It's been a week since The Lancet published the comprehensive Guttmacher Institute study which found that bans on abortion fail to reduce abortion rates. The researchers of the study also discovered that countries where abortion is legal (and the emphasis is on prevention rather than prosecution) experience the most dramatic declines in abortion.
Such news should undoubtedly give pro-lifers reason for pause. What with the endless railing about the immorality of abortion, and now it turns out their way of thinking does nothing to actually reduce abortions. It's only fair to give them a minute to collect themselves. Perhaps some careful (re)consideration is in order.
But there has been nothing but silence from the "anti-abortion" movement. There have been no press releases admitting the (now scientifically proven) error of their ways. Nor have we heard that anti-abortion groups are excited to discover that at least there is an approach that succeeds in reducing the need for abortion. (Doesn't that deserve a 'hallelujah' from the religious right?) Instead, the "anti-abortion" movement is silent about the newly revealed "pro-abortion" effects of their efforts.
I came across a blog about the Guttmacher study on a site called Mirror of Justice (it's "dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory"). It was posted the day the report was released and was written by Professor Eduardo Penalver of Cornell University. He wrote,
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Here's my question. If this study were true, and if it were the case that making abortion illegal would most likely only drive it underground, without having much effect on its actual incidence but making it far more dangerous for women to have an abortion, would that be a reason to rethink the Church's teachings, not on the morality of abortion, but on the tight connection between abortion's (im)morality and its legality? I've tried to get this conversation off the ground a few times at MOJ, but I feel like we often get side-tracked onto the question of abortion's morality or into the empirical question whether studies like this one are actually correct.
Pro-lifers clearly delight in discussing the morality abortion – all merrily participating in the forced march to the same answer – but when the discussion turns to prevention they're flat out of ideas. Those who can't do, preach. I wrote to Professor Penalver this morning inquiring about the responses he's so far received on this anti-abortion friendly site. He emailed back promptly to report his "disappointment" over "the general lack of a response." And so the silence increases in volume.
Now, to be fair, some spokespeople have spun. These few brave enough to go public with a reaction to this devastating study are engaged in this strategy: kill the messenger.
Randall O'Bannon, saddled with the oxymoronic title "director of education and research" at National Right to Life, said, "These numbers are not definitive and very susceptible to interpretation according to the agenda of the people who are organizing the data." No doubt Mr. O'Bannon understands how Lancet editors let the researchers' agenda trump their science. After O'Bannon is done questioning the validity of studies published by one of the world's renowned scientific journals he can explain why 5 of 15 "fact sheets" on his organization's website offer no citations and 6 of the remaining 10 use the Guttmacher Institute, the very organization he claims has an "agenda," as a source. (Apparently a source can be both trustworthy and untrustworthy depending on the reader's agenda!)
You'd think genuine pro-lifers would be interested in knowing what results in low abortion rates. The fact that the only reaction that has come from the pro-life establishment is one of disbelief, cynicism and silence indicates that's not the case. Indeed, as we've known for a while, this whole ugly conflict isn't really even about abortion. For the anti-abortionists, the goal is to re-introduce the preventable consequences to sex as a way to scare people into abstinence. If that isn't the point, then why aren't National Right to Life staffers on a plane right now heading to the Netherlands to learn how that country managed to achieve the lowest abortion rates on earth? (Because it's free birth control, comprehensive sex ed, and a universal acceptance of sex for pleasure that did it. All solutions they appear to oppose more than abortion.)
It's worth offering up a comparison. What if a whole movement devoted to curing cancer insisted on only supporting techniques shown time and again to fail? What if they supported the ones that result in the highest cancer rates? Would it even be considered an anti-cancer movement? It's time to clean up the semantics: Is it possible that the "anti-abortion" movement is really a pro-abortion movement in disguise?