To Stop Abortion, Don’t Look to the Anti-Abortion Movement

Jeff Fecke

Jeff Fecke examines the report from Minnesota on abortions in 2006, whether the increase is cause for alarm and also what potential causes might be.

Last week's report from Minnesota on 2006 abortions had a wealth of significant information in it, but the most striking for both abortion rights and anti-abortion advocates was the fact that the overall number of abortions performed was up. Up 5 percent over 2005, and for minors, up 16 percent.

Now, those numbers sound dramatic, but they aren't necessarily. For example, in 2006, there were 793 abortions performed on minors in the state. In 2005, there were 682. That 16 percent jump turns out to be an increase of 111 procedures total. Not insignificant, of course, but also a small enough sample that this year's huge jump could be just a statistical anomaly, and next year could show a similar drop — and be no more significant.

Of course, there are other potential causes for the increase in abortions. Abstinence-based education was one potential reason cited by Sarah Stoesz, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota. "We have data that show that abstinence-based education only works to delay the onset of first intercourse by a few months, but makes it more likely for women to become pregnant and get STDs," she said. She also cited the increasing expense of contraception as a factor. But she noted, too, that it could be a "statistical blip" and cautioned that it was important to be cautious and careful in drawing any conclusions based on one year's statistics.

Whether you agree with Stoesz's position on abortion or not, that's a reasonable position to take. Identify some potential reasons for an increase, also recognize that the increase may not signify anything in particular and look for some areas, such as better access to contraception, that could have a positive impact.

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The anti-abortion movement in Minnesota could have reacted the same way.

Its leaders didn't.

Instead, the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life issued a statement attacking Planned Parenthood for "open[ing] two suburban 'express' mall stores targeting young women with scented oils, candles and referrals to its St. Paul abortion center." That those two centers did not provide abortions but did provide contraception went unremarked by the anti-abortion group. They were too busy weaving an elaborate conspiracy theory in which Planned Parenthood sucks girls in by giving them access to contraception and uses that increased access to contraception (along with a few trinkets) to lure women in for a fun, exciting abortion. That contraception, if used, can greatly reduce one's risk of pregnancy is ignored by the anti-abortion advocates. After all, like any good conspiracy theory, you have to recognize that it's all going on at a deeper level than mere mortals can understand. Wheels within wheels, my friend. Wheels within wheels.

It's sad that the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life show such a lack of concern for limiting abortion. You would think if the organization were concerned about ending abortion that it would take the time to actually advance policy arguments aimed at ending abortion that were more substantive than "Planned Parenthood is just in it for the lucrative abortion market." But then, the MCCL would have to address how its own unwillingness to support increased access to contraception led to thousands of abortions in 2006.

The MCCL's biggest legislative accomplishment in recent years was the Women's Right to Know Act, which required that women be given a packet of materials to read through before their abortion that listed each method of surgical abortion in the most lurid detail possible. It also lists all of the known medical complications of abortion (and until recently, some, like increased breast cancer, that weren't true).

As the act's name implied, the MCCL was banking that the act would radically alter the debate, that women simply were too stupid to realize what abortion is or that invasive surgery has risk involved. Well, the act did possibly reduce abortions in 2006: 652 women received the packet and chose not to have an abortion. Whether all 652 would have had an abortion otherwise, of course, is debatable, but let's take that figure as the most favorable to the MCCL.

Let's say that instead of supporting a packet of at times misleading information, the MCCL had instead supported funding access to contraception for all.

In 2006, 65 percent of women seeking abortions had used contraceptives in the past but were not using them at the time they conceived. Now, obviously, some people are going to make mistakes with sex, so let's say that increased access to contraception would only reach half of those people. And let's say that the contraceptives have a 50 percent failure rate — far above that in the real world, but I'm trying to be fair.

Had 25 percent of those abortions been prevented by increased access to contraception, it would have reduced the number of abortions performed in 2006 by 2,283.

That's not something anybody on the abortion rights side would oppose. Contrary to the assertions of the anti-abortion movement, those of us who support abortion rights know that abortion is not particularly fun for the woman involved. We know that it would be better if there were fewer of them, because each abortion is a major surgery, and that's better avoided if it can be.

But while Planned Parenthood is trying to reach those women who can't afford contraception or don't have ready access to it, the MCCL is railing against the very effort, weaving insane conspiracy theories instead.

This is, of course, perfectly understandable. If the MCCL really cared about ending abortion, it would be working right there with Planned Parenthood to get contraception out to women everywhere. Instead, the organization has spent its time shaming and infantilizing women and let thousands of abortions go unprevented in the meantime. If I were in that position, I guess I, too, would rather blame a vast left-wing conspiracy than look in the mirror.

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