Abortion Rates Unaffected by Procedure’s Legality

Wendy Norris

The Guttmacher/WHO study calls into question the argument that outlawing abortions and focusing on abstinence education deters women from terminating pregnancies. Is the Colorado Supreme Court listening?

Adding fuel to the ever-raging debate on women's reproductive rights, a study published this week in the British medical journal The Lancet discovered that abortion rates are higher in countries that ban the procedure, rely on abstinence education, and make it difficult to obtain contraceptives.

Researchers for the Guttmacher Institute and World Health Organization analyzed abortion trends from 1995-2003 among nations that allow and those that prohibit the procedure.

While the study found that abortions decreased from 46 million to 42 million in the nine year time period, 84 percent were performed in developing countries that were more likely to have laws banning abortion and less access to contraceptives and comprehensive sex education. One in five pregnancies are terminated worldwide annually.

The high rates in Africa and Latin America were attributed to abortion bans not serving as a deterrent and family planning funding restricted to abstinence programs. Asia's rate is high because of the high number in China and its one child policy.

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In regions, where contraceptive access has increased markedly in the last few years, such as Eastern Europe, the abortion rate declined 50 percent.

A spokesman for an anti-abortion group complained in a New York Times article that the figures were subject to other interpretations.

The longitudinal study's global results could have implications in our own backyard.

As Colorado Confidential reported in August, an El Paso county-based conservative group has proposed a state constitutional amendment to ban abortion and inhibit family planning access under the guise of conveying personhood to fertilized eggs. Supporters are currently gathering the required 76,000 signatures to get the ballot measure before voters next year.

That war of words is expected to get heated and the rhetorical flourishes colorful.

Reports, like this one, will be parsed by supporters and opponents of the amendment alike to prove their points or dismiss the researchers' findings.

And once again, that puts Colorado firmly at ground zero between conservative and liberal factions battling over reproductive freedom.

The amendment fight — that's already under consideration by the Colorado Supreme Court — is also in the midst of the important 2008 election year where several state, local and federal campaigns are likely to hinge on conservative "values voters," an electorate bloc for whom criminalizing certain social behaviors, like abortion, is a sure-fire election day motivator.

The case has been expedited and a decision is expected from the court soon.

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