Reducing the U.S. abortion rate by
reducing unwanted pregnancies
Pro-life & pro-choice history. Difficulty
of joint effort.
Opposition to contraception usage.
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
This 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. Many others would allow abortions, but only
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 a woman's permanent disability.
Their effort has not been
notably successful. Laws have been passed:
- To make abortions more difficult to obtain.
- To criminalize the transportation of a minor across state lines to have an abortion a criminal act.
- To require women under the age of 18 to obtain parental agreement for an abortion.
- To impose requirements on women's clinics that provide abortion that are so onerous that many such clinics have had to shut down.
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 infections (STIs), 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. This is a procedure used late in pregnancy. 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. Both the pro-life and pro-choice movements
had specialized in distorting each other's activities, goals, and viewpoints for
decades. Many felt that working with the "enemy" would be difficult to impossible to achieve.
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. About 42% of those pregnancies are terminated by 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 would 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-only 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 STI 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
who is or plans to be sexually active.
||All adolescents be trained in their proper
use, starting well before they become sexually active.
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 to employ safer sex
techniques to protect themselves
against pregnancy and STI. 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! To the pro-life movement, this would mean that about a fifth of a million murders would be avoided.
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 -- called "natural family planning" -- 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 a very serious sin.
Oppose the use of the Gardasil® vaccine to protect their children
against genital human papillomavirus (HPV). This the primary cause of cervical cancer which is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths among women.
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 STI transmission and pregnancy, as well as promoting
abstinence. Many religious conservatives sincerely believe that if such information is provided, that students will be more likely to become sexually active. Many studies show the opposite, but are generally rejected by religious conservatives.
Their rationale appears to be that if the various risks of sexual activity
remain high, then youths will be afraid of engaging in sex. Thus, fewer youths will decide to become sexually active.
- Joni Enda, "Prevention drives today's pro-choice 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 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2007-JAN-22
Latest update: 2013-OCT-17
Author: B.A. Robinson