Friday, August 24, 2012

Reason #253: Abortion is Awesome

To commemorate this week's big story--Senate candidate Todd Akin and his "legitimate rape" comments--I thought I'd share some general opinions of mine on the matter. And to dovetail nicely with last week's "Perspective" post, some statistics as well:
  • Point one: abortion rates are going down. Globally, they only decreased about one percent between 2003 and 2008, but in the United States and Europe they've gone down considerably, especially if you expand the time period--the US had almost thirty abortions per one thousand women in 1980, and as of 2005 (it's hard to find more recent numbers for some reason) was down to about nineteen.
  • Point two: only seventeen percent of abortions in America are performed on teenagers. Not only are around half of abortion patients 25 or older, but sixty percent have at least one child already--and one-third have two or more.
  • Point three: South America and Africa, on the whole, have the toughest pro-life laws in the world, yet their abortion rates are substantially higher than in the United States. Europe's and Asia's are pretty high as well, but in terms of actually limiting the number of abortions taking place, the effects of existing legislation are at best a draw.
  • Point four: that being the case, it's no surprise that almost half of the abortions that are happening globally are unsafe--meaning they're performed in defiance of existing laws, and therefore without the support of a legal medical infrastructure.
So, to sum up--the proportion of abortions taking place is going down, especially in the west; those who are getting them are mostly responsible parents looking to limit their existing families, not reckless teenagers using abortion as birth control; and countries with strict anti-abortion laws have the same rates as everybody else, just with far worse safety records.

And then there's the matter of baby hatches--in countries like Malaysia, where abortion is illegal and tightly controlled, and South Africa, where it's legal but strenuously frowned upon by the religious mainstream, there is a big debate going on about the increasing prevalence, and popularity, of drop boxes in major cities where mothers can anonymously abandon their unwanted babies to be cared for by various social organizations. Baby hatches have been around for centuries, as it happens, though their heyday was in the middle ages, which should tell you all you need to know about that.

I suppose you can't write an article titled "Abortion is Awesome" without being careful to clarify that no, I don't think the procedure itself is a delightful business; I don't think it constitutes murder, but I don't think it's wonderful either. What's awesome about abortion is what happens in the long term once it's destigmatized and given a legal framework--people are less overburdened with children they'd rather not have had (the abortion rate is more than four times higher for poor mothers than for well-off ones), which means those they do have can grow up happier, better-fed, and better attended to.

Those children in return also grow up better-educated, and if they're lucky enough to live in a society where birth control flows like running water (thank you, Obamacare), they're far less likely to get unexpectedly pregnant themselves, thereby making abortion not just less common, but less in demand--which should be our real goal, shouldn't it?

Like with voter-ID laws a couple weeks ago, I find it helpful with tricky issues like this to compare the two worst-case scenarios; no human legal structure will ever be perfect, so creating laws, in my opinion, should be a matter of deciding which worst-case scenario we're more willing to live with. No matter how advanced our science gets, I don't think it's possible to establish conclusively when a life truly begins; it will always be an arbitrary decision that not everyone agrees with. That being the case, all we can do is decide when the suffering--hypothetical or otherwise--of the fetus outweighs the rights of the mother and the suffering that could result in the child growing up unwanted, or worse, unloved.

And in a world struggling to keep up with the surging human population, where there's serious talk of wars over water in the coming decades and where someone already dies of hunger every 3.6 seconds, I will always---always--err on the side of fewer people.

Further Reading

P.a.p.-Blog - Statistics on Abortion

Who's getting abortions? Not who you'd think

Abortion rates same whether legal or not

The Economist: Global abortion rates

More baby hatches for unwanted babies

In South Africa, a Grassroots Battle on Baby Abandonment

REAL: Abortion Statistics

Fast Facts: The Faces of Poverty

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