# 1

If abortion becomes illegal, abortion will end

The foundation of anti-choice activism and legislation assumes that, if abortion is criminalized, abortions will no longer be performed. Nothing could be further from the truth. This myth also tries to erase the tragic history of women dying from unsafe, illegal abortion – an avoidable pandemic that is still common in many developing countries today.

The main reason abortion was legalized in the first place was to protect public health – women were dying or being injured because a large proportion of women with an unwanted pregnancy will resort to abortion, regardless of any laws. In Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries, the main causes of maternal mortality were puerperal pyrexia, haemorrhage, convulsions, and illegal abortion. In the United States, the number of illegal abortions during the 1950s and 1960s ranged from an estimated 200,000 to 1.2 million per year, with up to 5,000 women dying each year from unsafe abortion. During the abortion ban in Romania from 1965 to 1989, implemented to increase the birth rate, more than 9,000 women died from complications due to illegal abortions and the birth rate increased very little.

Restrictive abortion laws don’t even lower the rate of abortions. Global research points to a correlation between restrictive abortion laws and higher abortion rates. Across Africa and Latin America, where abortion is illegal under most circumstances in most countries, the abortion rate is 29 and 32 abortions, respectively, per 1,000 women of childbearing age. In Western Europe, where abortion is generally legal on broad grounds, the abortion rate is 12 per 1,000, the lowest subregional rate in the world. (These are 2008 figures)

When abortion is illegal, it is unsafe.

The only thing that criminalizing abortion changes is the safety of the procedure. Thirteen percent of maternal deaths worldwide are abortion-related (that’s 47,000 women) and almost all of them happen in places where abortion is illegal. Over 7 million women suffer serious and sometimes permanent injury. When abortion is criminalized, it only creates unsafe conditions and results in more deaths. Illegal abortion is frequently done later in pregnancy (around 15 weeks gestation on average) by an untrained person (often the woman herself), under unhygienic conditions, and with unsuitable equipment. Although some doctors provide safe abortions when it’s illegal, such as in Poland and many other countries, such procedures are usually very expensive and only available to well-off women.

The website www.abortionfilms.org has compiled a list of films and videos about abortion throughout history and today, with many from countries where abortion is illegal.

The key to ending abortion is to improve access to contraception and sex education. This helps reduce unwanted pregnancy, which is the main cause of abortion. Favourable economic conditions, good access to healthcare, and full human rights for women also enable women to have children when they want to.


Figure 1: Timeline for legalisation of abortion in various countries

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Figure 2: Abortion prohibition in Romania

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Figure 3: Abortion prohibition in the USA

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Figure 4: Abortion prohibition in England and Wales

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Sources:
The Lancet
, Induced Abortion: Incidence and trends worldwide from 1995 to 2008 (2012)

Abortion Rights Campaign (Ireland), Myth #3: Criminalising abortion ensures a low abortion rate

Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, British Maternal Mortality in the early 18th and 19th centuries, by Geoffrey Chamberlain (2006)

Journal of Family Planning & Reproductive Healthcare, The remarkable story of Romanian women’s struggle to manage their fertility (2013)

Guttmacher Institute, Access to safe abortion in the developing world (2012)

Our Bodies, Ourselves, The Impact of Illegal Abortion (2014)

Everyday Feminism, 6 Abortion Myths Debunked, by Erin McKelle (2004)

# 2

Religious people are against abortion

Fact: For the most part, it is only the Roman Catholic Church and various religious fundamentalists (primarily evangelical Protestant Christians), who are against abortion. However, a majority of Catholics are pro-choice (at least in western countries). In a poll of U.S. Catholics for example, only 14% agreed with the Vatican’s position that abortion should be illegal, and 85% believed a woman should be able to access an abortion in some or all circumstances.

The doctrines of all major religions (except Catholic) allow abortion at least in a few circumstances. But most religions have a liberal stream of thought that is more fully pro-choice, as well as many pro-choice adherents. Jews are largely pro-choice, and so are many Muslims. The diversity of Christianity means that many denominations are pro-choice, such as the United Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church, and the Presbyterian Church.

Before abortion was legalized in the United States, many religious leaders were at the forefront of calls to legalize abortion. From 1967 to 1973, the members of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion – 1,400 ministers and rabbis across the country – helped thousands of women obtain illegal but safe abortions.

Today, a number of religious organizations educate the public about women’s right to abortion, teaching that it can be a religiously responsible decision:

  • Catholics for Choice (international) – A voice for Catholics who believe that the Catholic tradition supports a woman’s moral and legal right to follow her conscience in matters of sexuality and reproductive health.
  • The Religous Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health & Ethics (international) – A multi-faith network of progressive feminist religious scholars and leaders, who seek out the positive, renewable moral energies of our faith traditions and direct them to the issues of population, consumption, ecology, reproductive health, and the empowerment of women.
  • Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (U.S.) – A community of religious organizations and faithful individuals dedicated to achieving reproductive justice through education, organizing and advocacy.
  • Faith Aloud (U.S.) – A group guided by faith and rooted in community, which engages people to create a just society in which healthy sexual, reproductive, and parenting decisions can be freely made.

Sources:

Catholics for Choice, The Facts Tell the Story: Catholics and Choice (2015)

Pew Research Center, Religious Groups’ Official Positions on Abortion (2013)

ThinkProgress (Tara Culp-Ressler): “God Loves Women Who Have Abortions”: The Religious Abortion Advocates that History Forgot (2014)

Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions (book), by Daniel Maguire (Fortress Press, 2001)

# 3

Feminists are pro-abortion and encourage women to have abortions

Fact: “Pro-choice” means that feminists and liberals support a woman’s right to decide freely whether to have a child or not. It means the decision belongs to the woman and no-one else. Pro-choice people consider it unethical when others pressure pregnant women to have either an abortion or a baby. At abortion clinics, options counseling provides women with full information on alternatives to abortion. If women seem ambivalent about abortion, or feel pressured by others, counselors will encourage them to take more time to think about their decision. Many patients who were unsure end up deciding to carry to term. When a woman chooses to have a child, pro-choice people welcome the decision. But if a woman is not in a position to have a child, this must be accepted and the woman treated with respect and compassion.

Proponents of choice also aim to provide sexual education for young people and to facilitate access to contraception in order to reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancy – the main cause of abortion. But many women will need and request abortions, and it’s important that abortions are performed under the best possible medical conditions.
Sources:
sisterresist, Mythos Abtreibung – Ammenmärchen zum Schwangerschaftsabbruch

Pro-Choice Action Network, Misconceptions About Abortion

# 4

Adoption is better than abortion

Fact: For many women, the choice to have an abortion is because they do not want to be pregnant, or give birth, or relinquish a child. In an Australian study, “We Women Decide”, women who had relinquished a baby for adoption spoke of their pain and ongoing emotional difficulty because of the decision. In contrast, most women do not regret their abortions.

Because adoption is such a difficult route to take, only a tiny percentage of women choose adoption (2-4% in North America). Most women today choose abortion or single parenthood, and it is simply not realistic to expect this to change. It would be wrong to force women to give birth and relinquish their baby for adoption, and it is not women’s purpose to produce babies for infertile couples. Further, the “market” for newborns, especially healthy and white newborns, turns babies into commodities and perpetuates inequality and poverty for older children that no-one wants.

Every child should be a wanted child. In the U.S., more than 250,000 children enter the foster care system every year because they were in abusive or neglectful situations. While more than half of these children will return to their parents, the remainder will stay in the system. Each year, more than 20,000 children age out of the foster care system without being adopted.  There are currently 102,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted, ranging in age from less than a year old to 21. So while the anti-choice movement claims that the answer is adoption, not abortion, the reality is that children are often abused, abandoned, and neglected because no one will take care of them. During the “social experiment” of banned abortion in Romania from 1966 to 1989, tens of thousands of unwanted children were abandoned in  orphanages where they were badly neglected, and many ended up living on the street. The country still hasn’t recovered from this disaster that traumatized an entire generation.

Unwanted children
There is a large amount of scientific research about unwanted children and the fact that their chances in life are less than for wanted children. To mention the very important work on this subject by Henry P. David:
David HP. et al. “Born unwanted. Developmental effects of denied abortion”, Springer, 1988
David, H. P., Dytrych, Z., & Matejcek, Z.  “Born unwanted: Observations from the Prague Study”. American Psychologist, 58: 224-229, 2003
Read the abstract: psycnet.apa.org
Letter to the editor: psycnet.apa.org

Sources:

www.sahealth.sa.gov.au

Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, Why Few Women Choose Adoption (2006)

Adopt U.S. Kids – Meet the Children

National Public Radio, For Romania’s Orphans, Adoption Is Still A Rarity (2012)

Children of the Decree, documentary film on Romain’s orphans (2005)

# 5

Proponents want to allow abortion up to birth

Fact: Proponents aim to give women access to abortion as early as possible, and women who want an abortion will try to obtain one as early as possible.

In all western countries, abortions in the third trimester are done only in very rare exceptional situations – sometimes when the woman has a serious illness, but usually when there is a severe malformation of the fetus with little or no chance of survival after birth. An example is anencephaly, a situation where the fetus develops without a brain.  In these cases, an abortion must be possible later in pregnancy. Other examples of serious fetal conditions are spina bifida, major heart defects, chromosomal abnormalities, and missing organs and limbs.
Comprehensive testing of fetuses that would uncover such serious defects are typically performed just before 20 weeks, so it’s not possible for most women to obtain early abortions for reasons of fetal abnormality. Proponents of safe legal abortion often say: “As early as possible, as late as necessary,” because they recognize the tragic necessity of these rare third-trimester abortions.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Facts About Anencephaly (2015)

Orlando Women’s Center, Late Abortion Due to Fetal Anomaly

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists, 18-20 Week Screening Pregnancy Ultrasound

# 6

One can not be ‘pro-choice’ but against death penalty

Fact: The moral and social questions behind these two issues are completely different.

The ability to access an abortion is based on the idea that every woman has the right to decide whether she wants to (or is able to) carry a pregnancy to term, and whether she feels ready to take responsibility for a child and guide it through life. Proponents of abortion rights know that safe and legal abortion is life-saving for women. Without it, large numbers of women resort to unsafe abortion and risk serious injury or death. Women also cannot control their own lives when their plans and dreams are contingent on whether or not they get pregnant accidentally.

Fetuses are not persons under the law, nor are they sentient individuals who are part of society. An unwanted fetus is also not “innocent” in the sense that it is co-opting a woman’s body against her will and imposing physical and mental health risks upon her.

In contrast, victims of the death penalty are mature and conscious beings who are being punished for a serious crime, usually murder. Many liberal people are against the death penalty because they feel it is inhumane, discriminates against minorities, does not deter violent crime, and carries too great a risk of killing innocent people who were wrongfully convicted.

Therefore, support for both abortion rights and abolishing the death penalty is rooted in justice, human dignity, and respect for life.

Sources:

American Civil Liberties Union, The Case Against the Death Penalty (2012)

Anne Nicol Gaylor, Women’s Medical Fund, “Abortion Is a Blessing” (1975)

Joyce Arthur, Pro-Choice Action Network, “The Fetus Focus Fallacy” (2005)

# 7

Abortions should not be funded by the government

Safe abortion is an integral part of women’s reproductive health care. Not funding abortion can put women’s lives and health at risk, especially poor women. It can also violate women’s constitutional rights to bodily autonomy, liberty, conscience, privacy, and equality (in countries that have such constitutional guarantees for women).  Therefore, many countries fund abortion services via their nation’s health care insurance (such as Canada and the UK).

However, in many countries (such as the United States and Austria), abortion may be separated from other health care and not funded by taxpayers. This forces women to pay out of pocket or rely on private insurance. Abortion funding is therefore crucial to ensure fairness and equity, without discrimination on the basis of income or gender. In the U.S., poor women often have to delay their abortions while they raise the necessary funds, which increases the medical risk. Between 18 and 35 percent of poor American women who are unable to access funding are forced to carry to term, in violation of their constitutional right to abortion.

Abortion must also be funded because it is not an elective procedure, any more than childbirth is. Pregnancy outcomes are inescapable – that is, a pregnant woman cannot simply cancel the outcome – once she is pregnant, she must decide to either give birth or have an abortion. Anti-choice activists often say that “pregnancy is not a disease” and therefore abortion should not be funded. But the same arguments can be made for childbirth, since there are no medical reasons for a woman to get pregnant and have a baby. More importantly, health is much more than the absence of disease – it’s about achieving a state of overall health and wellness. Women with unwanted pregnancies are not in a healthy place, so their abortion care should be funded.

Sources:
Guttmacher Institute, At What Cost? Payment for Abortion Care by U.S. Women
Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, Why Abortion Care Must Be Fully Funded