One Pro-Life, Christian Feminist Perspective
A ViewPoint by Julia K. Stronks
Planned Parenthood performs abortions. That fact has to be acknowledged. By its own accounting, Planned Parenthood clinics in the United States provided about 300,000 abortions last year.
But, this isn’t the whole story. To limit our understanding of the abortion issue to stating numbers is to do ourselves, the women troubled by unplanned pregnancy, and even the unborn a real disservice. Reducing the number of abortions performed must be our goal, but most of us know very little about the impact of different public policies on the number of terminated pregnancies. When we examine this issue carefully, it becomes clear that groups like Planned Parenthood can actually be part of the solution to decreasing abortions.
Abortion rates and the law
Abortion rates are on the decline in the United States. In fact, this past year, we hit a historic low since measurement started in the early 1970s. So, it’s troubling to read Christian media sources that act as if no one but them cares about life, referring to President Obama and others as “pro-abortion.” Many of us care deeply about the unborn but we also realize that reducing the number of abortions that occur in a country is a complicated public policy and public health matter.
One important piece of information relates to the rate of abortions in other countries. It turns out that laws criminalizing abortion do not always correlate with reduced rates of abortion. For example, the abortion rate in the Netherlands is one of the lowest in all industrialized countries. In the Netherlands and other western European countries where abortion is legal and easily available, between 6 and 10 out of 1,000 women of childbearing age will terminate a pregnancy with abortion. By contrast, in the U.S. and Canada, where the laws are more restrictive, the rate approaches 20 in 1000 women. However, the number in some countries where abortion is generally illegal is surprising. In a number of Eastern European and South American countries abortion is illegal but the rate of abortion can be as high as 30 to 40 in every 1000 women of childbearing age. What accounts for the difference?
This is a complicated question but it is instructive to look at some of the policy choices that states in the U.S. have made to try to reduce the number of abortions. The experiments have been consistent in demonstrating that prevention of pregnancy is key. Access to free, easily accessible birth control along with counseling about using it is critical if we want to make a significant reduction in abortions.
An effective approach
In 2007, a colleague of mine was part of a Contraceptive CHOICE project in St. Louis, Missouri. This project noted that long-term contraceptive was very expensive—an IUD cost $700 and was unavailable to a number of young women who were at high risk for unintended pregnancies. Many of these pregnancies resulted in abortion. So, the CHOICE project gave a group of 10,000 women free birth control along with counseling. Most of the women, about 75 percent, chose long-term effective methods that are often provided by Planned Parenthood. At the end of the study, the investigators determined that the group of high-risk women had a reduced rate of abortion. In fact, the rate of abortion for this group was between 50 to 80 percent lower than the U.S. national average. In a country that has about one million abortions per year, a reduction of this rate is excellent news.
Then, about six years ago, the state of Colorado started one of the largest projects experimenting with long-acting birth control. State officials asked if teenagers and poor women were interested in free contraceptive implants to prevent pregnancy. From 2009 to 2013, the birthrate among teenagers using the implants dropped by 40 percent and the rate of abortions dropped by 42 percent. Again, a startling reduction.
I think Christians have to do a better and more careful job engaging in this issue. I know too many pro-choice Christians who ignore the important human life considerations of the abortion challenge. And too many pro-life Christians would rather fight than engage in compromise to actually reduce the number of abortions that occur. This issue is too important for vitriol. Planned Parenthood does perform abortions. But it also provides birth control and counseling to a population at high risk for unwanted pregnancy. If we really care about reduction of abortion, we should be encouraging Planned Parenthood to increase its efforts to reach groups of women at high risk for unintended pregnancy. And we must fund the birth control effort.
© 2016 by Julia K. Stronks and Christian Feminism Today
Canada has NO laws regarding abortion, let alone restrictive laws. In Canada you can have an abortion right up to the moment of birth.
The issue I have with your premise is that we are endorsing a lifestyle of sexual activity outside of the bonds of marriage, which the Bible simply doesn’t support. I realize that people are doing it, but it doesn’t make it right. As believers we need to set and encourage a certain standard for conduct and behaviour. I understand that non-believers shouldn’t be held to this standard, but those who profess faith in Christ should be.
Furthermore, contraceptives have been proven to not be as effective as the data, gathered by the manufacturer of the product most often, suggests that it is. If we want to reduce the number of abortions, we need to reduce the number of pregnancies, but not with “birth control” but with higher regard for sex and intimacy within marriage.
When talking about Planned Parenthood, we must always keep in mind that their primary cash cows are providing abortions and birth control. This is why they finance the campaigns of politicians that oppose ANY regulation of abortion or ANY legislation that pertains to making contraception available OTC, although at least one study indicates that the latter could potentially reduce unplanned pregnancy by 25%. It always strikes me as odd that Planned Parenthood claims that one of its goals is to reduce the rate of unplanned pregnancy while they (and supporters like NARAL) fight “tooth and nail” to oppose making birth control easier to obtain. The only reason I can see for this is the untold millions of dollars that PP would lose from prescribing birth control for their clients. This issue, to me, is just another example of how Planned Parenthood contradicts itself when they spout off about their “concern” for women’s health issues.
PP’s position in opposition to OTC birth control is because as soon as it stops being a prescription med, women will have to pay out of pocket. The problem women face is not the ability to get a prescription, which is the problem OTC birth control would solve. Almost all providers will supply a script to any woman who doesn’t have health contraindications. The problem for many women is affording it. Insurance doesn’t cover any part of OTC meds, and birth control can be expensive. PP doesn’t make much money at all on the birth control they provide.
“…women will have to pay out of pocket.”
Everything I’ve seen to date tells me that insurance will continue to reimburse the cost of OTC birth control. IF… This were the case… Would you support OTC birth control?
OR… In the case where I am wrong and insurance will not presently reimburse OTC birth control… Why can we not push for the ACA (or its successor, whatever it may be:) ) to cover OTC birth control rather than to simply maintain the status quo? After all, the ultimate goal here is to minimize the number of unplanned pregnancies… Yes?
It just seems to me that if PP were sincere in their mission to reduce unplanned pregnancy, they would be fighting for anything that would increase the availability and affordability of contracecption for any and all who require it as opposed to fighting against such measures. PP obviously has the clout to persuade the insurance industry to make this feasible. Why don’t they?
Nick, I think this IS what PP is doing by opposing OTC birth control. I think they are trying to keep birth control available and especially affordable to women in all financial situations.
Like I said, we can get a script from any doc at almost any clinic without any trouble.
I don’t think it’s realistic to think any government backed or created health insurance program will do anything that even seems to expand coverage of birth control. We’ve seen conservatives making it an issue to not force health plans of religious institutions or certain businesses who claim to have “religious objections” to the use of birth control to cover birth control at all as it is. That’s why I’m skeptical.
Your idea is not bad. Quite the contrary. If I thought there was any way insurance companies would cover OTC birth control I think it would be excellent to make it available OTC. But I think you might be underestimating the potential for religious conservative push-back though.
I don’t know about you, but no insurance I’ve ever had covers any OTC meds. I’m not sure at all that PP, or any medical provider, has the clout to make insurance companies change this rule. (Not sure in this political climate if PP has much clout with any business at all!)
I wonder if you and I don’t have a different perspective on PP. I am hearing that you mistrust their motives and their purpose, and thus don’t feel they are sincere in their mission to reduce unplanned pregnancy. Everything I’ve ever heard about them from friends and acquaintances convinces me that the opposite is true. PP has been there for more than one of these people providing health services, and only in one case out of dozens I know of, was that service an abortion (and that was 30 years ago).
I think we just have a difference of opinion here. But I thank you for being willing to discuss this in such a nice way. If only that were the case in the wider conversation!
An intelligent and much-needed perspective! Could you send me the links to the studies you mentioned? I would love to read them. This is an issue close to my heart.