Opinion: Want fewer abortions? Look at facts
Here we go again.
The Kansas Legislature is back, and anti-abortion advocates wasted no time initiating an amendment to the state constitution. If approved by two-thirds of both houses, and by voters, it would overturn last year’s decision by the Kansas Supreme Court affirming a woman’s right to have an abortion. Debate has already turned nasty, with legislators asking hostile questions of witnesses for both sides, legalistic arguments and farfetched, hypothetical scenarios being bandied to and fro.
Dear Kansas legislators and anti-abortion activists: If you really want fewer abortions, then to quote the social media meme, you’re doing it wrong.
A recent study at Washington University in St. Louis confirmed what public health advocates have been saying for years: Safe, affordable access to birth control causes the abortion rate to fall dramatically. Participants in the study received free birth control and medical care, and were given a range of options. Their abortion rates ranged from 62% to 78% lower than the national rate. The rates were particularly low for those who chose long-term, reversible methods of birth control. Want fewer abortions? Nothing does this as well as birth control.
Even so, the Washington University study did not reduce the rate of unplanned pregnancies to zero, and there is still the matter of caring for children born from unexpected pregnancies. Kansas has had a particularly appalling record on this score recently, with children in the state’s foster care system having gone missing, others abused and still others sleeping in state offices. Gov. Laura Kelly’s proposed 2021 budget includes increased funding for a larger foster care case load, as well as more funding to support permanent adoptions of children in the foster care system. Kelly also proposes administrative reorganization and money to hire additional social workers. If these proposals are passed by the Legislature, this is the kind of no-drama, real-world change that will give these kids a chance at a better life.
Hard data show us that affordable birth control causes abortions to fall dramatically. Better funding and reorganization offer kids born into tough circumstances hope for the future. Still, abortion opponents will want to do more. Once again, they can consult the data. The Guttmacher Institute is a clearinghouse of objective data on abortions, since the Roe v. Wade court ruling in 1973. Their data show that 59% of abortions in 2017 were performed on women who already have at least one child. Defying stereotypes, only 18% of women who have abortions are teenagers. By far, the most common reason given for having an abortion is that a woman or couple cannot afford another child. In fact, the Guttmacher data show that 75% of women having abortions are poor or low-income. It appears that higher wages and better incomes would be more likely to lower the abortion rate than anything currently happening in the Kansas Legislature.
Many Kansans — including many Kansas women — have serious personal reservations about abortion. Fear mongering about things like sex-selection and late-term abortions is just that, scare tactics. In truth, these kinds of abortions are rare, and the overwhelming majority of abortions are performed in the first six weeks of pregnancy.
Still, many want to see the procedure become rare. While it is unrealistic to eliminate it entirely, there are plenty of choices to bring the abortion rate down sharply. Not one of them involves court challenges or constitutional amendments, and none would deny women the right to make the final decision themselves.
— Michael A. Smith is a professor of political science at Emporia State University.