More on Laws and Abortion: A Response to Bad Catholic

Marc of Bad Catholic, also on Patheos, has started a series of posts responding to my article on the pro-life movement. I’ve just finished reading the first one, and am interested in seeing more of what he has to say in the future. I want to take a moment to respond to his first post, in which he addressed whether or not banning abortion lowers the abortion rate.

He starts by quoting what I quoted from a 2008 study in the Lancet:

Highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates. For example, the abortion rate is 29 per 1,000 women of childbearing age in Africa and 32 per 1,000 in Latin America—regions in which abortion is illegal under most circumstances in the majority of countries. The rate is 12 per 1,000 in Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds.

He then asks the following:

This requires careful thought. The study is not claiming to have established causal relation between laws against abortion and high abortion rates. It merely says that laws restricting abortion are not associated with low abortion rates, and cites three countries as evidence for this claim. If the abortion laws are not having any effect, what is causing high abortion rates in Africa and Latin America, while abortion rates in Western Europe remain low?

This, quite simply, was the point I was trying to make in my post. It’s not banning abortion that has made the rates of abortion in western Europe the lowest in the world, so what is it? The question those in the pro-life movement should be asking is this: What is the most effective way to bring down the number of abortions that take place? The fact that other factors seem to play a much greater role in affecting the abortion rate globally indicates that if pro-lifers want to bring down the abortion rate they would do well to step back from their protests of Roe and their attempts to make abortion illegal and perhaps try to discover why abortion rates are the lowest in the world in western Europe, which is also probably the most sexually liberalized area of the world. What, quite simply, is their secret?

Marc correctly points to poverty as being one of the things that keeps the abortion rates in places like Africa so high, despite the fact that most of the countries there have banned the practice. But rather than following up on this thought he jumps to another thought:

This means that, if we want to understand the effects of abortion laws on abortion rates, we cannot look at countries with vastly different economic status. Since abortion is often motivated by poverty, it is not a fair comparison, especially considering the astronomical difference in economic status between places like Africa, Latin America, and Western Europe. We will instead have to look at the abortion rates in places of similar wealth, but with the same difference in abortion law. Make sense?

I think what is missing here is that my question was not primarily “how do abortion laws affect abortion rates” but rather “what is the most effective way to decrease the number of abortions being performed.” The fact that the countries in the statistics I examined had huge economic differences, and that “abortion is often motivated by poverty,” was therefore not something that got in the way of my thought process, but rather one of the most important points I gleaned from the data. Rather than follow up on why abortion rates are so high in some parts of the world and so low in others, Marc moves on to compare abortion rates and abortion laws in the various states in the U.S.

Before moving on, let me show you what some thought on the poverty issue reveals. 42% of women in the U.S. who obtain abortions live below the federal poverty level, and an additional 27% live slightly above it (source). That same year, the total percentage of Americans in poverty was 13.2% (source). (Let me know if you find statistics on the percentage of people between 100% and 200% of the federal poverty level in 2008 to compare to the second figure, as I couldn’t get my hands on that number.) This makes sense when you consider that 75% of women who get an abortion in the U.S. report that they could not afford to carry the pregnancy to term and raise the resulting baby. Remember, too, that 60% of women who have abortions in the U.S. already have at least one child. Poverty clearly remains a significant factor behind abortion, not just in places like Africa but also in places like the U.S., and that fighting poverty by means of better social safety nets, especially for parents, is an extremely important way to bring down the number of abortions that take place.

Marc has this to say about the Guttmacher Institute’s study of global abortion rates:

So why, we must ask, would educated people make a study comparing the abortion rates of countries of radically unequal wealth? Why, if poverty is a factor motivating abortion, was poverty ignored? Why does Anne suggest that if we want to be pro-life, we should look to less restrictive laws on abortion, not more? I wish, I wish, I wish I didn’t have to sound like a conspiracy theorist here, but the study has a strong motivation to ignore the truth and to lie to Anne’s face.

First of all, it wasn’t and I didn’t. Namely, the study was merely looking at abortion rates across the globe. It was not and did not ignore poverty. It merely stated the abortion rate in each country, and also noted the restrictions on abortion in each country. No one looks at the differences between the rate in places like Africa, South America, and Western Europe without knowing that there is an economic difference between those areas. Also, I never said that making abortion legal results in fewer abortions or that banning abortion results in more abortions. What I suggested instead was that laws are not the primary factor on whether abortion rates are high or low, that there are other factors instead, things like birth control and, yes, poverty. What I said was that the disparity in things like economic conditions and access to birth control across these areas, when looked at in tandem with laws against abortion and abortion rates, reveals that those who want to decrease the abortion rate should not be focusing on laws but rather on access to birth control and comprehensive social safety nets that offset the problems of poverty. Maybe I could have been clearer in my original piece, but this is the point I was trying to make.

Now I would like to address Marc’s suggestion that the Guttmacher Institute is “lying to my face.” This thing he is doing, I remember doing it too. Basically, you dismiss any organizations on the other side as biased and therefore wave any fact or statistic they have away without consideration. I get that. I’ve seen people on all sides do that. But I don’t think that thing is a good thing. I think that it has contributed to a situation where each side has their own “facts” and any discussion becomes so polarized it can’t even begin to take place. I try not to do it. If the Heritage Institute publishes a study, I may be suspicious  but rather than simply rejecting it as biased because it comes from a right-wing think tank I prefer to look at the study or numbers to figure out if it can be trusted or not, or whether its reasoning went astray somewhere or it forgot to control for some variable or is misinterpreting the findings of some other study. What Marc is saying is that the Guttmacher Institute’s study that measured the abortion rate in each country is wrong because the Guttmacher Institute is pro-reproductive rights, but I don’t see him backing that claim up with any evidence that the study’s numbers are flawed.

But there’s more than this as well. The study may be a Guttmacher Institute study, but it was actually published in the Lancet, a highly-respected peer-reviewed British medical journal. In arguing that this study is somehow wrong, Marc has to essentially suggest that the scientific process is broken. Marc says “I wish, I wish, I wish I didn’t have to sound like a conspiracy theorist here” and then does just that. I get it. I used to think this way too, especially when I was a young earth creationist. But now, as an academic working on a PhD, I have a better idea of how the scientific process works. When a study drawing a link between vaccines in autism that was published in the Lancet a decade ago turned out to be using bad data, the scientific community conclusively showed that the article was based on bad numbers and that the facts actually disproved its thesis, and the Lancet then withdrew it. This is how science works. If the Guttmacher Institute’s numbers are bad, well, they need to and will be contested in the field of science.

And remember that the Guttmacher Institute’s study simply prevents abortion statistics for each country, as well as recording the number of abortion restrictions in each country. What someone does with the study – what they use it to argue – is separate from the bare facts of abortion rates and countries’ legal codes.

Anyway, Marc goes on to examine the rates and laws in the various states. I found this section quite interesting. He states that:

In general, states with laws restricting abortion tend to have lower abortion rates than states with liberal abortion laws.

But then he makes an excellent point.

It seems reasonable to claim that when economic factors are roughly equal, restrictions on abortion are associated with lower abortion rates. Is this always the case? No. Are laws the primary factor influencing abortion rates? No. In fact, I believe that as often as a law contributes to a woman choosing an alternative to abortion, the law results from general opposition to abortion. When economic factors are roughly equal, it is the ideology of the individuals within the state that truly determines the abortion rate.

I had not even thought of this before, but Marc is right. It is quite possible, even probable perhaps, that the entire reason abortion rates are in general (though as Marc finds, not quite always) lower in states that have more abortion restrictions is that those states have a higher percentage of people who are personally against abortion and therefore choose not to abort when faced with unplanned pregnancies, thus driving the abortion rate down. I find this suggestion fascinating. I’m going to past some images here for you all to look at make of what you will.

First, abortion laws by state:

Next, abortion rate by state:

Then percentage of Catholics:

And percentage of evangelicals:

I am going to guess that high evangelical populations would be more likely to correlate with high abortion restrictions and low abortion rates than high Catholic populations given the high number of nominal but not practicing Catholics, but I could be wrong.

Anyway, back to Marc’s post. After acknowledging that we can’t really tell between the effect people’s views have on the abortion rate and the effect laws have on the abortion rate, Marc says this:

The pro-life movement should focus primarily on influencing the culture, on creating a respect for life from the ground up, on providing alternative solutions for women in crisis pregnancies, on convincing others of the scientifically verified reality of the unique human life that is the embryo, and on instilling in the world a greater love for the child. These convictions should become laws in the democratic sense — a popular change of heart should blossom into a popular change of law.

I am very glad that Marc, unlike most of the pro-lifers among whom I had experience with growing up, does not see banning abortion as his primary focus. But I am not sure if he realizes the extent to which his own movement deals in coercion rather than persuasion. Picketing abortion clinics and harassing women trying to enter is not “creating a respect for life.” The lies told at crisis pregnancy centers about things like links between depressionbreast cancer, and abortion run contrary to Marc’s rhetorical embrace of “scientifically verified reality.” What the pro-life movement currently lacks is a good dose of compassion. Trying to scare or harass women out of having abortions are not a good way to create “a popular change of heart.”

We have a problem in this culture with rhetorically embracing the importance of children but being unwilling to back that up in practice. Does Marc support policies that help parents balance work and parenthood, including parental leave and subsidized childcare? Does Marc support improved public education, an improvement that involves not high stakes testing but rather a greater trust in our teachers and a willingness to amply fund the education of our nation’s greatest resource, its children? Does Marc support greater welfare provision for needy single mothers and families? The answer to all of this may be “yes,” but the point I am trying to make is that creating a world with a “greater love for this child” includes more than just handing around replicas of fetuses at your church youth group and it includes more than just talking about what a “gift” children are.

Marc finishes with this:

So to summarize: Anne’s initial claim, that the pro-life movement is mistaken in its attempts to enact laws restricting and ultimately banning abortion, based as it is on a bad, inconclusive and illogical quote taken from a highly doubtful study, and countered as it is by our previous comparison of the abortion rates of economically equal states with more or less restrictions on abortion, is false. However, to say that this means that restricting laws directly lower abortion rates would be a jump, as it could be equally true that opposition to abortion within a given state creates those laws, and the subsequent low abortion rate. More research is needed. Anne does, intentionally or not, point out that legal action should not take primacy in the pro-life movement, and in this she is correct: Change the mind of the people, and let the people change their laws.

In other words, Marc does not really take issue with what I actually said. The pro-life movement is mistaken in making attempts to ban abortion the primary focus of its efforts, and Marc himself admits this. As Marc himself says, “to say that … restricting laws directly lower abortion rates would be a jump.” That is my point exactly. The pro-life movement is currently acting as though the way to save babies is to ban abortion – note for example the huge focus on overturning Roe. But, as Marc agrees, there is no conclusive evidence that banning abortion will actually decrease the rate of abortions that take place. The focus, if one wants to save babies, should not be on laws restricting abortion. The focus should be elsewhere. As Marc says, once again, “legal action should not take primacy in the pro-life movement.” Once again, exactly.

I want to finish by focusing on where Marc says the focus should be, because this is where I think we have a serious disagreement. To suggest that the focus should be to “change the mind of the people,” coming right after his emphasis on the correlation between poverty and high abortion rates, strikes me as beyond strange. And of course, there is the correlation Marc did not mention – the areas with the highest abortion rates are the areas where birth control is least available, and the areas with the lowest abortion rates are those where birth control is most available. (Anyone who wants to suggest that birth control actually increases the abortion rate because of its high failure rate has to somehow explain how sexually liberal western Europe, with its high rates of birth control use and legalized abortion, has the lowest abortion rates in the world.)

In focusing on changing minds, Marc indicates that he wants to bring down the number of abortions that occur by convincing women who have unplanned pregnancies or will have unplanned pregnancies in the future that they should be happy to be pregnant, should see abortion as murder, and should carry their pregnancies to term regardless of whether they are financially capable of doing so (he mentions that crisis pregnancy centers should help women in this situation, but as I’ve pointed out things like a free crib or free diapers aren’t actually the chief expenses in raising an unplanned child).

My goal, in contrast, is to prevent unplanned pregnancies from occurring and to ensure that every woman who wants to carry her pregnancy to term has the means to do so (remember that 75% of those who abort list financial reasons as a factor in their decision). I would like women to be able to plan their pregnancies so that every pregnancy is a wanted pregnancy and improve our country’s social institutions so that every woman can afford to raise children with dignity. I would actually venture a guess that these things would do more to reduce abortion rates than would Marc’s efforts to change minds. They would certainly do more to improve the quality of life of both women and children. I would like to see Marc explain why he doesn’t mention enacting a better social safety net for families and children or preventing unplanned pregnancies from occurring as key strategies to lowering the number of abortions that occur, because personally, these seem to me to be the clearest, most compassionate, and most effective ways to do so.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • fwtbc

    I read through all the comments on your excellent post yesterday when it was still at ~1000 comments. I just looked again and there’s another 200 or so comments. I would love to read them, but because you’re using threaded comments, that’s not really possible without going through the whole thing from top to bottom. Would you consider switching to unthreaded, unnested, straight chronological oldest to newest ordered comments? This would also solve the issue where people are referring to previous comments by number, only to have that number change when a previous comment is replied to.

    As for actual content of your posts, I have little to say except to voice agreement with pretty much everything. I’m curious about the variation in abortion rates in more/less liberal US states, and agree that lower rates are a reflection of a given state’s attitude to abortion, but also suspect that more restrictive access to abortion may drive people interstate lowering their own states rates and boosting the rates of surrounding states where access is easier. I acknowledge that the stats may reflect the state someone lives rather than the state where someone undergoes the procedure and that’s something I’d need to check should I research this further.

    • Paula G V aka Yukimi

      For the comment, I use a simple method, I read the previous days comments once a day using Control+F with the date of the previous day in the last 20 or so posts. With the current commenting system, it works pretty well when a blog posts receives comments very quickly.

    • Noelle

      I prefer the nested comments for most of her posts. It allows for actual discussion within discussions. There’s no way a 1000+ commented thread won’t be unweildy, but it works for most of what goes on around here.

  • Jason Dick

    As far as the correlation between abortion rates and abortion laws among the states is concerned, I would be willing to bet that a good fraction of it is caused by people crossing state lines to get abortions in neighboring states.

    • jemand

      I was just going to ask… what is the rate of abortions in women who’ve crossed state lines in states which don’t strongly restrict abortions?

    • Aimee

      That’s what I was going to say as well. I am actually quite surprised by the abortion rates for some states, like Mississippi for instance is high on poverty and low on sex ed from what I remember. I’ve heard from some (scientific I know!) that people from Utah often go to AZ or NV to get abortions.

    • Kacy

      Someone even brings this up in the BadCatholic comments. My guess is that you’re spot-on about crossing state lines. But even this is problematic for the poorest women, who can’t afford transportation to cross state lines. In Mississippi, for example, I think there are only 1 or 2 abortion clinics for the entire state. A woman in rural poverty without reliable transportation will ultimately end up carrying an unwanted pregnancy.

      • Rosie

        Or attempting a DIY abortion, which can be hazardous and unreliable and possibly land her in jail if she doesn’t manage to kill herself instead.

    • JethroElfman

      The statistics given are for abortions both in state and out of state by residents of that state. I followed the links to the stats to find out. So Marc is correct that residents of a state with more restrictions get fewer abortions, including for women who go to another state to do so. The numbers include telephone polls, so they aren’t as accurate as the Ireland vs. England data which comes directly from the clinics.

      • ScottInOH

        I’m only getting a jpg when I follow the link, but if you are right about the telephone polls, that could be another reason for correlation between culture and abortion rate: people in anti-abortion environments tell pollsters they haven’t had one.

  • Cass_m

    Why doesn’t the anti-abortion movement use Canada vs US stats? I believe we have similar poverty rates but no abortion laws; surely our rate should be higher than the US, especially since our birth control is user pay even with an insurance plan. Comparisons with always be difficult because of co-factors though. Free standing clinics are not everywhere and the anti-abortion movement in Canada likes to harass patients here as well. On the other hand we have 1 year parental leave that can be shared to help families and retain experienced female workers.

    • Jaynie

      From what I can tell (from wikipedia) our poverty rates in Canada are lower, but not too much lower. There are other factors as well though. Universal health care makes a big difference (the cost of delivering a healthy baby in the USA is staggeringly high, and that’s not even allowing for the possibility of something going wrong). But that would be precisely Libby’s point about other factors — and the fact that we have a lower abortion rate per capita than in the USA ought to be very telling to anti-choice folks (especially since we’re a LESS religiously driven country on the whole, which is counter to a lot of anti-abortion claims that only us heathens have abortions).

  • plch

    Chasing mind doesn’t work when the woman having an abortion is *already* pro-life, it seems strange but it happens more often than one should expect. They often don’t even change their mind after the abortion, probably for their own sanity they keep thinking that theirs was a special case.
    BTW: applause for another excellent blog post!

    • Twist

      I can’t understand that. I don’t disbelieve that it happens, I just fail to understand how someone who has been in that situation is able to apply one set of rules to them and a completely different set of rules to somebody else. “My abortion was ok, because… Um, I’m me. But those other sluts should have kept their legs closed if they didn’t want a baby”

      Maybe it comes down to exactly how strongly pro-life the person is.

      I was a very wishy-washy kind of pro-life. I’d never have actively protested abortion, I’d never have said I thought it should be illegal, but I certainly looked down on those who had one. Of course, I was safe in the knowledge that *I’d* never be stupid/careless/unfortunate* enough to need one. Then I needed one.

      The thing that really changed my opinion was the fact that my situation was in no way a special case. I could have been anyone. I realised that I had no right to judge what was a ‘good enough’ reason for anyone else to have an abortion. There were undoubtable people who thought that my reasons weren’t good enough [17, abusive relationship, MH problems, NOT WANTING A BABY!], so criticising them would be hipocrisy if I was then going to draw a different line beyond which someone else’s reasons weren’t good enough.

      *I don’t think women who need abortions are stupid or careless. I did. Not anymore.

      • plch

        I cannot understand it either and I wonder if they understand themselves… probably they don’t. I think it’s possible some people can be self-centered like that: ‘I’m different, rules do not apply to me’.

      • sara maimon

        they have to tell themselves that their case was special, or else be overwhelmed with guilt. some of them throw themselves into further antiabortion activity as a means of atonement.

  • Kacy

    “The answer to all of this may be “yes,” but the point I am trying to make is that creating a world with a “greater love for this child” includes more than just handing around replicas of fetuses at your church youth group and it includes more than just talking about what a “gift” children are.”

    The problem with asking a Catholic these questions is that the Catholic Church does officially affirm giving aid to needy families and desires a world in which their is no poverty. This is clear by looking at some of the social encyclicals from the 19th century to present, and a Catholic will point you to these encyclicals if you question his devotion to helping the poor and supporting government welfare policies that aid the poor. Encyclicals such as Rerum Novarum and Centesimus Annus, condemn both Communism and uncontrolled Capitalism, and have been used in Europe to support Democratic Socialism.

    The problem is that Catholics let the perfect become the enemy of the good, so to speak. In Humanae Vitae, the encyclical condemning birth control, Pope Paul VI says that abortion, “even for therapeutic reasons” is completely undesired. He goes on to blame contraception on the breakup of families and sexual promiscuity. Abortion and contraception are so tied together in the Catholic mind that they fail to see how contraception can be used to prevent abortion. I hope Marc replies to the meat of your original post, which is that access to contraception DOES prevent abortion. If he does, I recommend reading Humanae Vitae (It’s short.) to see why he believes that more contraception will lead to more abortion, despite evidence to the contrary. The problem is that most Catholics, at least in America, put greater weight on the sexual teachings of the Catholic Church than they do on the economic social teachings. I’m not sure why this is, but my own conjecture is that middle-class Catholic parishes are very removed from real poverty. These are the larger parishes that have more political clout with the American bishops, and they want to address their own problems–teenage promiscuity and married couples using birth control. They can give a bit of money to support Catholic Charities, while voting their own interests regarding abortion and contraception policies (HHS mandate and Catholic lawsuit). The poor can be ignored.

    Having lived the Catholic sexual teachings and fervently believing this stuff, I had to re-think my position when I lived in one of the Bronx. I was a poor graduate student and pregnant as a result of practicing NFP in my marriage. Thankfully NYC had plenty of government resources, so that I didn’t go broke receiving prenatal care. My birthing center was in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the United States. (I’m not exaggerating. I had seen the statistics, and this neighborhood was in the top 20 in its poverty rate.) It was also one of the few places that allowed AIDS patients to have a natural childbirth. There was a huge box of condoms on the table in the waiting area. Upon seeing this, my first reaction was complete disgust because this offended my Catholic and pro-life sensibilities.

    But then I lived in the area. I learned about the problem of AIDS in the community, the difficulties faced by the children to receive quality education, the impact of drugs and violence on the streets, and I began to notice the faces of the women in the birthing center. I had never really known the poverty and hard lives of these women, and in their situation, I would have used birth control too. I realized I couldn’t judge them for this, and eventually I realized that I couldn’t judge a woman having an abortion under these circumstances either. One woman in particular still stands out in my mind. She was pregnant, had sores on her body, and she was so thin, frail, and sick, that he had to be seen on a weekly basis even early in her pregnancy.

    It’s easy to hold to middle-class Catholic values regarding birth control and abortion when you live in the suburbs around others who share your view. When you look into the face of poverty, you can no longer abstract contraception and abortion from the real women who use these things to simply help them survive. The Catholic view on contraception, and by extension abortion, isn’t just about controlling women’s bodies, it’s about making sex a class prerogative. It’s easy to use NFP or be quiverfull when you have wealth, even lower middle-class wealth. It’s quite another thing to put this additional burden on those in poverty. The poor are the ones who suffer time and again as a result of their policies.

    • Liberated Liberal

      I think this is such an important point, and I think this is why Catholic nuns who are actually in the trenches, so to speak, tend to oppose the Vatican’s teachings on birth control (especially) and abortion vehemently. They don’t live in a secluded middle- to upper-class Catholic bubble, and see the extreme damage and suffering that is done when women are given no way to effectively have control over their own bodies.

      • Kim

        I think it is great that you both are identifying problems that the poor often face. Too often I think we settle for the easy answer. Happens everyday in life. A homeless person needs help. We give him 5 dollars. A woman has menstrual problems. We give her birth control. A man comes home from war and can’t fit into society. We find him a group home. A lady is overwhelmed with 4 kids and can’t imagine carrying another. We give her birth control. A woman has a pregnancy that she doesn’t want and can’t afford. We offer her an abortion.

        Now in each of these we are doing something to help that person out. We are trying to care. But the question is…how much?

        - The homeless person we gave money to. He has a host of needs beyond money that a 5 minute conversation could have revealed. We have no time to hear him out though and get him the help he needs.
        - The woman with menstrual problems. The doctor prescribes the quickest thing to help her. He instead could instead work with her to identify and correct what was wrong. Birth control is normally just a band-aid. It doesn’t correct the underlying problem in most cases. (See the wonderful work of the Pope Paul VI Institute)
        - The man who comes home shell-shocked. This is becoming better but it’s still amazing how little we can (or do) offer him, including someone to just listen, for such a tramautic experience.
        - The woman who can’t afford to have another kid. 5 mins with her would determine that she has a whole host of pressing needs that can be met (more affordable housing, childcare help, more education for herself, etc.) but birth control does nothing to meet them. Instead of counseling her that sex is best avoided for now (and this is woman having control over her body), we give her a drug that between her use of it or the drug itself (actual or method use failures), she may very well end up with another child on the way. When a child enters the world in such a situation (through contraception that was supposed to exclude its possibility), is there any wonder that abortion seems like such a good option?
        - Woman who doesn’t want nor can afford her pregnancy. Abortion is a choice she can make, but do we make sure that she also has the choice to parent that child or choose adoption? Abortion isn’t a choice if she feels backed into a corner. Do we make sure she is given all the information about adoption? About her baby (fetal development, ultrasound pictures, etc.) if she chooses? About the risks of abortion (abortion is a medical procedure and both chemical and surgical have risks)? About the resources available for her (financial, healthcare, housing, etc.) should she change her mind and want to parent? Abortion clinics largely won’t sit down and offer this counseling. Crisis pregnancy centers will.

        I am pro-life. If you’ve met one pro-lifer, you’ve met one pro-lifer. We are as wide on the spectrum as pro-choicers. Most pro-choice individuals I’ve met genuinely want to do what is best for women. But we have to ask, what is really the best and what does she really need? When you counsel women though difficult circumstances in life sometimes their pregnancy or possible pregnancy is the most benign thing happening for them (rape, abuse, addictions, loneliness, destitution). We pro-lifers are working on making sure we are really there for women: making more crisis pregnancy centers available to provide information, resources (clothing, diapers, referrals to doctors and case workers, etc), and mostly just support through a difficult time in the woman’s life (no matter what choice she makes). From when she first makes contact to when she stops needing us.

        I want to ask you pro-choicers: after you walk a woman to an abortion clinic, will you be there to walk her out and through the days that ensue? Really, honest question. Because when it comes down to a very difficult time in your life, isn’t the thing that matters most is that you aren’t alone, that someone is walking through it with you?

  • Rachel

    Libby, I’m moving today so I can’t do the research myself, but what you need is a regression discontinuity map, which I’m sure Guttmacher has.

    Marc’s argument is not very good at a statistical level, because any study would be looking at abortions per capita, controlling for factors like poverty and religion. (Marc’s argument with the study is very similar to the argument pundits are having with Nate Silver, and are about as convincing.) This is a bit of a digression and not what you yourself are concerned with, but it’s something Marc might find illuminating.

    • machintelligence

      Also abortion rate by states does not have a map image. Otherwise a great essay.

      • Anat

        But the link above the image does. I find it interesting how Washington state has a grade of A from NARAL, low Catholic and Evangelical population, yet among the lowest abortion rates.

  • plutosdad

    Portugal has done a good job of lowering drug use. Banning only pushes people to the margins, but doesn’t stop them. Jesus didn’t go around saying to ban and forcibly stop people from sinning, so it is really odd that the church is obsessed with banning sexual sins of others and stopping them. You’d think, if we really wanted people to sin less, and live fuller, better lives, we’d be less concerned with banning sin, and with making life more difficult for people, and trying to help them deal with life.

  • minuteye

    This may be a silly question, but not living in the states I’m a little confused about the statistics: If a woman living in one state drives over the border into another to have an abortion (either because the nearest big city is closer, or because the laws in her home state restrict abortion severely) is her abortion counted in the tally of the state where she resides, or the state where she has her abortion?

    It seems flawed to compare the abortion rates of states the same way you compare the abortion rates of countries, because it’s a heckuva lot easier to travel between them.

    • plutosdad

      Only for the rich, which is why wealthy white women are so much against abortion. Poor people cannot easily travel between cities, let alone states. But by making life harder and harder for the poor, the wealthy women cement their position.

      It’s no different than female apes dominating the weaker female apes.

      • Sarah C

        I’m pretty sure that men have had some part in anti-abortion efforts, too. Female apes, really? Are you kidding me? Well, women and some animals, what’s the difference, right?

      • plutosdad

        we are much more like our animalian ancestors than we’d like to believe, especially when it comes to power struggles and dominating others.

  • Michel Accad

    Dear Libby,
    If you are serious about defending your position from a moral standpoint (which you listed as point #1 in your “response to objections” post) , then the only question that matters is the question regarding the personhood of the fetus which can be re-stated as: “I believe the fetus has status of ["non-personhood" or "fill in the blank"] that makes abortion acceptable under [all/some] circumstances.”
    Everything else is a distraction. For example, let’s imagine that 1) restrictive laws not only do not reduce abortions but even increase them for some odd reason 2) that every single pro-lifer is a hypocrit 3) that the contraceptive pill is a wonderful drug that is proven beyond any doubt never to cause abortion 4) that abortion has never had any ill effect on the mother 5) that all crisis pregnancy centers are covert cells for manipulative cults and 6) that all scientific studies that defend the pro-choice position are beyond scientific reproach, whereas those that defend the pro-life position are inherently biased, etc. The question remains: is it morally defensible to abort a fetus (under all/some circumstances)? If so, what is that moral basis?
    I hope you will address the question in those terms. If you do it seriously, and with a mind open to discussing your propositions, you will do a lot of good to the debate on this very important question.
    Thank you very much,
    M. Accad

    • Noadi

      No, the other important question is: Does the pregnant woman have personhood? If the answer is yes then how can you deny her bodily autonomy and force her to risk her health and life to carry to term. If you believe women are full human being who are capable of making their own decisions then banning abortion has some serious ethical issues, especially if you take the view of the Catholic Church that therapeutic abortions are also wrong.

      • Michel Accad

        Of course, the pregnant woman is a person. That’s precisely the point. She is a moral agent. The question of her autonomy must be evaluated against the question of the personhood of the fetus before we can deny/accept any choice she may be making that involves the fetus. One step at a time…
        Also your answer implies that you support only therapeutic abortions. Is that the case?

    • plutosdad

      if you are also serious, perhaps you will read a few previous articles in the series and see “when personhood begins” has been talked about over and over on this blog, perhaps you should read up, and then realize your demands have been met, and actually engage the rest of us where we are

      • Michel Accad

        In her post “response to objections” Libby stated that she would address this point as well as a host of others in more detail. That makes me conclude that she doesn’t feel she has fully addressed it yet. I was simply commenting that this should be the main focus of discussion, everything else being subordinate to it or distracting/irrelevant.
        I’m new to this site and on your prompting have done a search in this blog with the term “personhood.” I see one post that addresses it directly (Sep 29, 2012 Anti-abortion argument#1), but Libby only offered the case for discussion to the comboxes. She did not outline her reasoning on this question in a way that invites a debate. I am just asking her to reason out her position, not just state it. That would involve first defining some terms (eg. “what is a person?” or, if one wants to avoid this particular question, “what criteria establish that it is acceptable to kill another being?”) and taking it from there.

      • Libby Anne

        Michel – I don’t think I specifically said I would address the point of personhood in followup posts. Personhood isn’t exactly relevant to the point in my original post – that those who do believe it is a person and therefore want to reduce the number of abortions should address the things that actually cause women to have abortions rather than simply seeking to ban the procedure. And part of my point also was that I see it as disingenuous that the pro-life movement claims to believe that a fertilized egg – a zygote – is a person but does not back that claim up by actually acting like it believes that.

        As for the personhood issue, well, you indicate that you already saw the post/thread where it was discussed. I don’t personally feel the need to lay it out any further than that. If it helps, I would clarify that one thing I use to define “person” is being autonomous from the body of another person, and this is why I see birth as an important point. I also see consciousness as important. However, “personhood” is not a natural concept or an objective reality; rather, it is a socially constructed concept, and it’s thus not surprising that people hold different opinions about it. And finally, every view I hold is contingent. My current beliefs about personhood may not be the same as my beliefs about personhood in five years, ten years, or twenty years. I don’t see life as a destination to arrive at and then stop, but rather as a journey.

        But again, my post was not an attempt to address personhood, nor have been either of my two followup posts. In fact, that’s kind of the point – my argument is that those who have very different views about personhood ought to be able to come together on issues like birth control to reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies and better social and financial support for raising children so that women never find themselves in a situation where they have to terminate their pregnancies for financial reasons.

        You say that the question is “is it morally defensible to abort a fetus.” But that was not the question I addressed in my post. You say that everything else is a distraction. Well, that is exactly the view I was taking issue with in my post. Things like making sure that women can afford to carry pregnancies to term or helping cut down on the rate of unplanned pregnancies, those things are not distractions. But I get it, I used to think the same as you. I saw the entire point as being that abortion is murder and therefore should be banned. I now think that that view is both highly simplistic and extremely counterproductive.

    • Anat

      The question remains: is it morally defensible to abort a fetus (under all/some circumstances)? If so, what is that moral basis?

      IMO: Yes. Even if the fetus had the mental capacities of an adult human. Because the fetus by its existence is demanding sacrifices from an adult human nobody should be allowed to enforce. IOW I’m following Judith Jarvis Thomson: A Defense of Abortion. If people want to make those sacrifices that is their choice, but they should not be required to do so, and if they choose to make those sacrifices and change their minds later that should be accepted.

      • Michel Accad

        I’m very familiar with Judith Jarvis’s position. That’s why I am asking Libby to clarify hers. Jarvis precisely and explicitly makes the point that the personhood of the fetus is not central to her argument. Libby seem to have another position, since she states: “I have concluded, based on both philosophy and embryology, that zygotes, embryos, and fetuses are actually potential people.”
        So I’m simply asking Libby to elaborate her position so it can be examined for what it’s worth and debated.
        In terms of your position, if you say that abortion is justified because “the fetus by its existence is demanding sacrifices,” I would argue that a born child is also demanding sacrifices, an aging parent is demanding sacrifices, and in fact, all of us are demanding sacrifices from others in one shape or form or at one time or another in our lives. Are you arguing that it is on this characteristic (“demanding sacrifices”) that it is justifiable to abort the fetus? If so, do you maintain your position even if the fetus was conceived after consensual sex that entailed a known chance of becoming pregnant?

      • Liberated Liberal

        Michel Accad:

        “If so, do you maintain your position even if the fetus was conceived after consensual sex that entailed a known chance of becoming pregnant?”

        This simply proves Libby Anne’s point. Pro-lifers are more concerned about making sure that others are held accountable for exercising sexual behavior that is at odds with their own. She actually covered this so well in her original post, and I find it odd that you are trying to draw that very assertion of hers out in these comments. She also concluded in her original post that she believes a zygote is not a person and does not deserve personhood above the woman. She didn’t dodge any of this in order to wave around “distractions.” Her main point was that while pro-lifers such as yourself claim that these zygotes have full personhood, none of your actions align with this this belief. You don’t actually treat them as such. Instead you are more concerned with policing morality – i.e., making sure women who consented to have sex have no option but to endure a pregnancy they don’t want. If you were more concerned with the “murder of the ‘babies’” than with punishing women for being sexual, you would consider all of the points she delivered in her original post in order to reduce abortions. Making abortions illegal does not advance this goal.

        All of these “demanding sacrifices” that you point out in your post are consensual. Nobody cares for a child unless they’ve agreed to (the millions upon millions in state care and the untold many more handed over to relatives should tell you that), care of elderly parents is consensual, but regardless, none of these represent a situation in which an elderly parent or 10-year-old child are literally living within a person’s body depleting it of resources. If you claim that these other “sacrifices” are equivalent to carrying a pregnancy to term, then you must consider that a person agreed to make these sacrifices. If a pregnant woman does not agree to make these sacrifices, then she has a right to terminate her pregnancy in the same way that she has a right to terminate her care-taking responsibilities of children and elderly parents. And consenting to sex does not equal consent for pregnancy, regardless of what your particular brand of morality claims. It is her body, and you have no right to tell her what to do with it.

      • Anat

        To Michel,
        Are you arguing that it is on this characteristic (“demanding sacrifices”) that it is justifiable to abort the fetus? If so, do you maintain your position even if the fetus was conceived after consensual sex that entailed a known chance of becoming pregnant?

        That and the nature of the sacrifices demanded – appropriating the use of another’s body for one’s continued existence. Hence the analogy to situations of organ donation. Organ donation requires consent, and consent can be revoked, even if there is no alternate matching donor and the would-be recipient is doomed to die. This should answer the second part too: Yes, even if the conception was the result of a voluntary act, even if the conception was planned and intended, but the woman changed her mind later.

        Every other situation where one sacrifices for another – sometimes people revoke their consent, and care goes to someone else, including the state. If such options become available for care of a fetus they can be weighed against abortion. Right now they aren’t so except if the pregnancy is very close to term the outcome of the woman revoking her consent to continuing the pregnancy is death of the embryo or fetus.

    • Slow Learner

      An adult woman is a full human being. A zygote is not. Adult woman’s decision takes priority.

      How is this even difficult?

      • Michel Accad

        Slow learner, can you define “full”?

      • Slow Learner

        A human being with their own wants, dreams and desires. All of which any adult woman would have, and no foetus would.

    • Noelle

      You’re new around here? Hi there! Scroll on back until about September 29, 2012, so you don’t feel like you’re jumping in the middle of something that’s been going on awhile already. Here, I’ll link ya:

      But don’t stop there. Keep going on up the line until you hit present time. There’s good stuff before that too, depending on your interests. May I also recommend scrolling up on this page to the bar below the purple banner. See “About”? Give it a click. I’d particulary recommend following the “my story” and “my deconversion” links to better understand the blog’s author. Then come on back.

      The: “I hope you will address the question in those terms. If you do it seriously, and with a mind open to discussing your propositions, you will do a lot of good to the debate on this very important question.”? Yeah, she’s done all that already. Exhaustively. The woman’s got a heart for detail and thoroughness, I’ll give her that. Don’t be the kid who missed half the class and barges in demanding the professor repeat everything just for you. It’s in the notes, man.

    • phantomreader42

      Pregnancy is a life-threatening medical condition. If something is endangering your life without your consent, then whether or not it is a person is irrelevant, the destruction of such an entity is not murder, it is self-defense. But, of course, no fetus-fetishist is capable of addressing this honestly, as it requires the recognition that a WOMAN is a person with a right to defend herself.

  • Steve

    The Cath0lics on Patheos tend be batshit crazy. They are virtually indistinguishable from fundamentalist Protestants in their insane, inhuman ramblings. If they didn’t reference Catholic doctrine and “natural law” you couldn’t tell the difference. It must be the usual “the internet attracts the most crazy people” thing because you hardly ever meet such people in real life.

    • Tracey

      Steve, I agree. I was raised as a Catholic (not one now), live in a very Catholic area, have friends and co-workers who are Catholic, and have never seen the level of crazed anti-woman, anti-contraception rhetoric in the local area.

      • Rosa

        that’s because most of the Catholics you knew were probably having sex and using contraception. Rates of contraceptive use are indistinguishable by Catholic identity (though I haven’t seen a study on method; vasectomy seems to be the method of choice among the many married Catholic people I know, which makes sense, because it’s basically completely secret if you have anti-contraceptive friends/in-laws/clergy.

  • Michel Accad

    Thank you for your honest response. I understand that you may not feel that one can come to a consensus on the question of personhood, but it seems nevertheless that is is important to you to state the the fetus is only a “potential person” as part of your moral reasoning. Is that correct? Would you hold the same position if you had come to the conclusion that the fetus is an “actual” person? If so, why do you feel it is important to say that the fetus is only “potential?” (and if the fetus is only “potential,” then why even be concerned about reducing the number of abortions?)
    If I read you correctly, your main validation for saying that the personhood question is irrelevant is the casual attitude of pro-lifers towards the loss of zygotes. But shouldn’t the morality of your position stand on its own, regardless of what pro-lifers say or do? In other words, you seem to be saying “if they don’t really believe that it is a person, then I don’t really have to believed it either.” But that’s a cover.
    My point is that the personhood question cannot be avoided (and you don’t really avoid it…). It should be examined out in the open. I hope you will agree to discuss it head on.

    • Sarah C

      Libby has an entire series of posts about abortion. Here is a link to some of them: You would do well to read all of those posts. She has many times adressed pretty much all those points you bring up, as she herself already said to you in this very thread. I have to say, I don’t think that you have been following her very long nor have you bothered to get to know what she thinks about the abortion issue and why. Please read her previous posts. You will find the answers to your questions there. Right now you are not bringing up anything new and are derailing this topic. It’s not very polite to make her answer same questions again and again in different threads when thre are answers available already.

    • Libby Anne

      The reason I clarified my position on fetal personhood in that post was that some commenters on my original post wanted to know what I believed on that score (and apparently it wasn’t immediately obvious that they could just click on my reproductive rights tab and find out). In fact, one blogger who picked up my story thought I still believed abortion was murder. So I clarified. That’s literally all.

      You ask if I would hold the same position if I believed a fetus was an “actual” person. Yes, given that I firmly believe that the most effective and humane way to cut the number of abortions is to work towards a comprehensive social safety network and widespread use of birth control, whether a fetus was a person or not would make no difference in the strategies I would use. That’s kind of my point – that those on all sides of the issue should be able to come together on some things.

      I’m not sure what you mean when you ask why I feel it is “so important” to say the fetus is only a potential person. I said it because people were confused about what I believe now, and that’s what I happen to believe now. That’s literally all.

      As to why I care about reducing the number of abortions, the answer is this: for the same reason I care about reducing the number of open heart surgeries. Having heart disease is stressful and having open heart surgery is expensive and a pain to go through. In the same way, having an unintended pregnancy is stressful and having an abortion is expensive and a pain to go through. So I suppose I should say not that I care about decreasing the number of abortions, but rather that I care about decreasing the number of unintended pregnancies.

      You once again misunderstand the point I make by bringing up zygotes. Maybe you should go back to my response post and read what I said there (#8). What I said about the pro-life movement’s approach to zygotes has absolutely nothing to do with my own position on zygotes. If I had actually said “if they don’t really believe that it is a person, then I don’t really have to believe it either,” then yes, that would have been a cover. However, that is absolutely not what I said in the slightest. In fact, I specifically stated several things I consider necessary for the existence of personhood, thus indicating that my beliefs about personhood really don’t have anything to do with what pro-lifers do or don’t think about zygotes.

      You also misunderstand why I said that personhood is irrelevant. I said that because the point of my post was to show that those who want abortion legal and those who believe abortion is murder actually should be able to come together on things like birth control and a better social safety net even though they hold different positions on personhood. My post was not and is not about personhood. It’s about how to most effectively decrease the number and rate of abortions performed, and the odd reality that the pro-life movement actually opposes the things that make most sense to bring down the number and rate of abortions.

      I hope that clarifies things for you. :-)

  • Alexandra

    Libby, I don’t know if you know this but Marc runs the anti-contraception website that makes a lot of arguments about the availability of birth control causing increases in abortion rates.

    • Doe

      Libby, I would love to see you do a series on 1Flesh. I for one cannot understand how they can talk about disrespecting a partner by not wanting their fertility, then promote NFP because of its low failure rate (according to some very specific studies). Also discussing the risks of hormonal contraception while ignoring the very real risks of pregnancy and birth.

      • Alexandra

        I agree! Especially now that Libby has shared that she used to rely on FAM for birth control. It’s certainly a method that can work, and probably deserves more discussion than it gets, but 1Flesh is all about demonizing birth control and glorifying NFP and that’s a lame method to promote FAMs. I’d love to hear Libby’s insight.

  • Michel Accad

    Thank you, Libby. I will not press you further if this is where you stand or what you have to say at this point. The one thing I would point out (as an outsider looking in) is that what your reproductive rights tab provides (and I had looked at it before posting) is simply your position, not your reasoning behind your position. It is one thing to say: I believe a person is a human being with autonomy, his or her own body, memory, speech, a sense of self, or whatever characteristic one chooses; it’s another to reason why it should be so. So that we make sure we are not in the same situation as those who said in the past: “a human is someone with white skin” or “someone of Aryan descent” or whatever. That goes for the many comments posted that similarly assert a certain position.

    • God of the just, I’ll never win a Peace Prize

      Impressive Godwinization.

    • Silentbob

      Michel writes:

      It is one thing to say: I believe a person is a human being with autonomy, his or her own body, memory, speech, a sense of self, or whatever characteristic one chooses; it’s another to reason why it should be so.

      But earlier Libby Anne wrote:

      … “personhood” is not a natural concept or an objective reality; rather, it is a socially constructed concept, and it’s thus not surprising that people hold different opinions about it.

      It seems unreasonable to ask someone to provide the logical reasoning by which they arrived at a subjective opinion. It seems to me to be a bit like asking someone to explain the reasoning by which they came to the conclusion that sunsets are beautiful.

      It is not unreasonable to ask why, if sunsets are beautiful, sunrises should not also be beautiful. But Libby Anne has already given her opinion of what distinguishes a foetus from a person. These reasons cannot be proven right or wrong, they depend on one’s subjective concept of a “person”.

      • Michel Accad

        Silent Bob,
        It is reasonable to ask for the reasoning that justifies terminating X’s life as opposed to Y’s life. (Whether you answer that request under the rubric of personhood or not does not really matter.) What explicit criteria should one use? Are you saying they are subjective? Are you comfortable with that?

      • Rosie

        And Michel Accad, Libby DID, in great detail, explain her reasoning behind why terminating a pregnancy is justifiable but murder (or genocide) is not. And it has nothing to do with whether or not the fetus is a “person”, so how one arrives at a definition of personhood is also irrelevant. It has EVERYTHING to do with not requiring an adult human being, who is a person by (hopefully) everyone’s varying standards, to bodily provide life-support to another being against her will. Can you get that through your thick skull?

    • phantomreader42

      Thank you, Michel Accad for openly admitting that your precious “pro-life” cult, and you yourself, are nothing but a pack of lying Nazi sociopaths. Now fuck off, you worthless sack of stinking shit.

  • lucrezaborgia

    The perfect solution for most people is abstinence before marriage. Then no one will have an abortion, ever. Providing birth control and welfare “legislates immorality”.

    • lucrezaborgia

      Oops…that should read “most pro-life people”

    • Anat

      Errr? Except for all those married women who have abortions for assorted reasons, most commonly – because they can’t afford (yet another) child at the time.

      • lucrezaborgia

        You and your logic!

    • AztecQueen2000

      Ummm…how does that lower abortion rates among married people?

      • Noelle

        He’s using that sarcasm thing.

      • lucrezaborgia

        See, I asked the person who told me the statement I tried to sarcastically relay here and she had no answer. In her worldview, only unmarried women have issues with abortion. Yet in a lagter post on the same forum she says she would support any pregnancies her daughters have. I did not bother to point out to her that her second statement seems to prove that she’s not fully sure it works either.

      • Noelle

        Yeah, people on the internets often don’t recognize sarcasm.

  • Rosie

    Here’s something that’s come to me just now, reading all these posts and insanely long comments threads: are pro-lifers (and maybe fundies in general) enamored with the potential over the actual? After all, when something is just a potential, it can be imagined to be whatever the imaginer likes, and the fundies tend to imagine it will be something perfect and wonderful. Once something (in this case a child) is actually living and breathing in the world, the reality is always at least somewhat short of the image, and as a person grows toward adulthood the discrepancy gets more and more evident. Which would explain the valuing of a fetus (a potential, which is easy to project onto) over a grown woman (who is obviously an imperfect sinner, if she’s pregnant and doesn’t want to be for whatever reason).

    • Dorfl

      That’s an interesting thought. I’d previously heard a cartoonist – whom I’m not sure if Libby Anne would want me to even link directly to from her blog, Google “Tim Kreider” if you’re curious about him – argue that fundamentalists tend to love things that are sort of ‘blank’, in such a way that you can project any traits you want on them. Hence their love of gods and patients locked in a permanent vegetative state, as well as fetuses.

      • phantomreader42

        I find it rather telling that a group which has elevated mindless obedience and willful ignorance to the highest tenets of their religion are more able to identify with an undeveloped parasite that lacks a functional brain than an actual living breathing woman.

  • Joshua Perkins

    Libby Anne, you said, “I think what is missing here is that my question was not primarily ‘how do abortion laws affect abortion rates’ but rather ‘what is the most effective way to decrease the number of abortions being performed’”; however, one of the headings in your previous post was “Banning Abortion Does Not Decrease Abortion Rates.” Marc was justified in thinking that one of your questions was “How do abortion laws affect abortion rates?”, which you then answered with “Restrictive laws don’t decrease abortions.”

  • ockraz

    Marc said, “Why, if poverty is a factor motivating abortion, was poverty ignored? Why does Anne suggest that if we want to be pro-life, we should look to less restrictive laws on abortion, not more?”

    Anne responded, “First of all, it wasn’t and I didn’t… I never said that making abortion legal results in fewer abortions or that banning abortion results in more abortions. What I suggested instead was that laws are not the primary factor.”

    Neither is correct. Anne didn’t say that less restrictions result in less abortions, BUT neither did she merely argue that laws are not a primary factor. What she said more than once was that, “banning abortion does not actually affect the abortion rate.” That’s not at all the same as saying it isn’t the primary factor. Something can _absolutely_ have an effect without being the primary factor!

    Anne said, “The fact that the countries in the statistics I examined had huge economic differences, and that “abortion is often motivated by poverty,” was therefore not something that got in the way of my thought process, but rather one of the most important points I gleaned from the data.”

    I disagree, it’s pretty certain that it did get in the way of your thought process because your realization that poverty is a major motivator lead you to the completely invalid conclusion that the legal restrictions have no benefit in terms of reducing abortions.

    Anne tells us, “What I said was that the disparity in things like economic conditions and access to birth control across these areas, when looked at in tandem with laws against abortion and abortion rates, reveals that those who want to decrease the abortion rate should not be focusing on laws but rather on access to birth control and comprehensive social safety nets that offset the problems of poverty. ”

    Again, she actually said that there is no benefit from the restrictive laws, whereas she is now saying that it is not the most significant area to focus upon. That’s a different argument. What I think is even more important, however, is that she has jumped to a second unjustified conclusion: that trying to get legal restrictions on abortion and trying to reduce poverty are somehow mutually exclusive. There is no reason at all that one could not support a ban on abortion and fight poverty. She didn’t suggest that one needed to choose between birth control and poverty, but she is suggesting that if you hope to reduce abortion rates by fighting poverty and/or with birth control, that that would mean not trying to get restrictive laws. The prolife groups which take such a position are small and there are only a handful, but they’re out there. Plus, the relative popularity of this approach within the prolife movement shouldn’t make any difference if the goal is just to figure out which approach is best in terms of reducing abortion.

    Anne said that Marc made a good point when he wrote that, “It seems reasonable to claim that when economic factors are roughly equal, restrictions on abortion are associated with lower abortion rates. Is this always the case? No. Are laws the primary factor influencing abortion rates? No. In fact, I believe that as often as a law contributes to a woman choosing an alternative to abortion, the law results from general opposition to abortion.”

    Now she focused on the latter portion, but did not address the former: It seems reasonable to claim that when economic factors are roughly equal, restrictions on abortion are associated with lower abortion rates. Some people actually dispute this. All laws restricting or prohibiting an activity are intended to produce less of that activity, and that’s almost always what happens. If we were to believe that this is not true in the case of abortion, you’d need a good reason as to why not and some evidence to support it. Anne hasn’t done either. She’s made a case that the biggest factor is something else, but hasn’t actually addressed the effect of restrictive laws other than to merely claim in the first article that they are completely ineffective.

    The second part of Marc’s comment, which she did respond to is important as well. What wasn’t mentioned was that there is actually a relationship between the two. It should come as no surprise that researchers routinely find a relationship between people’s attitudes about a controversial activity and the activities legal status. When something is legally prohibited, more people disapprove of it, and when it is something one has a legal right to do, people generally find it to be more acceptable. You can see this affect with people’s attitude toward abortion when it was still mostly restricted versus after Roe vs Wade. Therefore, if people’s attitudes are a significant factor in the rate of abortion and legal status is a significant factor in people’s attitudes, then that is a second reason to think that legal restrictions are worth pursuing as part of a broad strategy which also includes things like birth control and poverty.

    So, where does that leave us? Poverty is an important factor, and Anne proposes that focusing on it and on birth control and abandoning efforts to get legal restrictions is the best course of action. There seems to be no basis at all for the idea that abandoning the legal strategy would produce benefits (and there’s reason to believe the opposite is true), but she is certainly right that a comprehensive and effective approach would include focusing on poverty and birth control in addition. As far as birth control goes, the pro-life groups which work against increased access to birth control are actually harming their own cause. The younger and more secular prolifers today are likely to acknowledge that that’s just a fact.

    When it comes to poverty, though, her point doesn’t work as well. She said that practically all of the prolifers she used to associate were conservatives and that they opposed the measures to reduce poverty which she advocates. Of course, that is a far cry from opposing efforts to reduce poverty. I’d expect that those conservatives, if one were to ask them, would all say that they favor taking action to reduce poverty – just not the actions which Anne favors. So, when it comes to the poverty element, here attack is blunted because there is no consensus view in this country about what it is that reduces poverty and increases prosperity. Liberals agree with Anne, but the majority of prolifers would agree with economic conservatives. It’s not really that they are indifferent to poverty.

    The upshot is that the only change to the prolife movement which really is necessary if their greatest priority is preventing abortions is to change their policies on contraception because the case for abandoning legal restrictions was absent and the case for adopting liberal policies on poverty was based on ideological assumptions (and probably partisan bias). What should the prolife movement do going forward about birth control? It’s more problematic than one might think. There are conservatives who oppose the promotion of birth control on religious grounds. Even if the prolife movement shifted, those people would not change their views and they are important voting blocs that are often aligned with the prolifers. It’s not clear how political change would come about. In terms of direct action and activism, the groups promoting birth control are all also advocates of a legal right to abortion, so there is no opportunity there. Ideally, prolifers could support clinics which increase access to birth control in the way that Planned Parenthood does, but without advocating for or providing abortions the way Planned Parenthood does.

    I know of no such organization. I do know of a pro-life group which is interested in promoting the idea, but there’s no telling how long it will be before it becomes a reality. From our point of view (by which I mean younger and more secular prolifers who agree about promoting contraception) the best thing would be for Planned Parenthood to stop performing abortions and lobbying against legal restrictions, and then spin off a secondary organization (as they did with Guttmacher in 1977) that would continue those activities. Of course, that’s never going to happen. Prochoice groups like Planned Parenthood are just to invested in promoting access to abortion and opposing legal restrictions to be willing to do such a thing- even if it means losing the opportunity to create a more powerful coalition promoting the availability of contraception. Ironically, that thinking is exactly the same sort of counter productive strategy that Anne says made her leave the prolife movement.