This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee. Preface


Reducing Abortions and Making Them Safe



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Reducing Abortions and Making Them Safe


No one likes abortions. Abortion rights opponents liken them to murder, and abortion rights proponents are certainly not gleeful when abortions occur. Rather, they recognize that abortions will occur whether they are legal or illegal, and they think that legal abortion protects women from the dangers of illegal abortions and recognizes women’s right to control their own bodies. As President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have summarized the view of abortion rights proponents in various speeches during the past two decades, abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.

Chapter 7 "Alcohol and Other Drugs"’s discussion of illegal drugs emphasized that “what’s past is prologue”: Because drugs have been used since prehistoric times, it is no surprise that illegal drug use remains common today even despite possible arrest and punishment. The long history of abortion suggests that “what’s past is prologue” is again a relevant theme for this particular behavior. Since the beginning of recorded history, women have tried to end their pregnancies. Whatever we might think of abortion, the fact remains that many women will continue to try to end their pregnancies whether abortion is legal or whether it is illegal. As with teenage pregnancy and the use of illegal drugs, aharm reduction approach to abortion again makes sense in view of this basic fact, as we shall now explain.

Around the world, the rate of abortion is generally unrelated to whether it is legal or illegal. Laws against abortions thus do not reduce abortions, but they do cause another very serious problem (Barot, 2011). [9] When abortion is illegal, women either must have an abortion from an unskilled provider in unhygienic conditions, or they may try to induce their own abortion by inserting an object into their uterus or by ingesting a toxic substance. Not surprisingly, all these illegal abortions are very risky and can lead to many complications, including severe bleeding, serious infection, or organ damage, any of which can be fatal. Unsafe abortion around the world is one of the top three reasons for maternal mortality, along with childbirth-related infection and hemorrhaging. For abortion to be safe, then, it must be legal. Making abortion illegal does not make abortions disappear, but it does make them dangerous.

Both sides of the abortion debate want to see abortions reduced. How then can this goal be achieved? The most promising strategy is to reduce unintended pregnancies, as discussed in the previous section on teenage pregnancy, through the consistent use of effective contraception. The reason for this strategy is simple: Almost all abortions result from unintended pregnancies, and if we can reduce unintended pregnancies, we will reduce the number of abortions. As the Guttmacher Institute (Barot, 2011, p. 24) [10] explains, “Extensive research shows that behind almost every abortion is an unintended pregnancy, and the most effective way to prevent unintended pregnancy is through correct and consistent use of contraceptives.”

Ironically, the religious opponents and politically conservative opponents of abortion also tend to be opposed to sex education that emphasizes safe sex and, as well, to providing contraceptives at no cost or low cost to sexually active teenagers and young adults. During the past few years, many state governments led by conservative governors and/or state legislatures have reduced or eliminated funding for Planned Parenthood and other family planning agencies whose clients are largely low-income women (Pollitt, 2011; Tan, 2011). [11]

These funding cuts and other efforts to reduce contraceptive counseling and provision have two consequences. First, they help ensure that many more unwanted babies are born, at a cost of roughly $10,000 in medical delivery costs for each baby and thousands of dollars more in the societal problems (discussed in the teenage pregnancy section) associated with unwanted births to poor mothers. In 2011, Texas reduced family planning funds by $73 million annually, despite estimates that this reduction would result in 20,000 additional births annually that would involve $200 million in medical delivery costs.

Second, these efforts also help ensure that more unintended pregnancies and thus more abortions will occur. If, as the Guttmacher Institute reminds us, almost all abortions result from unintended pregnancies, then any efforts by political and religious forces that make it less likely that sexually active people use contraception ironically help increase the number of abortions. Because abortion opponents want to reduce abortions, they should favor additional funding for family planning agencies and for other efforts that increase contraceptive use.

A few numbers indicate the seriousness of the problem. The federal program that funds family planning centers is Title X of the Public Health Services Act. Centers funded by Title X provide contraceptive services and other services to about 4.7 million women annually. The Guttmacher Institute (2011) [12] estimates that these services help prevent 973,000 unintended pregnancies. These pregnancies would have resulted in 433,000 unplanned births and 406,000 abortions. If efforts that have been attempted in Congress to reduce or eliminate Title X funding succeed, these pregnancies and abortions would occur.

Beyond these considerations, it is also important that public funds be available to pay for abortions by low-income women. As noted earlier, Medicaid funding cannot be used for abortions that are not meant to protect the mother’s health or to end a pregnancy from rape or incest, and about two-thirds of the states have eliminated state funding for these abortions. Because only a small proportion of women are poor enough to be covered by Medicaid, restoring Medicaid coverage for all abortions would increase the number of abortions by only 2.5 percent (Gold, 2010). [13]

Although people on both sides of the abortion debate have sincere, strongly held views, a dispassionate analysis based on the discussion in this section leads to the following conclusions. First, if we want abortions to be rare, efforts to promote safe sex and the consistent use of effective contraception must be applauded and funded, not condemned and unfunded. Second, abortions will occur whether or not they are legal; recognizing this fact, if we want abortions to be safe, they must be legal, and restrictions on access to them should be removed.




KEY TAKEAWAYS


  • Abortion continues to be one of the most controversial issues in the United States. Many states have implemented laws and policies that make it difficult to obtain abortions.

  • Several aspects of our social backgrounds predict views on legal abortion. In particular, religiosity is associated with opposition to legal abortion, while education is associated with approval of legal abortion.

  • To reduce the number of abortions, it is necessary to reduce unwanted pregnancies. To ensure that abortions will be safe, they must be legal.



FOR YOUR REVIEW


  1. Do you favor or oppose legal abortion? Does your answer depend on the reasons for which a woman desires an abortion? Write an essay in which you explain your answer.

  2. A major principle of sociology is that social backgrounds influence attitudes and behavior. Write an essay in which you illustrate this principle with regard to attitudes about abortion.

[1] Bullough, V. L., & Bullough, B. (1977). Sin, sickness, and sanity: A history of sexual attitudes. New York, NY: New American Library.

[2] Bullough, V. L., & Bullough, B. (1977). Sin, sickness, and sanity: A history of sexual attitudes. New York, NY: New American Library.

[3] Bullough, V. L., & Bullough, B. (1977). Sin, sickness, and sanity: A history of sexual attitudes. New York, NY: New American Library.

[4] Cohen, S. A. (2009). Facts and consequences: Legality, incidence and safety of abortion worldwide. Guttmacher Policy Review, 12(4), 2–6.

[5] Chamlin, M. B., Myer, A. J., & Sanders, B. A. (2008). Abortion as crime control: A cautionary tale. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 19(2), 135–152; Donohue, J. J., & Levitt, S. D. (2001). The impact of legalized abortion on crime. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 116, 379–420; Kahane, L. H., Paton, D., & Simmons, R. (2008). The abortion-crime link: Evidence from England and Wales. Economica, 75(1), 1–21.

[6] Guttmacher Institute. (2012). An overview of abortion laws. Retrieved on March 31, 2012 at http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_OAL.pdf.

[7] Jones, R. K., & Kooistra, K. (2011). Abortion incidence and access to services in the United States, 2008. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 43, 41–50.

[8] Jones, R. K., & Kooistra, K. (2011). Abortion incidence and access to services in the United States, 2008. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 43, 41–50.

[9] Barot, S. (2011). Unsafe abortion: The missing link in global efforts to improve maternal health. Guttmacher Policy Review, 14(2), 24–28.

[10] Barot, S. (2011). Unsafe abortion: The missing link in global efforts to improve maternal health. Guttmacher Policy Review, 14(2), 24–28.

[11] Pollitt, K. (2011, October 5). Ban birth control? They wouldn’t dare… The Nation. Retrieved from http://www.thenation.com/article/163808/ban-birth-control-they-wouldnt-dare?rel=emailNation; Tan, T. (2011, October 16). Planned Parenthood struggles after state budget cuts. New York Times, p. A29.

[12] Guttmacher Institute. (2011). Title X-supported family planning services nationally and in each state. Retrieved November 4, 2011, fromhttp://www.guttmacher.org/media/inthenews/2011/02/16/index.html.

[13] Gold, R. B. (2010). Insurance coverage and abortion incidence: Information and misinformation. Guttmacher Policy Review, 13(4), 7–10.



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