Why Abortion Should Be Legal: It’s More Common (And Dangerous) When Banned
Surprise, surprise: Tough abortion (and contraception) laws don’t put an end to abortion, they just make it unsafe. And countries where abortion is banned actually tend to have higher abortion rates, according to a new global study.The research, conducted by the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute (designated by the World Health Organization as an official ‘collaborating center for reproductive health’), found the global abortion rate—which had previously been dropping since 1995—remained pretty static between 2003 and 2008. And the number of unsafe abortions increased, from 45% to 49%.
Almost all unsafe abortions were in developing countries. In Latin American and African regions with restrictive abortion laws, 95 to 97% of abortions were unsafe.
“It is precisely where abortion is illegal that it must become safer,” wrote Beverly Winikoff and Wendy R. Sheldon of the Gynuity Health Projects in New York, in an accompanying commentary.
But increasing access to birth control could also make a big difference (people who don’t have unplanned pregnancies don’t need to get abortions, safe or unsafe).
“Wherever we have made better contraception available in the countries where we work, hundreds of women will walk hours to get it,” Dana Hovig, CEO of Marie Stopes International, said.
And here in the United States we freak out when the nearest two CVS pharmacies are out of Plan B. Don’t get me wrong—I think making emergency contraception more readily available in the U.S. is a worthy goal. But I think sometimes we don’t appreciate how truly difficult it is for many women in other parts of the world to control their reproductive destiny as easily as most of us can here.
Researcher Gilda Sedgh said they’re not sure whether more liberal abortion laws actually led to fewer procedures, or whether the greater access to birth control in these countries resulted in less unwanted pregnancies. She also noted that accurately estimating the number of unsafe abortions is difficult, and the organization’s estimates are modest.Studies like this illustrate why I think abortion (and marijuana, most drugs, raw milk, etc. etc. etc.) should be legal: If there’s a market for something, banning it won’t squelch that market. It will only drive it underground and make it more dangerous. Unfortunately, in America, we still have trouble with people discussing abortion scientifically. The Guardian talked to Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet medical journal, in which the Guttmacher Institute’s study was published. ”The mere mention of the word ‘abortion’ in the journal leads to a phenomenal and visceral reaction against even discussing the issue,” he said.
He chaired a working group on information and accountability of a commission on women’s and children’s health last year, which included the issue of abortion in its final report.“American representatives explicitly came to me and asked me to remove the word abortion from our draft,” he said. “Even under an Obama administration, it is not possible to have an open discussion about abortion in international agencies and commissions. This stigmatisation, this censorship around the issue of abortion, is what is causing the enormous distortion of priorities in women’s health today.”
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