Friday, August 31, 2012

Pondering Effects of Restrictive Abortion Laws

[Guest Blogger LN rejects the suggestion that restricting abortion has no effect on the actual abortion rate.]

If you're against abortion-- and not in an, "Oh it's not for me, but ya'll do whatever suits you!" way, but more of an, "Abortion is almost always the wrongful taking of a human life and I want to help stop that" way-- naturally you would want to reduce the abortion rate.

As it stands, pro-choicers hold the status quo legally here in America: abortion is legal in almost any circumstance. Thus they have little reason to engage in any sort of debate about preborn rights. However, pro-lifers can and do construct, vote for, and pass measures that legally restrict abortions-- most prominently, funding restrictions, informed consent laws, and restrictions for minors in the forms of parental involvement laws.

So the important question is: do these restrictions achieve the goal of reducing abortions?

Most have heard the claim that restricting abortions has *no* significant effect-- nada-- on abortion rate. First of all, to me this is not an intuitive conclusion to draw. When actions that previously went unpenalized are suddenly penalized, it makes sense that some people would opt out. And if the cost goes up, any economist will tell you that demand decreases because there exists a margin of people who can no longer afford it, and will choose the alternative. Second, in my experience, this claim rarely comes with any reliable evidence and appears more as wishful thinking.

So what evidence is there on the effects of abortion laws?

Upon some study-searching, I realized that the most obvious problem is analyzing data with proper controls for factors that also may influence the abortion rate. This study appears to have said controls. Published in 2011 and analyzing data from 1990 to 2005, this study found that "the number of legal abortions declined by 22.22 percent" and "one factor that played a role was the increased amount of anti-abortion legislation that was passed at the state level." This is not to say that abortion restrictions alone lowered the rate so much, but they definitely played a role.

Comparing abortion laws and their effects worldwide is problematic as there are vastly too many factors to control for. However, I am very interested in evidence of the practicality of these types of restrictions (as I believe anyone putting forth such restrictions should be), so if any reader has a study they feel is reliable, please comment and let us know about it. Certainly any studies showing increase, decrease, or no change in abortion rates are welcome.

Also- what, of the myriad of methods, do you feel is the most effective way to reduce abortions? What methods do you feel are more harmful than helpful?  


Anonymous said...

Access to safe and legal abortion
Comprehensive Sex education (abolish abstinence only)
subsidized/free access to birth control.

If this policy was implemented nationwide, you'd see a reduction in the abortion rate to a point that it was on par with the rest of the developed world.

Of course, the Methodist president of SPL, Kelsey Hazzard, is specifically against this policy because abortion would be legal.

So vote Republican.

*chuckle* said...

"I'm going to ignore anything and everything you say, think, an do that contradicts my narrative about pro-lifers, Republicans, and misogyny. La la la." ~ Troll

Hold on tight to your preconceived notions, friend. Wouldn't want you to get confused.

Jen R said...

Oh, Anonytroll, so predictably boring.

As with most social problems, I think the most effective way of reducing abortion is to tackle the causes. For abortion, I see four major ones:

* Insufficient ability to prevent unintended pregnancy. I would include rape, reproductive coercion, etc. under this category.

* Motherhood being an extremely difficult and life-altering pursuit. Of course, some of the reasons for this are not unjust and can't and shouldn't be changed. But many reasons can and should be. These include but are not limited to: the responsibility for childrearing falling disproportionately on mothers, ridiculously high expectations for perfection in mothering (in some social groups, anyway), pregnancy discrimination, workplaces and schools that don't accommodate the needs of parenting employees, and an insufficient social safety net for low-income women.

* The perception that the unborn human being is a part of the mother's body or is in some other way a lesser being, and one that we don't have obligations toward.

* A general societal acceptance of violence as a means of solving problems. See also: the death penalty, war, "stand your ground," etc. said...

If legislation saves the life of even one baby, it's worth it. On the other hand, a single-minded focus on legislation is misguided. We have to be active in every arena: legal, educational, charitable, medical, etc. It's not an "either-or" situation.

Anonymous said...

Lets make abortion illegal it will save the life of at least one baby. So lets just completely focus on that because ITS WORTH IT!

But lets do nothing to change the causes of unwanted pregnancy, in fact, let's EXACERBATE the things that cause unwanted pregnancy. Treating women who are pregnant from rape as though they secretly wanted it, refusing to teach teenage children about sex and contraception, and gutting social welfare services that would make it easier for mothers to raise thier children.

There is no single issue more important than making abortion a crime in this country. THIS SHOULD BE THE ULTIMATE GOAL OF SECULAR PRO LIFERS!

Anonymous said...

^Wow. Great debate skills there. Where are all your facts, references, and dialogue which seeks to understand?

156 said...

"So the important question is: do these restrictions achieve the goal of reducing abortions?"

I think it is worth noting that the U.S. Supreme Court allows those regulations specifically because they do not pose an "undue burden" on women and girls seeking abortions. Thus, I object to characterizing those laws as "restrictions" on abortion. When those who favor legalized abortion make that claim, I think they are talking about laws that penalize abortionists for performing abortions.

The evidence that I have seen indicates that abortion bans do reduce the number of abortions. For example, if you review the annual survey of abortions in Minnesota by the state Department of Health, you will see that the number drops off precipitously around the point in gestation when the fetus is usually viable and, thus, the abortion is no longer legal. Even more telling is that, while the number of abortions in each week of gestation almost always decreases dramatically after approximately week seven, the trend actually reverses at roughly week seventeen before returning to the overall trend soon after. Both of those survey results suggests that, as the abortion ban looms, many women hurry to get an abortion. Likewise, when it becomes in effect, the abortion rate is suppressed.

156 said...

The effectiveness of abortion bans is also shown by late-term abortion restrictions in other countries. For example, in 2005, the proportion of abortions
occurring after 12 weeks (after the mother's last menstrual period) in
Minnesota was over three times that of Norway (which restricts it after that point in gestation). The proportion of abortions in
2010 occurring after 14 weeks in Minnesota was over 5.3 times that of Germany. Russia's
abortion rate has dropped every year since it imposed a ban on late abortions.

156 said...

"So what evidence is there on the effects of abortion laws?"

The study you cited was probably the best research, by far, on the effectiveness of the three types of regulations that you listed.

However, in my experience, those who express the most doubt about the effectiveness of those laws are people who support Personhood or express opposition to "incremental" abortion legislation. The reason I raise that point is because those people do not seem to care whether abortion legislation actually reduces the abortion rate. For them, abortion bans seem to be an end in of themselves rather than a means to reducing the number of abortions. Possibly they are motivated by a desire to appear to be following the tenets of their church. Another possibility is that they hold an unrealistic belief that abortion bans are politically viable and 100 percent effective in practice. Yet another possibility is that those people are simply neoconservatives trying to exploit right-to-lifers to vote for GOP politicians so that they can advance policies in areas other than abortion.

156 said...

"...[W] you feel is the most effective way to reduce abortions?"

While I favor employing a wide variety of approaches simultaneously, I believe the best strategy is to target the men who are impregnating the women. That approach can be implemented by enacting generous child support laws and enforcing them aggressively, by punishing the father when an abortion occurs, by aggressively enforcing laws against incest, rape, prostitution, adultery, fornication, violence, and coercing women to abort, by requiring the father to reimburse the state for a state-funded abortion, and by removing the right of the father to veto an adoption.

The primary rationale for this approach is that it would stop men from starting the kind of pregnancies that are likely to be aborted. The empirical evidence confirms that the approach is likely to work. For example, one study showed that "...child support enforcement effectiveness decreases the incidence of abortion as measured by the abortion rate..." A number of other studies have derived a related conclusion -- that "...better enforcement of child support obligations makes it more likely that men will try to avoid unwed fatherhood."

Other studies on abortion lend support to the notion that male behavior impacts the likelihood that a woman will abort. For example, the abortion rate for unmarried women is over four-and-a-half times that for married women. In addition, research into why women abort show that male irresponsibility increases
the likelihood that a woman will abort. For example, one such study found that "more
than half of the women in the qualitative sample cited concerns about
their relationship or single motherhood as a reason to end the
pregnancy. Relationship problems included the partner's drinking,
physical abuse, unfaithfulness, unreliability, immaturity and absence
(often due to incarceration or responsibilities to his other children).
Many of these women were disappointed because their partner had reacted
to the pregnancy by denying paternity, breaking off communication with
them or saying that they did not want a child." The study concluded
by saying "the themes of responsibility to others and resource
limitations, such as financial constraints and lack of partner support,
recurred throughout the study." All of these factors can be addressed by targeting the father and ensuring that, if he does impregnate the mother, he provides financial support and physical protection to her and the child.

Another argument for targeting men, as opposed to abortionists and women, is that it would almost completely avoid the legal and political framework that has been developed over the decades to prevent the right-to-life movement from succeeding. For example, Roe v. Wade does not seem to apply to the fathers at all. Many feminists have little sympathy for men who want the right to abandon children. The pro-choice movement only seems to apply to women who have already become pregnant (see the new Democratic platform as an example). Many arguments for legalized abortion, like the bodily autonomy argument, only apply to women. Arguments focusing on the rights of doctors also have little or no application to policies targeting men. The small number of men who would be affected would also limit the political and legal opposition such a strategy would engender.

Draco Mater said...

I think the Internet ate my post, so please feel free to delete this if it's a double-post.

I don't feel informed enough to comment on legislation itself, but I suspect that even if no changes to legislation were made you could make a big difference by making motherhood under non-"ideal" circumstances socially acceptable. The notion that single-motherhood is a fate worse than death for a child is not a helpful one.

156 said...

"If this policy was implemented nationwide, you'd see a reduction in the
abortion rate..."

Can you point to a state that has reduced its abortion rate using those policies?

156 said...

Are you saying arguing that such an approach would be the most effective way to reduce abortions? Given that single-parenthood is so common now, and given that most women who abort have given birth prior to the abortion, I cannot believe that stigma associated with single parenting is the biggest factor leading to abortions. Also, how would you reduce that stigma?

Draco Mater said...

I don't think it's the biggest factor, merely the one I feel most able to comment on. I also don't know if it would be the *most* effective, but I'm sure it would be pretty effective.

I don't really know whether it is the same in the US, but down here in Australia I can speak for my own experience, the experiences of my friends, and general social knowledge gained from talking to lots of people in relevant professions about it that there is a lot of pressure on single mothers to have abortions and people will often go out of their way to make a woman feel like not killing their unborn child is some great moral failing. I don't know how to reduce the stigma, only that it exists and that it's one of the reasons women have abortions. Maybe encouraging acceptance of non-traditional families in general will help, maybe vigorously challenging the notion that women bear all of the responsibility for anything that happens during/as a result of sex. I don't know.

I imagine addressing ableist attitudes would go some way towards preventing the abortions of disabled children too, but I don't know how to do that either. Some public education about how adoption is not so bad these days and not coerced any more would probably have a decent impact too.

But really, I'm just a young person who sees things wrong with the world, and I'm afraid I don't have more well-developed solutions in mind beyond "this is stuff that needs to be fixed".

I do think changes in legislation would be more effective than social changes (or at the very least won't take as long to effect a change), but like I said, I don't consider myself informed enough to comment at this point in time.

156 said...

"What methods do you feel are more harmful than helpful?"

The worst approaches we can use are to fail to recognize politicians who consistently act to promote effective policies and to advocate the candidacies of those who do not promote, or even oppose, effective pro-life legislation.

A good example of the former is the failure of right-to-life organizations, during the presidential primaries (in the United States), to give credit to Michele Bachmann for having a demonstrably superior record on the issue. Both the National Right to Life Committee and Iowa Right to Life issued a brochure that gave the impression that all of the Republican candidates were equal on the issue. In reality, only Michele Bachmann had been a leader on the issue and only Michele Bachmann had been consistent in her support for the right to life. She was even willing to set aside other conservative priorities to maintain a perfect record on the issue. Mitt Romney, conversely, had actually opposed pro-life legislation and his recent conversion is of dubious authenticity.

A good example of the latter was how the NRLC scored votes in favor of PRENDA as pro-life votes. PRENDA was a sham that had no potential to save any unborn babies, so it merely gave pro-abortion legislators an opportunity to cast a bogus pro-life vote. As a result, genuine pro-life legislators, like Representative Justin Amash, were not given the credit they deserved.

Kristine Kruszelnicki said...

Can you back up the claim that " most women who abort have given birth prior to the abortion"? I'm not disputing the claim, would just like to know if you have a credible source to back it up.

156 said...

See Table 12. I would need to do some research to find national numbers.

156 said...

Here is a source for the assertion as applied to the national level.

Obviously, it is a left-leaning source. I tend to use those when discussing the issue with people who oppose the pro-life side because they will tend to dismiss any pro-life source.

Alisdair said...

The abortion rate in both Ireland and
Northern Ireland is consistently lower than the abortion rate in England,
Scotland, and Wales. This even takes into account Irish women who obtain
abortions in other countries.

Ayame Sohma said...

Any state other than Texas. Need I say more? Lying to children about sex will only corrode their trust when it comes to other issues, too.