Whatever happened to ‘reducing abortions’?

What approaches with wide popular support could reduce abortion, even as it remains legal under the Supreme Court’s decisions?

In President Obama’s first term, there was a brief shining moment when people with various views on abortion’s legality thought they might agree on some ways to reduce abortions.

That effort quickly broke down, and each side proceeded to enact part of its agenda separately as amendments to the health care reform act. It’s important to understand why, and to see what more can be done.

A key discussion was among those invited to advise the new administration’s faith-based office. But pro-life participants soon found what they saw as a bait-and-switch. Pro-choice participants, joined by White House staff, were not willing to speak of “reducing abortions.” Instead they wanted to “reduce the need for abortion” — that is, reduce unintended pregnancies, chiefly through expanded contraceptive programs. Catholic representatives could not in conscience endorse the changed goal, as their moral teaching neither approves contraceptives nor sees an existing “need” for abortions.

Less well known is the fact that contraceptive programs often fail miserably at reducing unintended pregnancies or abortions — and can be associated with increased rates of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. In a major meta-analysis by proponents of “emergency contraceptives,” out of 23 studies of programs to enhance access to those drugs, not one could show a reduction in unintended pregnancies or abortions.

An alleged exception to the rule is a recent “Contraceptive Choice” study in St. Louis. The organizers abandoned all pretense of “nondirective” counseling, offering over 9,000 women free contraceptives while specially promoting long-acting methods like hormonal implants and IUDs. They persuaded most of the women to accept these more aggressive methods, which make a woman sterile for years and cannot be removed without a doctor’s help, and periodically followed up to make sure they stayed with the program. They showed significant reductions in pregnancies and abortions, proving only that sterilized women don’t get pregnant. It’s been harder to find data on adverse effects or rates of STDs.

But assuming we don’t want to focus on compromising the autonomy and dignity of women to achieve a sterile population, what approaches with wide popular support could reduce abortion, even as it remains legal under the Supreme Court’s decisions?


1. Fight poverty.
Poverty and the hopelessness it can bring into people’s lives is a major factor in the abortion rate. In one study by the Guttmacher Institute, women on Medicaid had twice the abortion rate of other women, even in states that fund childbirth but not abortions.

2. End publicly-funded abortions. That Guttmacher study showed that if the state funds abortions in its Medicaid program, low-income women’s abortion rate doubles to be four times that of others.

3. Pass laws regulating the abortion industry. Research by Michael New and others has shown that even very modest laws — Informed consent, waiting periods, parental involvement for minors, etc. – afford more time to think over an abortion decision and lead to significant reductions.

4. Uphold strong marriages. Unmarried American women may have four times the abortion rate of those who are married. This factor can combine with poverty in a vicious circle – the disruptions in life caused by poverty can make stable relationships harder to maintain, and unmarried or divorced women lack the personal support system that can help keep them from poverty and a desperate resort to abortion.

5. Promote “sexual risk avoidance” for the young. This is an objective public health term for avoiding sexual involvement, as opposed to the “sexual risk reduction” approach of taking premature sexual activity for granted and then trying to reduce the damage. Recent declines in the abortion rate have occurred disproportionately among teens and young adults, and seem due largely to more young people delaying initiation of sexual activity. Teens are not known for being more reliable in contraceptive use than their elders.

This is an ambitious agenda but most Americans can be shown to support each aspect of it. Those most unlikely to support it are the representatives of “abortion rights” groups, who now speak of abortion being ”safe and legal” (not “safe, legal and rare”) and are even abandoning talk of “choice” in favor of pushing for maximum “access” to abortion. In other words, they don’t want to reduce abortions. But most of us still do.

  • AngellusDMG

    Ran out of space, but also, once some of these bishops, and cardinals, and the pop himself has raised a couple children by themselves on minimum wage without being given everything they need to survive, I’ll be glad to hear what they have to say about abortion then, I’m sure it will be interesting.

    And from a moral standpoint, you know that we are way too overpopulated on this planet? Can’t educate our young people, can’t take care of our veterans, can’t get medical care to our old people. Do you really think that we need more people here when we can’t even take care of ourselves because of the over saturation that is dragging down the collective intelligence of society? I mean, seriously? Am I the only one who sees these things? Be objective, not biased.

  • persiflage

    Arguing against conventional contraception tends to weaken and even undermine the other ‘solutions’ offered above. Meanwhile, wily red states are doing everything within their collective republican power to reduce or eliminate a woman’s reproductive rights, and the overall right to choose whether or not to bear a child.

    The USA is famous for taking two steps forward, and one step back……… thanks mainly to regressive republican social doctrines that are buoyed up by ultra-conservative religionists…….a barren white man’s land where Manifest Destiny is still the natural order of things.

  • levarfan

    I don’t know anybody who doesn’t agree that reducing abortions is a highly desirable goal, even among ardent pro-choicers. However, the way to achieve that is indeed best accomplished by reducing the incidence of crisis pregnancies. The false dichotomy between “reducing abortions” and “reducing the need for abortions” is simply a way of creating divisions. Demonizing contraceptive use achieves nothing but increasing abortions and human suffering.

  • jfp1

    It’s easy to hold protests and work to limit an individual’s health choices. It’s much harder, however, to provide policies that support women and children in crisis – regardless of whose so-called ‘fault’ it might be.

    Until and unless we make sure that women and children can access affordable healthcare, and that families can feed, clothe, house, and educate their children, we have no business regulating birth control.

  • JustAthoughtt

    @ persiflage
    “Meanwhile, wily red states are doing everything within their collective republican power to reduce or eliminate a woman’s reproductive rights, and the overall right to choose whether or not to bear a child.”

    No one is trying to take away a womans “right” to “bear a child”… Instead, people are trying to put a stop to Woman/Doctors ending the life of an unborn child.

    Sex is a choice and children are the natural result of that choice…

  • JustAthoughtt

    Who is forcing women to make babies…

    Instead, the issue is about the killing of those babies because the mother wanted to have fun, but does not want to be held accountable for the results of her own actions.

  • ritaJ2

    The question of ownership of other human beings was settled with the abolition of slavery.
    Some feminist historians have rightly condemned the shameful old injustices where at times children were considered the property of their fathers. But over time, they say, a shift has occurred, and we are beginning to understand children as rights-bearers, not simply as objects of protection.
    The tragic irony, however, is that children before birth are now considered neither as objects of protection nor as rights-bearers but rather as the property of their mothers, subject to arbitrary treatment and disposal at least as vile as anything that paternalism was ever responsible for.
    There is a critical difference between ‘owning’ and ‘belonging’. Mothers do not own their children. All children belong to the human race, belong to a family and a community. Everyone has grave obligations to protect these children who belong here, who are “members of the human family”, who have a right to be here.
    The pseudo-right to eugenic abortion stands in direct contradiction to the long, hard-won tradition of human rights, a tradition forbidding that any one human being should have ownership and disposal rights over any other human being, no matter how small or dependent or troublesome or unwanted.

    Both reason and science confirm that the unborn child is already in existence, being protected and nurtured in his/her mother’s womb. With astonishing accuracy, we can locate the child within definite co-ordinates of space and time. The child is not a generic, anonymous fetus. We can identify the child’s father, and whether the child is a son or a daughter. We can ascertain long before birth that the child is a unique member of the human family, biologically, genetically, and genealogically.
    Every unborn child is a human being.
    It is not age or size or independence or that confers human rights, it is just being a human.
    This is the irrevocable legal basis of all human rights.

  • persiflage

    ‘No one is trying to take away a womans “right” to “bear a child”… ‘

    What I said:

    ‘ reduce or eliminate a woman’s reproductive rights, and the overall right to choose whether or not to bear a child.’

    ‘Sex is a choice and children are the natural result of that choice…’

    Giving birth is a choice…….freedom means the freedom to make difficult decisions that are no one else’s business – including the termination of an unwanted pregnancy.

    Ac;cording to the law, women don’t have to bear the consequences of a sexual contact that results in a pregnancy. Let’s keep it that way……..a true natural law if ever ther was one.

  • persiflage

    ‘The question of ownership of other human beings was settled with the abolition of slavery.’

    However, the ownership of an embryo is clearly different and is the sole property of the host mother……until the point of viability.

    Whatever you may think, this is how the law reads…….

  • persiflage

    ‘Who is forcing women to make babies…’

    Well, a good many members of the republican party would like that written into law………………although forcing pregnancies to term is more accurate.

    For the GOP and it’s evangelical constituency, it’s a crime and punishment issue.

  • malusk03

    ‘Who is forcing women to make babies…’ Rapists, abusive relatives, domineering husbands or boy friends, partents and others who deny teenage girls access to contraceptives and the knowledge . . .

  • malusk03

    Scottin: “No woman is required to rear a child while on minimum wage, or any wage. Adoption is available to anyone who decides that motherhood is not for her” So it’s ok to subject a woman to nine months of involuntary servitude, as long as she gets to give the child up for adoption at the end of her pennance?

  • malusk03

    The Church would preach a different sermon if altar boys got pregnant . . .

  • wehutson

    There is still another way to reduce abortions, sadly under promoted: the live parenthood with a far greater spirit of generosity, constancy, and self-donation. This approach takes longer, and takes greater faith. When our neighbors and extended family see, year after year, us putting our shoulder into parenthood, humbly, lovingly, with the confidence of parent-children of God, they will begin to wonder why we love parenting so much, and why there is a more natural and loving tone in our home. They may then, slowly, begin to see the gift of joy that God gives generous and abandoning parents. They may then see the true gift of a whole life well lived for God through our love of those He has put into, or is trying to put into, our lives.

  • wehutson

    There is still another way to reduce abortions, sadly under promoted: the live parenthood with a far greater spirit of generosity, constancy, and self-donation. This approach takes longer, and takes greater faith. When our neighbors and extended family see, year after year, us putting our shoulder into parenthood, humbly, lovingly, with the confidence of parent-children of God, they will begin to wonder why we love parenting so much, and why there is a more natural and loving tone in our home. They may then, slowly, begin to see the gift of joy that God gives generous and abandoning parents. They may then see the true gift of a whole life well lived for God through our love of those He has put into, or is trying to put into, our lives.

  • wehutson

    Should have read “to live parenthood”

  • itsthedax

    Mr. Doerflinger, it must be very convenient for you to claim to have facts and statistics without actually providing them. If contraceptive programs actually do result in increased abortions and STDs, as you claim, then it should be easy for you to provide actual statistical evidence, instead of just dismissive hand-waiving.

    If you have facts, provide them. Otherwise, you’re just making it up.

  • wehutson

    Cult. You want an example of cultish behavior? Examine with sincerity and diligence the Democratic Party. Suppression of data, results driven data collection (“what results do we need to make our case…go commission one of our favorite, well behaved, but hungry media research groups for a “poll”), dismissiveness, control over the main channels of media, ruthless message control, inculcation at the earliest of age, use of NLP techniques in speech giving, etc.

    Democrats make David Koresh’s ranch look like a harmless family gathering.

  • itsthedax

    I’m sure there are no shortage of catholic bloggers that are cherry picking data to support their opinions. But this particular one did a really poor job. Perhaps you should find one who’s cherry picked data actually supports your position.

    Or maybe you could try to find a credible study. Perhaps from the NIH?

  • persiflage

    ‘I can’t speak for the RCC cult or pseudo-christians.’

    There it is again – that pompous superiority. Fact is, you owe your entire belief system to the Catholic Church and one apostate Catholic priest who happened to be overly fond of the bible……..with more than a little Judaism thrown in for good measure.

    The entire universe of protestantism is merely derivitive – nothing unique about it at all.

  • persiflage

    ‘Democrats make David Koresh’s ranch look like a harmless family gathering’

    You born-again righties really live on the edge of hysteria most of the time, don’t you?

  • cricket44

    Cherry picking is what they do, Its. They look to “studies” to tell them what they already believe and ignore the rest.

  • cricket44

    Every person owns the contents of their own body and have the right to remove what they do not want within it. That you don’t like it is irrelevant.

  • persiflage

    ‘No one seems to be able to tell me why a woman ought not bear the consequences of her actions.’

    Your willful lack of comprehension is the issue at hand. Abortion rights are guaranteed by law – consequences don’t enter into the picture.

    Extreme authoritarian ideology prevents you from seeing any point of view not exclusively your own. And finally, you have absolutely no control or moral jurisdiction over anyone else’s actions………especially when they are guaranteed by law.

  • nkri401

    “How to reduce abortions”

    Torture the women suspected of having had abortion as was tortured in the medieval age in the televised public square with blood dripping.

    Why not? That may reduce the abortion…

  • nkri401

    ‘No one seems to be able to tell me why a woman ought not bear the consequences of her actions.’

    Mr. Doerfinger,

    Is the above statement because no women would like to have sex with you?

    Why do I owe you an explanation? Why do you think you are entitled to an explanation?

  • wehutson

    And the NIH doesn’t cherry pick researchers to fund, or re-fund?

    Do you know how a research agenda gets formed?

    If you think the NIH is objective, then you take the little wind you put into your own sail.

  • itsthedax

    So, please provide evidence of political bias in the outcome of NIH research. If you have actual facts, you should contact your congressman immediately.

    Of course, if you don’t have any actual evidence, then you’re just making it up. Like Doerflinger.

  • Human Rights

    Facts are facts.
    40 years of failure.
    55 million killed.
    Doubled preterm birth rate.
    Tripled breast cancer rate.

    Compare DC to Utah!

  • cricket44

    Hysterical rantings without evidence that proves a *causal* connection, are not facts.

  • csintala79

    Oh, yeah, sexual avoidance. That’s the ticket, What an innovation; that hasn’t been tried before. If that doesn’t work, we can encourage marriage. What would the right age be for marriage? Well, if abstinence doesn’t work, then it is going to have to be very earyl, say 16. A goo dage to reduce unmarried mothers, but a little too early to produce mature, responsible mothers. All of your suggestions have been in the tool box forever and they haven’t worked.

  • csintala79

    The consequences are conditional on the overbearing impostion of super natural, arbitrary, personal and subjective religious beliefs on society. Change the rules and the consequences go away (e.g., encourage use of contraception and unwanted pregancies will be reduced). Abstinence has been discredited after at least 2,000 years of failure.

  • larryclyons

    “sexual risk avoidance” – another attempt by the religionists to sneak Abstinence int the curriculum, whose record is miserable in preventing unwanted pregnancies.

  • Ubi Dubium

    Adoption wasn’t available to Savita Halappanvar. What she needed was control over her own medical decisions. But because of a government who gave more respect to the pronouncements of bishops than the medical opinions of doctors, Savita is gone, and so are all the other children she might have had in the future.

  • Ubi Dubium

    And there it is: “..his father…”. Not “..his/her father..” No consideration for women, not even the very small ones. You aren’t talking about saving “babies” you’re talking about saving “males”.