Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Does Outlawing Abortion Make It Less Frequent–Or Less Safe?

Suppose Scott Roeder, the accused killer of Dr. George Tiller, and other radical anti-abortionists realized their vision. Abortion would be illegal and the doctors and women who took part in the procedure would be thrown in jail. Would that result in the end of abortion in America? Not according to the World Health Organization. A study conducted two years ago concluded that the difference between countries that allow abortion and those that don't is in the safety of abortion, not the rate:

A comprehensive global study of abortion has concluded that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women seeking it.

Moreover, the researchers found that abortion was safe in countries where it was legal, but dangerous in countries where it was outlawed and performed clandestinely. Globally, abortion accounts for 13 percent of women’s deaths during pregnancy and childbirth, and there are 31 abortions for every 100 live births, the study said.

...The study indicated that about 20 million abortions that would be considered unsafe are performed each year and that 67,000 women die as a result of complications from those abortions, most in countries where abortion is illegal.

The results of this study were borne out by the deadly toll of abortions conducted by amateurs in Tanzania, where it is illegal:

Abortion is illegal in Tanzania (except to save the mother’s life or health), so women and girls turn to amateurs, who may dose them with herbs or other concoctions, pummel their bellies or insert objects vaginally. Infections, bleeding and punctures of the uterus or bowel can result, and can be fatal. Doctors treating women after these bungled attempts sometimes have no choice but to remove the uterus.

...Worldwide, there are 19 million unsafe abortions a year, and they kill 70,000 women (accounting for 13 percent of maternal deaths), mostly in poor countries like Tanzania where abortion is illegal, according to the World Health Organization. More than two million women a year suffer serious complications. According to Unicef, unsafe abortions cause 4 percent of deaths among pregnant women in Africa, 6 percent in Asia and 12 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean.

...Reliable figures on abortion in Tanzania are hard to come by, but the World Health Organization reports that its region, Eastern Africa, has the world’s second-highest rate of unsafe abortions (only South America is higher). And Africa as a whole has the highest proportion of teenagers — 25 percent — among women having unsafe abortions.

The World Health Organization study above and the study of Tanzania both conclude that the best way to reduce abortions is to make contraceptives more widely available. That measure is also opposed by the right wing, as seen in the Bush administration's support for programs that promoted abstinence as part of its campaign against HIV/AIDS in Africa.

In Tanzania, the law calls for a woman to be locked up for seven years for having an abortion. Jail or a botched abortion: those are among the possibilities for women in countries where reproductive rights are outlawed–possibilities that would be realized if radical anti-abortionists had their way in the U.S.

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