Saturday, February 14, 2009

If you really want to prevent abortions … Grind some coffee and find some common ground

Hi everyone,

I just got tired of all the whining. Clear paths to preventing abortions exist and the shortest one, the one that doesn't require any legislative or constitutional hurdles, is simply to adopt road tested sex ed and contraception programs -- the very thing these celebrity anti-choice mullahs avoid like the plague. If we ever taught kids how to be sexually responsible, it'd take all the shrill wind out of their movement. I'm banking they'd rather sustain the social cost of unwanted pregnancies than lose this particular bit of divisive political ammunition.

Without the abortion issue, Glenn Grothman's popularity would depend solely on saying "no" to any state funded programs.

One of the best sources of info on issues related to abortion is the Guttmacher Institute.

Here is Saturday's column.

Last week the UW-Madison Hospital and Clinics board voted (11-3) to provide second trimester abortions at the Madison Surgery Center. During the process of consideration and discussion, one of our local politicians and a Greek chorus of Moral Media Mullahs launched into a satisfyingly self-important rage about tax dollars spent killing babies.

Unfortunately for these celebrity protesters, and the people who follow their lead, the facts don’t fit their theory: 1) the hospital is financially independent from the university so no tax dollars will be spent on late-term abortions and 2) late-term abortions can only be performed in Wisconsin when the mother’s life and health are in danger. These protests, despite their moral fury – even among wellmeaning participants – are a big noise about nothing. And that’s a pity.

Not a single abortion has been prevented by protests aimed at overturning Roe v. Wade or by attempting to pass state mandates that violate the federal law. State politicians who use this issue to get elected cannot change federal law or make appointments to the federal courts. Worse, sanctimonious stone throwing is never a useful deterrence to women who have to make this terrible decision.

Despite the animosity it generates, the public conversation about abortion needn’t be futile.

Rather than walking picket lines without ever saving a single unborn child, the pro-life movement needs to look for an alternative that can prevent abortions in reality and not merely on their protest signs. The most effective alternative to protest, and something even more difficult, is for Wisconsin’s anti-abortion groups to sit down with their adversaries and stake out some common ground.

Some issues will forever remain beyond reason to determine, like whether human life begins at conception or at some later point. Science can never measure when, or if, a soul enters a fertilized human egg. Such questions must be left to an individual’s faith, and religious faith cannot be used as the sole determining factor in law. If it could, there would be nothing to distinguish the United States from Iran.

But common ground can be found, if not in deciding when life begins, then by considering a solution that is already producing significantly fewer abortions in Europe: educational programs proven to prevent unintended pregnancies.

There is evidence that such programs can work here at home. The Guttmacher Institute (from which most of this data is available) estimated that, in 2000, family planning clinics funded under Title X of the federal Public Health Service Act helped women prevent nearly 20 million unintended pregnancies during the previous 20 years. Of those 20 million, an estimated 9 million were at risk for termination by abortion. That’s 9 million abortions avoided simply through better education.

Even better, teenage pregnancy rates fell from 33 percent in 1974 to 17 percent in 2004. The Institute found that a large part of the decline (which began before abstinence-only sex education programs began receiving federal funding) was attributable “to increased use of contraceptives and use of more effective methods.” If your aim is to reduce abortions, this is great news.

Simply improving education among teenagers could cut abortion rates by 17 percent. But there is an even better target for the positive effects of educational programs: the Guttmacher Institute reports that fully half of all unintended pregnancies occur among the 11 percent of women who are at risk for unintended pregnancy, but who are not using contraceptives. These women are the most likely to seek out abortions so simply by targeting this 11 percent, by improving access to contraceptives and proper education, would be the quickest route to reducing the overall number of abortions.

In a nutshell, more abortions can be prevented by education than by any number of protests, no matter how earnest or well-motivated.

Nothing happens if we don’t talk about it. What if Planned Parenthood and Wisconsin Right to Life sat down, put on the coffee, fastened their seat belts and found some common ground?

Big parts of the abortion question will always remain unsolvable, but as long as we merely argue – generating heat but no light – nothing will happen. Abortion rates among American teenagers, though lower than they have been in many years, remain as much as five times higher than teenagers in Europe. There are opportunities to reduce the number of abortions without limiting the right of women to make that choice and without requiring government interference.

But nothing can happen until we start talking to, and not at, each other.

And to those of you who have other views, all of your comments will be published -- so long as you don't use profanity.



Anonymous said...

As you say, protests don't stop abortions. Laws don't either, as those of us who remember the pre-Roe-v.-Wade days well know. But education and making contraception available get pretty close. If all those who feel strongly against abortion worked to give comprehensive, factual sex education to kids, they could make a real reduction in the number of abortions. Thanks, Mark! --Pat

Anonymous said...

I don't like the idea of abortions myself. But it's not my place to force my will on others. But I also am against capital punishment (especially execute a mental retarded person as George Bush allowed) and sending our children off to a battlefield to make Bush/Cheney feel good. The Conservatives wave this pro life banner. But after that baby is born they could care less if that child has special needs, or health care or a safe place to live or nutrition. They are against funding schools, health care, drug abuse, universities and the list could go on.

It is my perception that they want a good percentage of children to fail. That way some will go into crime and they can incarcerate or execute them and some will go off to the military were they can be maimed or killed. Where is the pro life in that?
So, do you have any idea what the neo-cons like Glenn Grothman really want?

Mpeterson said...

Hi Larry,

You know what? I've thought about this, literally, for years and years -- since the Reaganauts arrived in Washington with their "government *is* the problem" mantras, and then promptly pushed us deeper into the red. The longer I've thought about it, the more I keep coming back to the same answer....

They want the money.

The purpose of privatizing the government is to siphon money from working class Americans into the bank accounts of our oligarchs.

Now, I'm not sure Glenn understands that that's the outcome of his political positions, but that has been, demonstrably, exactly what's happened. Money is taken away from people in the middle and the bottom and siphoned up to those in the top 5%.

Whether that's good for the country or not, I suspect it is not -- but it is surely very good for those in the top 5%.

I would be grateful for any other answer.