correct. It has to be correct, or it has to be incorrect. We can't tolerate a 'pluralism' that empowers people to make up their own mind about who has rights and who doesn't. Once you do that, you remove the platform upon which social justice is built.

Pit your doctrine against mine. Disagree with me. Participate in the national discourse about whether to expand human rights to include the unborn -- but don't imagine that it can be satisfactory for everyone to make up her/his own mind on the issue.

Paul Bradford
Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

Holly S said...

It's easy to agree that adequate health care for pregnant women is important for all and lacking for many. But the statistics Paul presents are merely subterfuge in this discussion. Women will seek abortions whether or not they are safe and legal, and whether health care is accessible or not. Illegal abortion is often unsafe, so women's health is endangered when abortion is illegal.

Paul's mind won't be changed about maternal v. fetal rights, so I won't spend any time arguing this point.