Understanding the nuances of abortion and birth control

Photo by Brenda Lin

On February 27, Vice President Mike Pence said that, “[we can], in our time, restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law,” essentially implying abortion will no longer be legal.

Abortion has been legal in all of the United States since 1973 with the decision of Roe v. Wade which allowed women more control over their bodies and lives. Based on the 2001 Donohue and Levitt study, legalized abortion was found to lower crime rates 18-24 years after becoming available because children from unwanted pregnancies were more likely to grow up to be criminals.

The illegal termination of pregnancies also drastically increases the chance of complications and death for the mother as they are less likely to seek out medical attention. In recent years, the Texas legislature passed House Bill 2 which requires admitting privileges at local hospitals for doctors and upgraded facilities, citing women’s health and safety as the reasons for these stricter guidelines.

The mortality rate for legally induced abortion is about 15 times lower than giving birth and the rate of complications is also significantly lowered. However, the same regulations were not imposed on birthing centers outside of hospitals. This disparity clearly shows the goal of the legislation was not to improve women’s health but prevent such clinics from operating and putting women at risk.

Abortion is currently illegal in the Dominican Republic including in cases of rape, incest and when a mother’s life is in danger. This law lead to the death of a pregnant sixteen year old who was denied cancer treatment because it would terminate her pregnancy. She died in her thirteenth week of pregnancy after a miscarriage. A law meant to protect life resulted in the death of two children because it lacks nuance. Even if everyone wanted abortion to be illegal, there need to be exceptions that would prevent the tragic loss of even more lives.

Assuming we truly want to abortion to end “in our time,” how would we go about accomplishing that? The termination of a viable pregnancy was illegal in the United States prior to 1973 but that did not stop desperate women from seeking them out from doctors and even performing abortions on themselves. It is estimated that approximately one fourth of pregnancies in the mid 19th century were aborted.

As a society we know that laws will not stop abortion because they do nothing to alleviate the reasons women have for terminating a pregnancy.

Jim Buchy of Ohio, a strong proponent of anti-abortion legislation, was unable to answer a question about why women have abortions and admitted to not having thought about it. Terminating a pregnancy is not an easy process and is frequently both physically and emotionally difficult. It is important to ask why someone would want to go through such a potentially painful process before regulating it.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) between 2014 and 2017 shows that 85.5 percent of women who sought abortion were unmarried and 91.5 percent were obtained before 13 weeks with only 1.3 percent occurring after 21 weeks. The CDC does not list reasons; however, the primary reasons given from seven states that do were that the women were not financially stable enough for a child or that they were unready for the responsibility.

These two reasons alone make up 42 percent with other common reasons being that they were too young for a child, they had problems in their relationship or were concerned with how a baby would change their life.

Having a child has been shown to be the leading cause of income discrepancy between men and women which is part of the reason finances are such a strong influencer. Health risks and quality of life also play strongly in many women’s decisions to have an abortion. Late term abortions are rare when both the mother and child are healthy. Abortion will never end because we should always make exceptions for medical necessity, rape and incest but unwanted pregnancy can be curbed heavily.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information published a study showing that “emphasis on abstinence education is positively correlated with teenage pregnancy and birth rates.” Other studies have shown that comprehensive sex education results in a drastic decrease in teen pregnancy rates because people are more aware of what causes pregnancy and no longer rely on rumors and false information.

Colorado’s investment in “fire-and-forget” birth control like IUDs and implants led to a 50 percent drop in teenager abortion rates. Access to birth control allows women to control their bodies more easily and freely and prevent the need for abortion at all, other than in exceptional circumstances. Mainstream birth control is effective more than 90 percent of the time. We currently have the means to prevent most abortions but until lawmakers truly acknowledge the real reasons they’re passing this legislation, we cannot make progress.