Contraception, Legal Abortion Could Prevent 70,000 Deaths A YearS

A new Guttmacher Institute report makes a strong case for contraception — and legal abortion — as a way to reduce the 70,000 deaths from unsafe abortions that occur every year. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church still isn't listening.

As we mentioned yesterday, the report found no correlation between abortion rates and legality of abortion. That is, regions where abortion is banned don't actually have lower rates of abortion — they just have lots of women getting unsafe abortions. Unfortunately for women all over the world, the pro-choice argument that women will seek back-alley abortions if the procedure is forbidden turns out to be totally true. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that 70,000 women die every year from unsafe abortions, another 5 million need to be treated for complications, and 3 million suffer such complications but never get treated at all. The sample methods of unsafe abortion the Institute lists are chilling, and include drinking manure and jumping off a roof.

What does reduce the rate of abortions? Contraception. Worldwide, the rate of unintended pregnancy has dropped, just as the rate of contraceptive use among married women has risen. And Eastern Europe, where the greatest decline in abortion was reported, has seen a corresponding rise in contraceptive use. Unfortunately, only 28% of married African women use contraception, and one in four has an unmet need for contraceptives — meaning she is fertile and sexually active but does not currently want to have a child. Most commonly, the problem is lack of availability.

The Catholic Church, which has a lot of influence in many of the developing countries where the most unsafe abortion occurs, is pretty much holding its hands over its ears and singing through this news. Deirdre McQuade of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities says, "We need to be much more creative in assisting women with supportive services so they don't need to resort to the unnatural act of abortion." This stance is pretty unsurprising. A little more disturbing is McQuade's take on contraception. According to the AP, she says "that use of artificial contraception could increase a women's health risks and said they would fare better using natural family planning methods approved by the church." Given that "natural family planning" can require careful timing on the part of both partners, it may not be an effective method in places where women's status in a relationship is low. And of course, it doesn't protect against STDs. It would have made sense for McQuade to cite religious objections to contraception, but describing as a "women's health risk" the very thing that can protect women from both unsafe abortion and disease just seems ridiculous. Luckily, Guttmacher Institute president Sharon Camp says,

The Catholic Church has informally at least stopped fighting against contraception to the degree it once did and put more of its energies into fighting abortion. On the ground there are priests and nuns who refer people to family planning services.

It's important to remember that unsafe abortions don't happen only in developing countries. Yesterday a 17-year-old Utah girl was released after being charged with murder for paying a man to beat her in order to induce abortion. Why would an American teenager resort to this? Maybe because as of 2005, Utah had only six abortion providers, and 93% of counties had no provider? Or because Utah has a parental consent law that would have required the girl's parents to agree to the abortion? The Guttmacher Institute report makes three recommendations: improve postabortion care, expand access to contraceptives, and expand access to safe and legal abortion. These measures are just as necessary in the US as they are around the world.

Abortion And Unintended Pregnancy Decline Worldwide As Contraceptive Use Increases [Guttmacher Institute]
Facts On Induced Abortion Worldwide [Guttmacher Institute]
Unsafe Abortions Kill 70,000 A Year [Guardian]
Unsafe Abortions Kill 70,000 Annually [AP]
Girl Who Tried Killing Her Fetus Released [UPI.com]