When I wrote a post nearly three years ago about the abortion debate, I knew the effort was futile. But the latest attacks on Planned Parenthood reinforce the point I made back then. I’ll be very clear upfront about where I stand: I am pro-choice and want to reduce the abortion rate. In fact, most of the pro-choice people I know also want to reduce the abortion rate. So what makes us different than the conservatives who also claim they want to reduce the abortion rate? One thing: we care about what actually works.
The evidence is clear: closing abortion clinics or making abortion illegal has no significant effect on abortion rates. In fact the abortion rate, despite it being legal in the US during the period, has been steadily falling for the past 30 years.
So what does work? Two things have a significant effect: comprehensive sexual education classes and freely available contraceptives. It’s obvious when you think about it: abortions come as a result of unwanted pregnancies. Reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies by providing proper education and birth control, then the abortion rate drops with it. Meanwhile, promoting abstinence-only sexual education dramatically increases the abortion rate. See the numerous sources here.
So why do so many people keep fighting against better sex ed and contraceptive use if they claim that they want fewer abortions? And why attack Planned Parenthood, which does 97% of its care on sexual education, contraceptives, and health care for women, primarily low income women who would be more likely to have abortions? If we took our biases out of it and just examined the data, shutting down Planned Parenthood would increase the number of abortions being performed.
Here is what I think:
1 – It’s a political tool. The bogus videos produced this year came at a rather fortuitous time for Republican politicians, right as they are ramping up for election season. Nothing has excited their voters more over the past few decades than the abortion debate. It doesn’t matter that the videos were shown to be falsified or that multiple independent investigations found no wrong-doing on the part of Planned Parenthood. It doesn’t matter that PP doesn’t use any taxpayer money to perform abortions. One glance at Fox News or facebook and you’ll see that it is having its intended effect, evidence be damned.
The politicians don’t care about actually reducing the abortion rate. It has already been falling consistent for 30 years and they aren’t quoting that statistic. No, they want people to get out and vote for them. And for Republicans, that means screaming about dead babies at the top of their lungs over and over again every election cycle.
2 – The modern Republican party glorifies ignorance. Whether it’s denying climate change, trickle down economics, demonizing same-sex parenting, or endlessly fighting against sex ed and contraceptive availability while simultaneously claiming to be anti-abortion, it’s like an ostrich burying its head in the sand. When the evidence doesn’t support their position, they simply ignore the evidence.
3 – The Democrats let them get away with it. The prominent voices in the Democratic party have not been sending the most effective message. They keep trumpeting the idea of a woman’s right to choose (which I agree with) instead of presenting the very clear evidence. Let’s pay more attention to data and give less heed to subjective arguments.
4 – For Republicans who are aware of the data, it’s about their own particular brand of morality in regards to sex, not about abortions. That’s the dirty little secret here. They don’t want a world where their teenagers learn how to put a condom on in school. They don’t want a clinic down the street passing out free condoms. They’re not really willing to do what it takes to reduce the abortion rate because they would rather legislate sexual morality.