Reducing the U.S. abortion rate
Reducing the abortion rate by
minimizing unwanted pregnancies
Past activity by the pro-life and pro-choice movements:
Prior to the 1973 Roe v Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, individual
states had conflicting laws governing abortion access: some were highly
restrictive; others more permissive. The court's decision made abortions freely
available throughout the U.S. during the first trimester -- the first three
months of pregnancy. It
did allow individual states to place increasing restrictions during the second
trimester and additional restrictions during the third trimester. However, it required that women have access to an abortion at
any stage of pregnancy if they needed it for "health" reasons. Over time, the health exception became very broadly
The court decision galvanized the pro-life movement to try to find a way to
restrict abortions; some pro-lifers want to eliminate abortion access entirely,
even if was needed to save the life of the woman. Others would allow abortions
to save the woman's life. Still others would allow them in a few other situations: e.g. rape, incest, or to prevent very serious health consequences
like permanent disability.
Their effort has not been
notably successful. Laws have been passed to make abortions more difficult to obtain and to make the transportation of a minor across state lines to have an abortion a criminal act.
The abortion rate has been in a slow decline in recent years.
However, this reduction appears to be caused primarily by other factors -- most notably
fear of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), increased use of contraception, and adopting less risky alternatives to
sexual intercourse. Meanwhile, the pro-choice movement has continued to try to make abortions available to all women.
More recently, debate over D&X pregnancy termination
(a.k.a. Partial Birth Abortion, PBA) surfaced. In rare instances, it is
needed to avoid very serious health consequences to women. A federal law and
many state laws were passed to severely restrict the practice. The pro-choice
movement supported the continued availability of this procedure. However, the
D&X procedure is seen as uncomfortably close to infanticide by much of the
public. This placed the pro-choice movement in a bad light.
A new trend, promoted mainly by the pro-choice movement:
During his 1996 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton said that he wanted a
culture in which abortion was "safe, legal, and rare." This resonated
with many American adults who feel uncomfortable with the concept of abortion,
yet also feel that women should be able to terminate their pregnancies safely in at least some
In 2005-JAN, on the 32nd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, Senator
Hillary Clinton stunned the pro-choice community with a suggestion that an
abortion was a "sad, even tragic choice" for a woman. She further
recommended that it was time for pro-choicers to seek "common ground" with
the pro-life movement. 1 Many
felt that this suggestion was a bit of a stretch. Pro-lifers and pro-choicers
had specialized in distorting each other's activities, goals, and viewpoints for
decades. Working with the "enemy" appeared to many to be impossible.
Over the next two years, many Democratic legislators and pro-choice leaders
have started to agree with Hillary Clinton's call for cooperation between
the two warring factions. Jodi Enda wrote:
"After decades of battling strictly for abortion rights ... pro choice
leaders have settled on a new tack: prevention. The best way to reduce the
need for abortion, they remind us, is to prevent unintended pregnancies."
Almost half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended and unexpected. Almost half of them end in an abortion.
A potential problem: opposition to the use of
The reason why women seek an abortion is obvious:
they do so because they are pregnant and don't want to be. Preventing
unwanted pregnancies will reduce the number of abortions. However, this requires
either the use of contraception, or the practice of abstinence. The latter has
not proven to be particularly effective. Abstinence programs in schools do
appear to delay teens' first sexual experience slightly. However, when they do
become sexually active -- at about 16 years of age on average -- many lack the
the knowledge of how prevent STD transmission and pregnancy.
In addition, abstinence has a failure rate in excess of 90% in that almost all young
people become sexually active before marriage.
That leaves contraception. To be most effective, a
contraceptive-based abortion reduction program would require that:
|Contraceptives be free or easily affordable by
|Contraceptives be easily obtained by anyone
|All adolescents be trained in their proper
use, starting well before their first sexual experience.|
|Parents be supported more financially and with
Some countries in Europe
have implemented this type of program. The public in France, Germany, and the
Netherlands expect teens to become sexually active and employ safer sex
techniques to protect themselves
against pregnancy and STD. If the Dutch attitudes on human sexuality were
adopted by the
U.S., the rate of abortions by American teens might be reduced from 27.5 per
1,000 adolescents per year to something like the Dutch figure of 4.5 -- a
reduction of 85%. This would
cause a reduction on the order of 200,000 abortions per year!
Contraception has wide acceptance in the U.S.: The
National Survey of Family Growth, 2002, reported that among sexually
active women aged 15 to 44, the following percentages of women have used modern
contraceptive methods, like the birth control pill, condoms, IUD, etc: 2
||% who have used modern contraception
|No religious affiliation
However, not everyone is in favor of the use of contraceptives, particularly when it
||Among Roman Catholics: The Roman Catholic hierarchy is unalterably opposed
to the use of such contraceptive methods. They teach their concept of natural law in
which every act of sexual
intercourse must be open to conception and the creation of new human life.
However, the Catholic laity appears to have rejected the church's teachings. Among sexually active Roman Catholic women:
||97% of those over 18 years of age
have used a contraception
method banned by the church. The average for all American women is also 97%.|
|85% have had their partners use condoms.|
|78% have used the birth control pill.|
||88% of married women who attend church once a
week or more have used a method banned by the church. For those who attend
church less often, the number is also 88%.|
|Fewer than 3% use church-approved
fertility awareness-based methods as
their primary form of family planning. Of those women who try this method,
about half abandon it within the first year. 2|
Among conservative protestants:
Many Christian fundamentalists and other evangelicals:|
|Are keen to preserve the "purity" of their teenage children; i.e. to
keep their children sexually inactive until marriage.|
||Consider pre-marital sex to be one a very serious sins.|
||Oppose the use of the Gardasil® vaccine to protect their children
against genital human papillomavirus (HPV) -- the primary cause of cervical cancer.
Many believe that if young people feel safe from HPV and cervical cancer, they will be more prone to engage in pre-marital sex.|
|Oppose comprehensive sex education in the schools that educate
teens in methods of preventing STD and pregnancy, in addition to promoting
Their rationale appears to be that if the various risks of sexual activity
remain high, then fewer youths will decide to become sexually active.
The future of joint activity by the pro-lifer and pro-choice movements:
Since any program to drastically reduce the number of abortions by minimizing
unwanted pregnancies would have to involve comprehensive education of
adolescents starting before they become sexually active, some people in the pro-life movement may
be unwilling to participate in any joint programs.
We suspect that finding "common ground" may prove to be very difficult. Many
of the leadership in the pro-life movement view any use of contraception to be a
major sin, unless it is a church-approved method based on fertility awareness
and is used by a married couple. Other pro-lifers are strongly opposed to any
program that supplies adolescents with information to avoid pregnancy and STDs.
Indications of resistance to joint effort by the pro-life community:
One indication of the resistance of the pro-life movement to reducing
abortions by reducing unwanted pregnancies was heard on the Eternal Word
Television Network (EWTN) broadcast on 2007-JAN-23 during the 34th Annual
March for Life in Washington, DC. Two speakers made a point of mentioning that
their goal is not to reduce the number of abortions; it is to eliminate
Another was an article in Life Site News attacking the Democrats in
Washington for promoting what LifeSite calls a "Plan to promote more
contraception and thereby make pro-lifers look like hypocritical extremists."
Joseph D'Agustino, of the Population Research Institute writes about the Democratic legislators:
"Now that they have taken control of our national legislature, they must
appear to care about reducing abortion while not doing anything that would
actually reduce abortion and alienate their fanatically pro-death base, and
at the same time isolate truly pro-life Americans in the minds of the
so-called 'abortion grays'."
"These are American voters who have qualms about abortion but do not wish it
outlawed, and are thus susceptible to appeals from either side of the
abortion divide. Most abortion grays view as unpleasantly extremist both
the NARAL, Barbara Boxer types who embrace even partial-birth abortion and
principled anti-abortion activists who believe every single unborn child
should be saved however inconvenient he [sic] may be."
"Because of Roe v. Wade and political realities, banning most abortions is
not on congressional pro-lifers' agenda for the time being, so pro-abortion
forces have found another way to do harm, in more ways than one. Their
approach could not only divide and demonize pro-lifers, but would spread
disease among youth, increase their psychic distress, and inflate the number
"The Dems’ plan is to promote contraception as a means of reducing abortion
and watch pro-lifers, who know contraception increases abortion, squirm as
the media portrays any opposition to more federal funding for contraceptive
programs as hypocritical extremism on the part of pro-lifers."
- Joni Enda, "Prevention drives today's prochoice agenda," Conscience
magazine, Winter 2006/2007, Pages 11 & 12.
- "The facts tell the story:
Catholics and Contraception," Catholics for a Free Choice, at:
- Joseph D'Agustino, "Democrats plans for
dividing and demonizing pro-lifers. Plan to promote more contraception and
thereby make pro-lifers look like hypocritical extremists," LifeSiteNews.com,
Copyright © 2007 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2007-JAN-22
Latest update: 2012-MAR-14
Author: B.A. Robinson