Last month I wrote at length about the questionable origins of global abortion statistics. It was an article prompted by my review of the Guttmacher Institute’s 2016 study, "Abortion incidence between 1990 and 2014." As much as I tried, I wasn't able to sufficiently cover everything I turned up—so I limited myself to the mechanics of Guttmacher's statistical model. Now I'd like to revisit that study, in order to highlight some additional observations.
By way of review, the Guttmacher Institute is a research and advocacy group. They are working towards the global normalization of abortion—an agenda that influences all of their data analysis. Nevertheless, for those willing to dig below the surface, there is plenty to challenge the standard pro-abortion narrative. According to the report in question, there are two primary reasons for making global abortion estimates. The first relates to unplanned pregnancy and birth control; the second relates to abortion safety. In the study's own words:
Periodic estimates of the incidence of induced abortion are needed to monitor progress towards reducing the unmet need for effective contraception and the incidence of unintended pregnancy. These estimates can also motivate investments in helping women avoid the recourse to and consequences of unsafe abortion where safe abortion is not available.
Did you notice the hidden assumption within that first sentence? Read it again if you missed it. The authors of this study have assumed that abortion occurrence demonstrates an unmet need for contraception. Ostensibly, this assumption is one of the central tenets of modern "reproductive health care." You've probably heard it expressed like this: Birth control is the best way to prevent abortion. Though that may sound reasonable on the surface, it isn't true. The study itself goes on to concede the following:
Our findings indicate that, even if all couples who wished to avoid pregnancy used contraception, unintended pregnancies and abortions would occur because no method is perfect and methods are sometimes used imperfectly. Moreover, some women who want to have a child face circumstances that lead them to seek an abortion after they become pregnant.
We might summarize the study's two statements on birth control like this: Abortion occurrence demonstrates an unmet need for contraception. Also, contraception is intrinsically incapable of eliminating the need for abortion. Why the doublespeak? Because Planned Parenthood, the abortion giant that spun off Guttmacher, turns huge profits selling birth control and abortion. If that strikes you as ironic, it's because you don't sufficiently grasp the relationship between birth control and abortion. They are not competitors; they are partners. They feed off each other.
From a business perspective, publicly pitting birth control against abortion is extremely shrewd. It does two things. It creates the impression that the abortion industry wants to reduce the global abortion rate while simultaneously increasing the potential market for abortion. How can the increased use of contraception increase the pool of aborting women? By creating the illusion that sex and pregnancy can be entirely separated.
Consider this scenario: A college coed is pressured by her boyfriend to have sex. She declines, fearing the impact of an unplanned pregnancy. Undeterred, the boyfriend pulls a condom from his wallet. The girlfriend finally relents and they have "protected" sex. Some weeks later, the young woman finds out she is pregnant and schedules an abortion. Were it not for the promise of birth control, that woman would not have aborted. Sound far-fetched? Unfortunately, it happens every day. After all, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) places the practical failure rate of contraception at 12%. This means that over the course of a year, 12% of sexually-active women on birth control wind up pregnant.
If someone is going to have sex anyway, yes, birth control will reduce the likelihood of pregnancy, but if the availability of birth control helps convince a couple to have sex in the first place, then birth control has fundamentally altered the equation. Pro-choice historian Linda Gordon notes that contraception almost certainly increased the clientele for abortion by “accustom[ing] people to planning reproduction and mak[ing] them unlikely to accept loss of control.” The notion that sexual behavior is not influenced by the availability of birth control and abortion is a ridiculous one. Guttmacher itself has observed that contraception use is far more vigilant in states with the most restrictive abortion laws.
Still not convinced? The Institute for Family Studies mined more than four decades of federal survey data to create a decade-by-decade table that charts the changing sexual behavior of U.S. women since 1970. During the 1970’s, an estimated 21% of American women married as virgins. Today, only 5% of American women are believed to refrain from sex prior to marriage. But what if we go back even further, to the decade before the FDA’s approval of the birth control pill? In 1953, Dr. Alfred Kinsey published his book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, and made the then-scandalous assertion that almost 50% of women in the U.S. engaged in premarital sex. Though most believed this number to be wildly exaggerated, we’ll use it as our starting point. Some quick math demonstrates that since the widespread cultural embrace of modern birth control, the percentage of American women engaging in premarital sex has increased by 90%. I don't think that's a coincidence. Any theoretical reduction in unplanned pregnancy that results from the use of contraception must be weighed against the increased promiscuity that birth control helps motivate.
Globally, there is no clear correlation between the abortion rate and the percentage of women using birth control. In fact, the United Nations (UN) reports that 84% of married or regularly cohabiting women in China use a modern form of birth control. That is tied with the United Kingdom for the highest percentage in the world, and yet China also has what is believed to be the highest abortion rate in the world (as many as 74.2 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44). On the other side of the coin, India has one of the lowest abortion rates in the world (2.2 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44) as well as one of the lowest percentages of contraception use (48%). Similar numbers are reported for Italy, Austria, and Japan.
A reported 73% of the married or regularly cohabiting women in both Belgium and the United States use modern birth control methods. Nevertheless, Belgium's abortion rate is 9.2 (2009) whereas the United State's is 19.6 (2008). That's a difference of 113%. In like fashion, 72% of women in both Canada and Cuba use modern forms of birth control, but Canada's abortion rate is 13.7 and Cuba's is 28.9. Clearly, something more than birth control is influencing national abortion rates.
Despite this fuzzy, non-corollary relationship between abortion and contraception, the authors of the Guttmacher study came to the following conclusion:
[Our] findings (that abortion rates have declined significantly since 1990 in the developed world but not in the developing world) underscore that investments are needed to meet women's and couples' contraceptive needs and ensure access to safe abortion care, especially in the developing world, where abortion rates are high and many abortions are unsafe.
There are a number of reasons to take issue with this analysis. We've already covered the first one: the regional use of birth control does not have a demonstrable impact on the regional rate of abortion. Why, then, does the abortion rate in the developing world demonstrate an unmet need for contraception? Not only is such thinking flawed, it is based on numbers that are entirely speculative. As laid out in my earlier post, there is virtually no reliable abortion data for the developing world. Guttmacher's global abortion estimates are built on probability models that include three layers of uncertainty. To fill in the gaps, Guttmacher leaned upon their own ideological assumptions, including the nonsensical notion that the legality of abortion has no impact on the rate of abortion.
Even though nobody knows what the abortion rate actually is in the developing world, Guttmacher's inflated estimates have become the basis for their insistence that we spend more money promoting contraception in Africa and Latin America. Of course, that's not the only thing Guttmacher wants the global community to spend money on. They also cite a need for increased spending on "safe abortion care"—as if "safe" and "care" somehow make abortion more palatable. This addendum on global abortion spending is an extremely telling one. It exposes and clarifies Guttmacher's ultimate agenda.
Guttmacher has no real interest in reducing the global abortion rate. It is only "unsafe" abortions they take issue with. But why? What's their angle? Are they truly concerned about the estimated 7 million women who are injured by abortion each year in the developing world? Perhaps, but remember this. The abortion industry has as much to gain from inflated complication numbers as they do from inflated abortion numbers.
High global abortion estimates and high global complication rates—both of which come from the Guttmacher Institute—serve the abortion industry in two ways. First, they provide an argument for expanding the use of contraception—which is both a revenue stream for the abortion industry and a potential means of expanding demand for abortion. Second, they push policy makers towards the liberalization of abortion laws—which makes it far easier for the abortion industry to globally monetize abortion.
This is the same playbook that worked so well for the abortion industry in the United States. They shirked the ethical question altogether to argue instead that abortion was already happening illegally and women were dying en masse, due to unsafe conditions. This was later admitted to be a fabrication, but once the damage is done, there's no going back.
The safety of abortion and the legality of abortion are not corollaries. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that "when induced abortion is performed by appropriately trained persons using correct techniques it is a safe procedure." What they mean is that it is safe for the mother, so long as you categorically deny any connection between abortion, breast cancer, future pregnancy complications, and psychological trauma. The principal point is that the relative safety of abortion is not directly tied to the legality of abortion.
Even WHO's efforts to equate safety with legality wind up proving my point. Consider the three things they list for the prevention of unsafe abortion: sexual education, contraception, and "safe, legal abortion." The first two are fairly vacuous, but the third is revealing. The designation "safe, legal abortion" demonstrates that "safe" and "legal" are entirely separate things. Abortion can be illegal and "safe," just as it can be legal and unsafe. And by asserting that "safe" abortions are a good way to prevent unsafe abortions, WHO demonstrates their ideological solidarity with Guttmacher.
Why do I have no qualms concluding that the abortion industry is more interested in profits than safety? Because they actively oppose all efforts to hold abortion clinics to the same safety standards as other surgical facilities. Furthermore, they fight against any legislation that might decrease a woman's likelihood of choosing abortion—things like parental notification laws, mandated waiting periods, the disclosure of potential health risks, and accurate depictions of prenatal development. Does that sound like the behavior of an industry that is truly concerned about protecting a woman's physical and mental health?
Making abortion legal—under the misguided pretext that it will make abortion safe—doesn't magically create the "minimal medical standards" that WHO says are necessary for the maintenance of safe abortion. It does, however, make abortion a lot easier to monetize and expand. For the likes of Planned Parenthood and their ilk, abortion has always been a growth business. Remember that the next time you hear someone suggest that the law can make abortion safe or birth control can make abortion rare. They can't.
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. You can also find him on Facebook and Google+. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.