In Mississippi, an abortion bill is working its way through the state legislature. It would restrict abortions to the first fifteen weeks of pregnancy. Pro-lifers celebrate this as one more step towards the total abolition of the procedure. Pro-choicers bemoan this as yet one more measure that will shackle women to their biology and reduce them to potentially unwilling baby-makers.
But what is little discussed is what anti-abortion measures do to the abortion rate.
What do I mean? Let me explain. Before the national legalization of abortion, it was left up to states to decide their abortion laws. Four states, New York, Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska, permitted abortion ‘on demand’. A full thirty banned the procedure under any circumstances — including the health of the mother.
In an anomaly, the South in the sixties was more reasonable about abortions in the case of rape, incest, fetal deformity than New England was.
Today the anti-abortion activists would be delighted to have an America much the same as it was pre-Roe. Except they ignore one statistic — the abortion rate. Banning legal abortion only reduces the legal abortion rate. Women who want an abortion will still likely find access to one.
The Guttmacher Institute, a center for the study of reproduction in America, extrapolated data from one state to estimate the number of illegal abortions in America before legalization. Here are the results reported in Scientific American
extrapolating data from North Carolina to the nation as a whole, 699,000 illegal abortions occurred in the U.S. during 1955, and 829,000 illegal procedures were performed in 1967.
Other estimates have the number as high as 1.2 million annually.
The lesson is simple. If you want to reduce abortions, you have to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. And it is here that the anti-abortion crowd either drops the ball — if you want to be charitable — or displays its disdain for women — if you're going to be more accurate.
If they were serious about protecting women, they would promote effective sex ed and free access to contraception. A bowl of condoms in every classroom at the very least.
But instead — under the guise of religious freedom and biblical morality — they do everything to make it difficult and expensive for women to get contraception. And to ice that hate-cake they promote ‘abstinence-only’ sex ed.
Teens and young adults have sex. They always have. Evolution has selected for active libidos. It is shocking hypocritical for adults who casually commit adultery and addictively pay for commercial sex to expect better impulse control in youth (yes, I’m talking about you, David Vitter).
When you restrict legal abortion without addressing the causes of unwanted pregnancies, you neither protect women nor significantly reduce abortion. What you do is promote the dangerous backstreet version of the procedure or push women into self-induction.
You cannot claim to be ‘pro-life’ when your policies do nothing to achieve their stated aim while they simultaneously put the lives of women at risk.