The New York Times catches on to something I’ve been saying for a while:
For proof that criminalizing abortion doesn’t reduce abortion rates and only endangers the lives of women, consider Latin America. In most of the region, abortions are a crime, but the abortion rate is far higher than in Western Europe or the United States. Colombia – where abortion is illegal even if a woman’s life is in danger – averages more than one abortion per woman over all of her fertile years. In Peru, the average is nearly two abortions per woman over the course of her reproductive years.
In all of our endless fighting over abortion law, one never hears the simple fact that making abortion illegal doesn’t stop it. Indeed, as I argued in this post, we don’t know for sure if the rate of abortions in the U.S. is higher now than it was pre-Roe. Estimates of the number of abortions performed in the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s put the number as high as 1.2 million per year. That’s the same approximate number of abortions performed annually in the United States right now, and in a larger population.
Studies of contraceptive practices in several nations before and after legalization reveal no indication that abortion replaces contraceptive use, as some anti-privacy activists claim. On the other hand, there is copious data that shows making contraceptives easily (and legally) available does lower abortion rates. (See “Sharing Responsibility: Women, Society & Abortion Worldwide” [Alan Guttmacher, 1999, PDF].)
The New York Times editorial continues [emphasis added],
In a region where there is little sex education and social taboos keep unmarried women from seeking contraception, criminalizing abortion has not made it rare, only dangerous. Rich women can go to private doctors. The rest rely on quacks or amateurs or do it themselves. Up to 5,000 women die each year from abortions in Latin America, and hundreds of thousands more are hospitalized.
According to the Center for Disease Control, in the U.S. 14 women died as a result of complications from known legal induced abortion in 1998 and 1999. The mortality rate related to abortion in the U.S. is <1 death per 100,000 abortions. This is a much lower mortality rate than for pregnancy — in 1999, says the CDC, there were 12 deaths resulting from pregnancy per 100,000 live births.
Every time news media carries a story about an American woman dying after an abortion you can count on the anti-privacy army to march forth screaming that abortions are medically risky and must be banned. This, of course, would make abortion a whole lot more risky, but try to explain that to the Fetus People. Just try. It’s like explaining algebra to spinach.
Back to the New York Times editorial:
Latin American women, who are increasing their participation in the work force and in politics, have also become more vocal. Their voice would be much louder were it not for the Bush administration’s global gag rule, which bans any family planning group that gets American money from speaking about abortions, or even criticizing unsafe illegal abortions. This has silenced such respected and influential groups as Profamilia in Colombia. Anti-abortion lawmakers in Washington can look at Latin America as a place where the global gag rule has worked exactly as they had hoped. All Americans can look at Latin America to see unnecessary deaths and injuries from unsafe abortions.
You aren’t going to budge the anti-abortion lawmakers with sordid tales of maternal mortality, of course, because they don’t care if women die. It’s more important to control women’s behavior and punish them for being sexual than to care about their health and well-being. But the majority of Americans favor keeping abortion legal. And making abortion illegal doesn’t stop it. So, one might ask — what are we arguing about, again?
Here’s what we’re arguing about:
Next week the SCOTUS confirmation hearings for Sam Alito will begin. NARAL is sending out a fact sheet on Alito and birth control saying that Alito considers some birth control methods — such as birth control pills, the contraceptive ring, the IUD (intrauterine device), and the birth control patch — to be “abortifacient” rather than contraceptive. He has also argued in favor of requiring women seeking abortions to be given misleading and counter-factual anti-reproductive-rights propaganda. Alito “appears to question the competence of women to make their own choices,” the fact sheet says. “Alito urges that the state become the moral guide of the woman facing a crisis pregnancy, that the bedrock principle of informed consent be twisted beyond all recognition into a political instrument.”
Alito is one more right-wing control freak who doesn’t trust you to live your own life. It’s not about babies (states with the most restrictive abortion laws tend to have higher infant mortality rates than more liberal states). It’s not about women’s health. It’s not about conscience. It’s about control.