Sunday, January 22, 2012

Abortion and Contraception: A WHO Study and Implications for Catholic Pro-Lifers

Yesterday, I summed up my reflections on the decision of the Obama administration to support the recommendation of the National Academy of Science's Institute for Medicine to assure access to contraception as part of a comprehensive health care plan for women, when I wrote,

Many of us, in fact, will be applauding the decision of the current administration to assure that women have access to contraceptive coverage in health care plans--if only because, among other reasons, we care about the value of life, and know that increasing access to contraceptives will diminish the abortions that the USCCB and its friends have always claimed they, too, desperately want to diminish at all cost.

In response to my posting, Crystal Watson provided a link to a recent posting of Bryan Cones at the U.S. Catholic blog site.  Cones is reporting on a recent World Health Organization study of abortion rates worldwide.  As this BBC News report on the study indicates, it finds that abortion rates around the world have remained steady at a rate of 28 per 1,000 women per year.  

But the percentage of abortions that entail serious dangers to the lives of women is rising--particularly in the developing sectors of the world, and, specifically, in those nations that have the most restrictive abortion laws.  Another finding of the study is that many nations with the most restrictive abortion laws of all actually show increases in abortion rates in recent years.  

As Bryan Cones notes, these findings should give American pro-lifers cause to stop and think about their strategies vis-a-vis promoting the values of life.  The American Catholic pro-life movement, as led by the U.S. Catholic bishops, has put all of its eggs into the basket of trying to reverse Roe v. Wade and return to the period in which abortion was criminalized in the U.S.

But abundant data from many sectors for many years now have suggested that when abortion is outlawed, women will still seek to have abortions--and while it does not decrease the number of abortions women have, criminalizing abortion significantly increases the danger of abortions.  

And then there's this: as Cones notes, there's a clear link between preventing abortions and permitting women to have access to contraceptives, particularly in the developing parts of the globe in which access to contraceptives has been severely restricted for many women.  Access to contraception prevents unplanned pregnancies and therefore prevents abortions.

Cones concludes, 

But key to reducing abortions must also be preventing unintended pregnancies, especially giving women the power to decide when to conceive (and when not to). If being pro-life means being pro-women and pro-children already born in addition to being pro-unborn life, then perhaps it is time to focus equally on giving women power to decide when to get pregnant in the first place. 

I think that the point Cones makes here is inarguable.  It is intuitively obvious--and abundant empirical data support this conclusion--that broadening women's access to contraception and giving women more control over decisions about their reproductive lives diminishes rather than increases abortions.

And so it has long since seemed incomprehensible to me that those Catholics in the U.S. who argue most loudly that abortion should be the primary litmus test of our political choices, and stopping abortion at all costs should be the primary moral goal of the church at this point in history, also argue against women's access to birth control.  And that these same ardent pro-lifers are now trying to press that point all over again in the debate about the HHS guidelines vis-a-vis contraception.

As I've said before, the only conclusion I can reach--and this is deeply saddening to me--when I look closely at the bishops' rhetoric and that of their media spokespersons about these issues is that they are motivated far less by the desire to serve the values of life as they oppose abortion and contraception, than by the desire to control and demean women.  There's a boys' club mentality woven so deep into the clerical system--and it's shared by the centrist Catholic media gurus who go to bat for the USCCB--that scoring points against women seems to matter more to these old boys than preserving life.

No matter what they say to the contrary.

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