Discerning the facts about abortion, abortion laws, and their impact on women’s health can be as challenging as understanding the rise and fall of the TSX. There are no shortage of opinions. And of course we have the perennial warning from abortion advocates telling us that restrictions will have dire consequences for women – “Outlaw abortion and abortion won’t stop. Women will just do it illegally and women will die!”
In the face of these doomsday scenarios, we are seeing a very different picture emerge. The evidence is mounting that abortion restrictions are having completely opposite effect – not only are they resulting in less abortions, they are also having a positive impact on women’s health.
The federal government in the United States has released the latest abortion related statistics via the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the numbers show an encouraging trend. Abortion rates are the lowest in decades as more and more women choose alternatives. In 2011 there were 13.9 abortions for every 1000 women of reproductive age. This figure has been steadily declining since 1980, when there were 25 abortions for every 1000 women. The numbers released by CDC are in line with earlier reports from the Guttmacher Institute (America’s largest abortion advocate) and they show that abortion regulations are having the desired effect.
The correlation between the number of abortions and the increase in abortion regulations cannot be ignored. Between 2000 and 2011 there were nearly 300 abortion laws passed nationwide in the USA. These laws are a reflection of the changing public attitudes towards abortion.
And it’s not only our southern neighbours where we see this seismic shift.
In 1989, Chile implemented a complete ban on abortion. At the time there was tremendous public outcry that this would lead to illegal abortions which would certainly result in women’s health being jeopardized. But thanks to accurate reporting (unlike here in Canada, where it is impossible to get accurate statistics because provincial governments have censored the information), we now know that the opposite is true. The MELISA Institute, a Chilean private non-profit institution for advanced bio-medical research, has recently released data showing that not only has maternal health improved, the number of women seeking illegal abortion has plummeted.
Dr. Elard Koch, Director of Research of the MELISA Institute says that since Chile banned abortion in 1989, the number of maternal deaths has decreased from 41.3 to 12.7 per 100,000 women. It is hard to argue with numbers like that. Dr. Koch attributes this to a number of things including data which “suggests that support programs directed to vulnerable women can prevent most induced abortions.” He goes on to say that, “The Chilean experience represents a paradox in our times: even under a less permissive abortion legislation, maternal health indicators can be significantly improved by other factors, including a noteworthy reduction in mortality and morbidity associated to abortion.”
It appears that Stephen Harper is onto something with his maternal health initiative, which specifically excludes abortion.
Chile has proven to be a world leader in maternal health. Banning abortion has helped them achieve these positive outcomes. Dr. Kock explains, “The high quality of Chilean vital statistics indicates these findings are unlikely to be the result of an artifact of the registry system. Rather, a decrease in hospital discharges due to complications from illegal abortion appears to explain virtually all the reduction in hospital discharges due to any type of abortion in Chile during the last decade.” Not only are women not seeking abortions outside proper healthcare facilities, the number of women seeking abortions is declining.
Around the world the pro-life movement has always taken a multi-pronged approach to addressing abortion. Largely through the efforts of volunteers they have come alongside women in unplanned pregnancies, exploring the options and caring for them and their families. In addition to this there are efforts geared towards educating the public about the impact of abortion on women and children.
Canada lags far behind in proper care for pregnant women and pre-born children. Women are not even afforded the respect of receiving all the relevant information prior to making a decision about the health of their pre-born child. The experiences of Chile and the United States should open our eyes to the reality that abortion regulations enhance maternal health.
Laws will never be the complete answer. As with every other example of human brokenness, they will not prevent all abortions. But that does not mean that we are excused from taking action. Just as our nation has done in addressing the harms of cigarette smoking, Canada can go a lot further to provide proper care, information, and protection for pregnant women and their pre-born children. It is time to enact life-saving regulations which bring us into line with other civilized nations.