Some Things Can’t Be Legislated Away

This isn’t actually news — I’ve been ranting about it for years (such as here and here) — but it’s in the news. Elisabeth Rosenthal writes in yesterday’s New York Times

A comprehensive global study of abortion has concluded that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women seeking it.

Moreover, the researchers found that abortion was safe in countries where it was legal, but dangerous in countries where it was outlawed and performed clandestinely. Globally, abortion accounts for 13 percent of women’s deaths during pregnancy and childbirth, and there are 31 abortions for every 100 live births, the study said.

The results of the study, a collaboration between scientists from the World Health Organization in Geneva and the Guttmacher Institute in New York, a reproductive rights group, are being published Friday in the journal Lancet.

Other points made in the study:

The most effective way to reduce the rate of abortion is not to make abortion illegal, but to make contraception widely available.

In Eastern Europe, where contraceptive choices have broadened since the fall of Communism, the study found that abortion rates have decreased by 50 percent, although they are still relatively high compared with those in Western Europe. “In the past we didn’t have this kind of data to draw on,” Ms. Camp said. “Contraception is often the missing element” where abortion rates are high, she said. …

… In Uganda, where abortion is illegal and sex education programs focus only on abstinence, the estimated abortion rate was 54 per 1,000 women in 2003, more than twice the rate in the United States, 21 per 1,000 in that year. The lowest rate, 12 per 1,000, was in Western Europe, with legal abortion and widely available contraception.

Where abortion is illegal, it is unsafe.

The study indicated that about 20 million abortions that would be considered unsafe are performed each year and that 67,000 women die as a result of complications from those abortions, most in countries where abortion is illegal. …

… Some countries, like South Africa, have undergone substantial transitions in abortion laws in that time. The procedure was made legal in South Africa in 1996, leading to a 90 percent decrease in mortality among women who had abortions, some studies have found.

Abortion is illegal in most of Africa, though. It is the second-leading cause of death among women admitted to hospitals in Ethiopia, its Health Ministry has said. It is the cause of 13 percent of maternal deaths at hospitals in Nigeria, recent studies have found.

Anti-abortion activists are full of crap:

[Randall K. O’Bannon, director of education and research at the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund in Washington] said that the major reason women die in the developing world is that hospitals and health systems lack good doctors and medicines. “They have equated the word ‘safe’ with ‘legal’ and ‘unsafe’ with ‘illegal,’ which gives you the illusion that to deal with serious medical system problems you just make abortion legal,” he said.

Let’s repeat one example from above: “The procedure was made legal in South Africa in 1996, leading to a 90 percent decrease in mortality among women who had abortions, some studies have found.”

Guttmacher has been tracking the correlation between illegal abortion and high rates of death and medical complication from abortion for many years. And one would think even an idiot would understand that where women are trying to abort by flushing themselves with corrosive chemicals or sticking sharp and unsterilized objects into themselves, it is likely to be dangerous. But one cannot underestimate the abject brainlessness of Fetus People.

The researchers used national data for 2003 from countries where abortion was legal and therefore tallied. W.H.O. scientists estimated abortion rates from countries where it was outlawed, using data on hospital admissions for abortion complications, interviews with local family planning experts and surveys of women in those countries.

In other words, if women are showing up in hospitals because they are septic or mutilated from a back-alley abortion, it’s not too much of a stretch to conclude that women are getting back-alley abortions. Unless you are one of the Fetus People; in that case, you will likely conclude something utterly off the wall and unrelated.

However, outlawing abortion can have the effect of driving it so far underground that many people (unless they work in hospital emergency rooms) can pretend it isn’t happening, even though it is. And pretending is better than reality for righties. Of course, there is also the daughter effect — having a daughter of reproductive age tends to have a liberalizing effect on a man’s views on reproductive rights. (See also “Oh, the Humanity” — the anti-abortion rights position is based on an assumption that women aren’t real people — especially women who get abortions.)

As Scott Lemieux says,

If the goal of abortion [law] is to protect fetal life, criminalization is at best an ineffective and grossly inequitable means of achieving this goal, and the bundle of policies favoring reproductive freedom (including legal abortion) generally produces lower abortion rates than the illegal abortion-no rational sex ed-limited access to contraception-threadbare welfare state usually favored by the American forced pregnancy lobby. If, on the other hand, you’re in it more for the injuring women than for the protection of fetal life, then criminalizing abortion makes good sense.

Finally, from the New York Times article,

The Bush administration’s multibillion-dollar campaign against H.I.V./AIDS in Africa has directed money to programs that promote abstinence before marriage, and to condoms only as a last resort. It has prohibited the use of American money to support overseas family planning groups that provide abortions or promote abortion as a method of family planning.

Which means we might as well be flushing those multibillion dollars down a toilet.

8 thoughts on “Some Things Can’t Be Legislated Away

  1. Maha,
    How about the “Son Effect?”
    Dad: “Son, did you get any last night? Heh, heh, heh…”

    Son: “No Dad, but Sis did!”
    Dad: “Girl, come here this instant, you little tramp!”

    I’m a male, in case you haven’t guessed before. And I think WE, men, are the root of all evil. Subjugation of women is at the root of much religious and cultural thought and practice. It’s not all of it, but a lot of it.
    And it’s not all of us, of course. Only the ones with little… little… How can I say it? You know, the guy’s who drive huge pick-up’s and carry nothing in the bed.
    Iguess that describes it best – “guy’s who carry nothing in the bed” are the ones responsible.

    Sorry, just trying to provide some levity to a very serious subject…

    Maha, the numbers you qoute speak volumes. Keep on talkin’!

  2. Thanks for the factual information. I belong to a list and from time to time some wingnut will go off topic to vent about abortion (or whatever). I always counter with a factual, sourced arguement, (frequenly cribbed from here) which usually causes them to counter with personal attacks. Most often, I will repeat the facts, and point out that they failed to address the issue they brought up in the first place. They know full well that I don’t intent to convert them; I am pitching to the folks on the list who are going to vote in just over a year.

  3. I don’t expect this comprehensive study will change many, if any, hardcore rightwinger minds. Can’t allow pesky facts to mess with their heads.

  4. ironranger–

    Who can trust facts, after all? It is well-known that facts have a liberal bias.

  5. dr. luba:
    Oops. Even after 7 years of indocrination, I still can’t get orwellspeak. It’s so confusing to remember up is down, facts are fiction & reality is opinion.

  6. I clicked on the last link in Maha’s post. It’s an excellent article, well worth reading. It ended with:

    “..if changes aren’t made we must presume that he [Bush] cares more about gaining a political edge than African lives.”

    Duh! Junior care more about gaining a political edge than American lives.

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