Orlando's picture

    The Abortion Debate


    We’ve had quite a month in South Bend. When the President accepted the invitation to speak at Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony, the media jumped all over the supposed re-ignition of the abortion debate. 

    Randall Terry came to perform an Operation Rescue--with Alan Keyes in tow. I’m not sure who was rescued, but I did notice that they were very good at getting arrested, pushing around strollers with blood-drenched plastic dolls, and publicly displaying graphic images of aborted fetuses--on trucks, on airplane banners, and on posters. They were also pretty good at pissing off the locals.

    Terry and Keyes promised an army of protesters 20,000 strong, that would line the streets surrounding campus. Terry said, “My goal, and my challenge to everyone, is to create such a political mud pit here that Obama chooses to not walk through it in order to speak.” 

    I wanted Randall to tell you how that worked out for him, but he was a little busy this morning what with the arraignment and all, so I’ll have to fill you in. I’m not so good with the math, but I don’t think 300 equals 20,000. Even still, I can see how 300 angry white people (plus Alan Keyes) holding pictures of cut up fetuses and calling random passersby “murderers” is jarring. The media sure liked it. The protesters got loads of press coverage. Locally, the police handed out “No Trespassing” signs so that the people who actually live on the street where the out-of-towners were camped could have them arrested if they stepped onto private property. I saw one guy interviewed who was running his sprinklers. With a twinkle in his eye, he told a reporter that the water was nourishing his lawn. And the sidewalk.

    I've been a little bit busy in April and May, so I didn’t get a chance to watch much of the coverage. What I did see concentrated more on whether Notre Dame was committing mortal sin with the invitation or whether the anti-Obama Catholics were committing mortal hypocrisy. Guess which one I pick.

    Anyway, the protests are over now, and the abortion controversy has been effectively over for a while. A recent Gallup poll indicated that the majority of Americans were pro-life. But a new CNN poll reveals that although 51% of Americans might call themselves “pro-life,” 68% of us do not wish to see Roe vs. Wade overturned. Hey, Randall, maybe the 30% of Americans who do want it overturned will chip in to pay your court costs.

    It’s been a while since I thought much about abortion as a national political issue what with war and torture and economic disaster being front and center. So, I went looking for some abortion statistics this morning. What I found is a report from the Guttmacher Instituted from July 2008 titled, Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States



    • Fifty percent of U.S. women obtaining abortions are younger than 25: Women aged 20–24 obtain 33% of all abortions, and teenagers obtain 17%.
    • Thirty-seven percent of abortions occur to black women, 34% to non-Hispanic white women, 22% to Hispanic women and 8% to women of other races. 
    • Women who have never married obtain two-thirds of all abortions. 
    • About 60% of abortions are obtained by women who have one or more children. 
    • The abortion rate among women living below the federal poverty level ($9,570 for a single woman with no children) is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level (44 vs. 10 abortions per 1,000 women). This is partly because the rate of unintended pregnancies among poor women (below 100% of poverty) is nearly four times that of women above 200% of poverty (112 vs. 29 per 1,000 women). 
    • The reasons women give for having an abortion underscore their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life. Three-fourths of women cite concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths say they cannot afford a child; three-fourths say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and half say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner.


    No surprise here. Most of the women having abortions are young or poor, or both. So, if a group was, say, truly committed to reducing the number of abortions (as opposed to, for example, controlling women and throwing temper tantrums until they get their way), my suggestion would be to make contraception and sex education more widely available to the young and the poor. 

    Abortion is legal. An overwhelming majority of the country supports abortion remaining legal. Instead of using negative tactics in a probably-doomed attempt to reverse that trend, why not use positive tactics to educate and protect those who are least equipped to care for a child? 

    Still, even when contraceptives are used, they sometimes fail.


    • Fifty-four percent of women who have abortions had used a contraceptive method (usually the condom or the pill) during the month they became pregnant. Among those women, 76% of pill users and 49% of condom users report having used their method inconsistently, while 13% of pill users and 14% of condom users report correct use. 
    • Forty-six percent of women who have abortions had not used a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant. Of these women, 33% had perceived themselves to be at low risk for pregnancy, 32% had had concerns about contraceptive methods, 26% had had unexpected sex and 1% had been forced to have sex. 
    • Eight percent of women who have abortions have never used a method of birth control; nonuse is greatest among those who are young, poor, black, Hispanic or less educated. 
    • About half of unintended pregnancies occur among the 11% of women who are at risk for unintended pregnancy but are not using contraceptives. Most of these women have practiced contraception in the past.


    No contraceptive method is 100% accurate, but the overwhelming majority of women who have abortions have either not used any contraception or have used it inconsistently. This only strengthens the theory that better education about, and availability of, contraceptives would reduce the number of abortions. 



    • The number of U.S. abortion providers declined by 2% between 2000 and 2005 (from 1,819 to 1,787). Eighty-seven percent of all U.S. counties lacked an abortion provider in 2005; 35% of women live in those counties. 
    • Forty percent of providers offer very early abortions (even before the first missed period) and 96% offer abortion at eight weeks from the last menstrual period. Sixty-seven percent of providers offer at least some second-trimester abortion services (13 weeks or later), and 20% offer abortion after 20 weeks. Only 8% of all abortion providers offer abortions at 24 weeks. 
    • The proportion of providers offering abortion at four or fewer weeks’ gestation increased from 7% in 1993 to 40% in 2005. 
    • In 2005, the cost of a nonhospital abortion with local anesthesia at 10 weeks’ gestation ranged from $90 to $1,800; the average amount paid was $413. 


    Here is a place where the anti-abortion movement has had some success. Eighty-seven percent of all U.S. counties lack an abortion provider. This unfairly burdens the young and the poor, who are less likely to have the means to travel. Even still, the young and the poor make up the largest group of women who have abortions, yet again strengthening the argument for better education and access to family planning. 

    The next section of the report might be my favorite, because it is a great illustration of how the pro-life movement has used scare tactics and misinformation to enact legislation that handcuffs doctors and hurts women. 


    • Eighty-nine percent of abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, 2004.



    When women have abortions (in weeks from the last menstrual period)




    Eighty-nine percent! So much for the theory that women wait until the fetus is viable to decide they don’t want to carry it to term. Only slightly over 1% of abortions occur after 21 weeks. When a woman finds out she is pregnant, if the pregnancy is unintended, she doesn’t wait for seven months to decide what to do. Late term abortions are overwhelmingly employed when the mother’s life is in danger. By banning the procedure, we are endangering women. 

    Finally, let’s take a look at medication abortion.


    • In September 2000, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the abortion drug Mifepristone to be marketed in the United States as an alternative to surgical abortion.
    • In 2005, 57% of abortion providers, or 1,026 facilities, provided one or more medication abortions, a 70% increase from the first half of 2001. At least 10% of nonhospital abortion providers offer only medication abortion services. 
    • Medication abortion accounted for 13% of all abortions, and 22% of abortions before nine weeks’ gestation, in 2005. 


    I predict that the number of medication abortions will grow and the number of surgical abortions will decrease. This is a positive development. Now, in the privacy of a doctor’s office, women, and those close to them, are able to make decisions about their own bodies without the intrusion of strangers.

    I expect that the rancor of the abortion debate will continue to subside as medication abortions increase, although I’m not sure that the two opposing sides will ever be able to overcome the demonization of one other. I know it’s a struggle for me to accept that those who oppose abortion always act out of good faith. But it’s a struggle I’m willing to wage with myself, providing I’m met halfway.



    Excellent compilation and analysis, Orlando. I'd like to see stats on what proportion of those declaring themselves "pro-life" also vehemently oppose both contraception and sex education. Because, of course, those lead to more sex!

    Let's call a spade a spade: the battle is not pro-choice vs. pro-life. It's pro-sex vs. anti-sex. If the argument were really that life begins with contraception, then what exactly would be the beef against condoms?

    At that point, you get into "Sex is for procreation." So it's immoral for infertile couples to have sex? What about those past child-bearing age? What about sex during pregnancy? I don't hear the Catholic Church (or any of the "pro-life" denominations) arguing anything of the sort.

    Look, most of us are pro-sex. Some of us just want to dictate who else should have sex, and what their punishment should be for having it.

    I agree that for many, especially in positions of religious authority, it's about controlling sex. But I also think that for the rank-and-file pro-life advocates, they do truly believe that life begins at conception and that abortion is, therefore, ending a life. I don't happen to agree with them, but I do understand their urgency and their earnestness, because I feel the same about many issues important to me. 

    But what I think is really sad is that many of the people who have this devout belief have been convinced that their political leaders have a stake in criminalizing abortion. The Republican party did exactly nothing during six years when they were in control of all three branches of the federal government. They don't want abortion to be illegal. They want it to be legal so they can pretend to care, all the while raking in campaign donations by promising to be pro-life and using the issue as a stick with which to beat the left. They have no intention of making a move to criminalize abortion because it would be a gigantic political miscalculation and they know it.

    That sort of thing disgusts me far more than people of strongly held beliefs. But those people, at least right now, have their heels dug in and don't want to work to reduce the number of abortions because they will only accept a total ban. Just like abstinence, this is an unrealistic goal. 

    What they seem to be missing is that nobody is wild about abortion. But I'm less wild about women dying from unclean, illegal procedures or by a bunch of men telling me what I can and can't do with my body. I'll make those decisions for myself, thank you very much.

    I think that's the big rift here.  They're not pro-life.  They're anti-abortion.  Thus, they see their opposition as being pro-abortion, which isn't the case.  I've never met anyone that was pro-abortion.  Who is advocating for increasing the incidence of abortion?

    There is actually a group that was in town protesting the protests who claimed to be pro-abortion. Their spokesperson was a little over the top, leaving me to think that it was either a) a put on; or b) a reaction to feeling that too many people apologize for being pro-choice--as in "Nobody supports abortion, but..." 

    But you're right that nobody really does support abortion, per se. It's a choice that no woman wants to have to make. But there are many times in life when we're faced with really difficult choices and in no instance would I ever want someone wholly unconnected with me to have a role in making that choice for me.

    (FYI for G: having some issues logging in with OpenID.  I suppose that's what I get for staying away so long.)

    A recent Gallup poll indicated that the majority of Americans were pro-life. But a new CNN poll reveals that although 51% of Americans might call themselves “pro-life,” 68% of us do not wish to see Roe vs. Wade overturned.

    Reading the above stats, I realized something.  Horror of horrors, I think I must be "pro-life."  I mean, I think abortion is generally a Bad Idea. But I also think thatat the only person who can really judge whether an abortion is a bad idea for their specific situation is the (potential) mother.

    Reminds me of this classic from the campaign season:


    And anyway, isn't the idea that unlimited procreation is the best way to ensure survival of the species a little, well, outdated?

    But the little bitty video was so cute. I love Samantha Bee and I loved that bit. That poor young woman was tripping all over herself just to not have to say it. 

    G is on vacation, Paige (the nerve). But we'll alert him to your login issues when he returns. It's nice to see you!

    Hey Paige. Long time no blog. The Open ID thing has never worked. I should just disable it.

    I know; I'm a serious slacker these days.  And actually... I did work when you first set this thing up.  I was using it regularly for a while.   Sounds like I should just create a new account now though.

    Orlando - This is GREAT.  Thank you for all your research and info.  I went and found one other stat that I think is interesting -

    After learning they are pregnant, 25% of women have a first trimester pregnancy loss. Generally, after a miscarriage, a woman is able to have several healthy children.

    So, what do the anti-choice people do about the women that had a miscarriage?  Are these women baby killers? 

    I think abortion is very sad.  There should be less of them but since the beginning of humans getting pregnant women have used methods to abort the fetus.  Look through any old (centuries old) herbals.  Those more versed then me could probably find it discussed in the bible.  This is right up there with prostitution and drug induced states - constants in the human history legal or not.

    First, well written O, as always.

    Second, I always find it perplexing that the party that supposedly wants the government out of your life wants it to intervene in your life when they disagree with your decision.  Shouldn't people who advocate small government also advocate for pro choice since it stops "big government" from running your life

    Hey, Bristol Palin has the answer:

    "Girls need to imagine and picture their life with a screaming newborn baby, and then think before they have sex," the daughter of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said.

    "If girls realized the consequences of sex, nobody would be having sex," Palin added. "Trust me. Nobody."

    D'oh!  If only someone had thought to inform young people of the consequences of having sex, they would immediately wise up and stop doing it!

    Bam, no unwanted pregnancies - no abortions.  I see a future for this young lady in public policy.

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