Let's use logic to reduce abortion

Contraceptive use is the only proven way to decrease the need for the procedure

Posted: Friday, May 04, 2007

"You're pregnant." No words in any language can bring a woman more joy or more anguish.

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Will she have an abortion or carry the baby to term? What factors into her decision?

Does it matter whether or not abortion is legal where she lives? No. According to the Guttmacher Institute, which promotes sexual and reproductive health worldwide, statistics show the rate of abortion is generally the same in countries where it is legal, compared to countries where it is illegal.

Outlawing abortion does not prevent women from having the procedure; it only forces them to have clandestine - and dangerous - abortions, which increase the risk of death and injury. According to Guttmacher Institute research, abortion-related deaths are generally lower where the procedure is legal, but many times higher where it is illegal or highly restricted.

Case in point: Abortion-related deaths soared in Romania after the communist regime of Nicolae Ceauescu outlawed abortion in 1966, and deaths dropped when it was legalized after the dictator's overthrow in 1989. Nevertheless, the number of abortions performed remained steady.

Pro-lifers claim that legalizing abortion encourages women to have the procedure. In the Netherlands, where the abortion rate is one of the lowest in the world, the procedure is legal, free and easily available. But in countries such as Peru and Uganda, where it is illegal, the abortion rate is higher than it is in the United States.

Although pro-choicers are often painted as baby-killing extremists, this simply isn't true. The crazy thing is both pro-lifers and pro-choicers agree - yes, agree - that reducing the number of abortions is desirable. The debate is how to achieve that goal. Pro-lifers erroneously believe that restricting or outlawing abortion will stop it. The answer for pro-choicers is a method proven to work: contraception.

Before the invention of the diaphragm in the early 1900s, abortion was the main form of birth control (even though some form of the condom has been around since at least 1000 B.C.). Women were arrested for trying to spread word of the diaphragm, but when it finally caught on, the rate of abortion dropped. Women were less likely to die during childbirth because they were able to space their babies, allowing their bodies to recover from one pregnancy before taking on another. Babies born to these healthier moms were healthier as well.

The lowest abortion rates in the world are in Belgium and the Netherlands, where abortion is legal and provided to women free of charge. Even though sexual activity among unmarried women is high, abortion rates are low because contraceptive use is widespread. These countries are proof that an emphasis on family planning and contraceptive use leads to fewer abortions.

In this country, the federal government spends $176 million a year on abstinence-until-marriage education. A study ordered by Congress and released in April suggests this money is wasted. Results indicate students who participate in abstinence-only programs have sex just as often as their peers who do not.

Now is the time for logic in the abortion debate. The only viable way to lower the abortion rate in this country is to fund, teach and promote the use of all contraceptives. Abstinence-only programs can only lead to a higher abortion rate.

So, why does a woman choose to have, or not to have, an abortion?

Is it because of religious beliefs? No. In the United States, nearly eight in 10 women who have an abortion declare a religious membership (43 percent are Protestant, 27 percent Catholic and 8 percent other religions, according to the Guttmacher Institute). Statistically, the rate of abortion is higher in the Bible Belt, where the form of birth control emphasized is abstinence.

Do women choose abortion for convenience, as pro-lifers would have you believe? In repeated surveys by the Guttmacher Institute, women of every race, age, income and educational background cited concern for or responsibility to other individuals as a factor in their decision. Most viewed the indiscriminate bearing of children as sinful and viewed abortion as a responsible choice.

Restricting or outlawing abortion won't stop women from having the procedure; it will only cause more deaths. Honestly, does that sound pro-life to you?

• Julie Speegle is a Juneau resident.

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