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Social, medical and other factors that increase or decrease the abortion rate:

Some social, educational, and other factors decrease or increase the abortion rate by altering the numbers of unwanted pregnancies. Other factors affect the abortion rate by making a pregnant woman more or less likely to seek an abortion.

We have a hunch that the vast majority of adults in North America who would like to see the abortion rate reduced, could be far more effective if they focused their effort on changing some of these factors, rather than by attempting to pass restrictive legislation, or demonstrating at abortion clinics:

bulletDecreases abortion rate: The percentage of students in public schools who receive some form of sex-education has been increasing over the past few decades. Studies have shown that sex-ed tends to defer sexual activity among students. This reduces the number of unwanted pregnancies and thus the need for abortions.
bulletIncreases rate:  There is a movement towards sex-education that heavily stresses abstinence until marriage. If abstinence is the only message taught, then those students who decide to become sexually active will not receive information from the sex-ed course on how to prevent conception. This may increase the number of unwanted abortions and thus the number of abortions sought by this group. Of course, many students will obtain contraceptive information from other sources of information: family planning clinics, the Internet, movies, TV programs, etc.
bulletScare tactics:
bulletDecreases rate: Some pro-life groups have been spreading unfounded rumors that abortions are dangerous, often lead to breast cancer, often cause permanent infertility, etc. In fact, the death rate from legal abortions performed in clinics is much lower than the maternal fatality rate giving birth. That is, it is safer for the woman to have an abortion than to proceed to a live birth. There is no generally accepted evidence that breast cancer is caused by abortion. The danger of an improper abortion that leads to infertility is very small.
bulletTime interval between puberty and marriage:
bulletIncreases rate: In the past in North America, and in some other countries of the world today, the time interval between puberty and marriage was measured in weeks or months. Puberty is now occurring at younger ages, and the average age for first marriages is gradually increasing. As a result, the interval between puberty and marriage is now on the order of 15 years. During this time, the vast majority of women become sexually active and risk unwanted pregnancy. Thus, they are more liable to seek an abortion.
bulletFinancial support for single mothers:
bulletIncreases rate: Welfare payments in the past were increased with the birth of each baby. However, many states now cap payments so that the family's standard of living decreases with each birth. Faced with the choice of a lower standard of living or an abortion, many women will chose the latter.
bulletCost of abortions:
bulletDecreases rate: "Since the 1970's, the federal government and most states have severely restricted Medicaid funding for abortion. As a result, low-income women -- who are disproportionately women of color -- often find it difficult or impossible to obtain safe, legal abortions." 1
bulletAvailability of abortion services:
bulletDecreases rate: By 1999, 86% of all counties in the U.S. had no known abortion provider, and only 12% of obs/gyn residency programs required training in first-trimester abortions. Many abortion clinics are picketed by pro-life groups, making access more difficult.
bulletAlternatives to risky behaviors:
bulletDecreases rate: There is a little-studied phenomenon that has recently surfaced among sexually-active youth. Some couples are increasingly engaging in various physical activities that do not involve penile-vagina intercourse -- including massage, cuddling, fondling, oral sex, mutual masturbation, etc.
bulletEmergency contraception:
bulletDecreases rate: "EC" is available in some locations and at some times during the week. These pills help women who have had unprotected intercourse prevent the start of a pregnancy. If all fertile women were aware of the medication, if all pharmacies honored physicians' prescriptions for emergency contraception, and if women kept a stock of EC on hand, then the unwanted pregnancy rate would be greatly decreased. Some sources estimate that the abortion rate could be halved with proper education. However, most women are not aware that EC exists. Also, some pharmacies like the Wal-Mart chain in the U.S. and Canada refuse to stock EC.
bulletIncreases rate: Many pro-lifers have a different definition of pregnancy. They believe that it happens at conception. Since EC can sometimes prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum in the wall of the uterus, some pro-lifers believe that EC is an abortifacient. Thus, with their definition of terms, use of EC increases the abortion rate.
bulletChildless families:
bulletIncreases rate: Some women have decided to remain childless (either for now, or for their entire life). This is more common today as women enter the workforce, seeking a long-term career. If they inadvertently become pregnant, they are more likely to want to terminate the pregnancy.
bulletOne & two child families:
bulletIncreases rate: Many women and their partners have decided to have one or two children during their lifetime. They are keen to have "perfect" babies, and may be more likely to choose to have an abortion if they suspect that the developing embryo or fetus may be genetically defective. Techniques of Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis may be used to detect genetic defects.
bulletGenetically-related couples:
bulletIncreases rate: These are typically first cousins. They sometimes seek abortions because of concerns that their baby will be born with a genetic defect because of the similarities in the parents' DNA. According to a 2002 study, an unrelated couple has a three to four percent risk of having a baby with a birth defect, significant mental retardation or genetic disease. The study found that first cousins run an additional risk of 1.7 to 2.8%. Some couples would consider this increase an acceptable risk, if they knew its magnitude. 2,3 

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  1. "The right to choose: A fundamental liberty," American Civil Liberties Union, at: http://www.aclu.org/library/RightChoose2000.pdf You need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:
  2. "Kissing cousins get the okay," Associated Press, 2002-APR-3. Published in the Toronto Star, 2002-APR-4, Page A1.
  3. Robin Bennett, article in Journal of Genetic Counseling, published by the National Society of Genetic Counselors.

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Copyright 2002 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-FEB-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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