Saturday, October 13, 2007

Making abortions illegal does not reduce the number

According to the Voice of America
A global study finds that abortion rates are about the same in countries where it is legal and where it is outlawed. As Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva, the World Health Organization study also says the number of abortions has dropped worldwide due to more use of birth control and better family planning.
Read entire article

If so-called pro-life people who want Roe vs Wade overturned and to make abortion illegal, at least in some states, are motivated by a desire to reduce the number of abortions then, according to this study, they should stop right now. Making abortions illegal does nothing to reduce the number of abortions. All it does is make the abortion riskier for the mother and to make life more difficult for everyone. If they want to reduce the number of abortions then they should abandon efforts to outlaw it and instead, make birth control and better family planning more freely available.

But, I suspect that abortion opponents already knew that. I suspect that most people who are working to make abortions illegal have little interest in the welfare of unborn babies or their mothers. Since the only thing their actions are accomplishing is creating difficulties for people working in and using the services of family planning clinics I suspect their real agenda is to punish people who don’t think like they do. In that respect their actions have been a great success in advancing their cause and the results of this study will not dissuade them in the slightest.


matt moran said...

I'm all for keeping abortion safe and legal, but do you really mean to claim that if abortion were illegal (and thus more dangerous) no one would be deterred from having an abortion?

That doesn't seem entirely rational.

Dave Barrett said...

How else would you interpret the results of a study that finds the rate of abortion does not vary depending on whether it is legal or illegal?
What actually are you declaring not entirely rational -- my belief that people act the way a study suggests they act or the actions themselves? If the later then I would have to wonder why you declare the behavior irrational rather than concluding a women's need for an abortion must outweigh the penalties imposed, since the penalties do not appear to dissuade anyone.

matt moran said...

When the conclusion is absurd, look for a problem with the premises.

Either the study is flawed, or it is being misinterpreted. I find it very difficult to believe that any study could could correctly control for all the cultural and economic differences between different countries and come up with a valid conclusion of this sort. I also wonder how the authors of the study can come up with abortion rates in countries where the procedure is illegal.

If the interpretation of the study that you present is correct, then women making a decision to have an abortion do not behave rationally. But I think women do behave rationally when deciding whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. I bet it is a difficult choice that women consider seriously and thoughtfully. And I'm sure that many women would chose to have an abortion even if it were illegal and dangerous. But I'm also sure that there must be some women who would decide not to have an abortion if abortion were illegal.

If abortion were illegal, abortion rates would go down. Maybe not as much as the "pro-life" crowd hopes, but the rates would go down. Any other result wouldn't be rational.

Dave Barrett said...

I see. Although you phrased it as disagreeing with MY claim you are in fact doubting the accuracy of the study. I assume that you would agree that if the study reflects reality then my conclusion that making abortions illegal would not reduce the number of abortions is correct.
So let's discuss your reservations about the study.
You appear to be basing your assumption that the study must be wrong on your belief that people behave rationally PLUS your estimation that the legal penalties on abortion in the places where abortion is illegal would, at least some of the time, tip the balance in a woman's decision whether or not to have an abortion in favor of not having the abortion.
Your belief that people behave rationally is so intrinsic to your libertarian outlook that it is probably futile to argue that point with you.
However you may be open to the possibility, once it is pointed out to you, that you have not considered that the other factors a women considers when deciding whether or not to have an abortion are so much more important to her than the legal penalites that rarely if ever do those penalties tip the balance of the decision for women in places where abortion is illegal. The other factors are so much more important to her that they swamp out any influence of illegality. If that were the case her decision would been totally rational.
Although I have very limited personal knowledge of how women make the decision to have an abortion, what little I know suggests that when women make that decision their internal emotional factors so overwhelm their decision making that the people around them, especially the men, are often baffled at how they seemed not to have been influenced by factors that others think they should have considered when making that decsion. Having seen that the results of the study seem quite believable to me.
But since the people who did the study are highly educated and experienced experts in their field, and you and I are not, (nor do we have any personal experience with deciding whether to have an abortion) other readers of these comments, if there are any, would be foolish to pay the slightest attention to our opinions of the study. I recomend that people judge the study based on the qualifications of the people who conducted it and their reputations and qualifications and not on Matt's or my gut reactions to it.

matt moran said...

I am going to partially agree with your last statement. Readers should evaluate the study for themselves rather than listen to you or me. The study can be found at The Lancet (free registration required.) I say partially agree because I would never advocate that anybody, (to paraphrase you) "shut up and listen to the experts". To anybody reading this comment: I encourage you to think for yourself and form your own opinions. Pay attention to experts, but don't defer to them unless they are convincing. Judge them not by the color of their degrees, but by the content of their arguments.

If you read the article by the authors of the study, you will find that the VOA article that you originally quoted misinterprets the study.

The study does not find "that abortion rates are about the same in countries where it is legal and where it is outlawed". There is one statement that "Safe and unsafe abortion ratios were similar to each other (16 and 15, respectively)." But that is not, and does not claim to be, an apples to apples comparison that might lead one to believe that abortion laws have no effect.

The main conclusion of the study is that "incidence of induced abortion worldwide has declined since 1995, but trends have been variable across regions". The study authors are candid about their estimates and extrapolations when dealing with regions that do not have reliable statistics because abortions aren't legal.

There is nothing in the study that suggests that making abortions illegal would not reduce the number of abortions. The study authors go to great lengths to argue that legal abortions are safer for the mother than illegal abortions. They also suggest that the most effective way to reduce the number of abortions is to increase the use of contraception.

I suspect that many Americans who are opposed to legal abortion would find these claims uncontroversial, although the emphasis on contraception (as opposed to abstinence) would probably be noxious to some.

Dave Barrett said...

I am EXTREMELY offended that you would claim that a paraphrase of my remarks is for anyone to "shut up". Nothing in what I said can remotely be construed to say that you should not speak your mind or that readers should not speak their minds. I was saying that readers should not accept either my acceptance of the study or your rejection of the study based on our say-so.
I expect an apology. I would never tell anyone to "Shut Up"
I am glad you no longer are rejecting the study as flawed.

matt moran said...

Well I'm equally offended by your suggestion that since I'm not a highly educated and experienced expert, I'm somehow unqualified to judge the study or it's interpretation.

I originally stated that either the study is flawed, or it is being misinterpreted. After reading the study, I have concluded the latter. And I make this conclusion in spite of the fact that I'm not a highly educated and experienced expert.

HiFi said...

You're not being an expert doesn't make this impossible for you to understand, but actually enhances your ability to understand it. After all, most people having abortions aren't research scientists making fully rational decisions based on a careful and extended study of the evidence at hand. They're average young women, often surprised to learn they are pregnant, frightened by the prospects they are facing, and immediately thrust into a major decision, with an ever-shrinking list of options and a fast-approaching deadline for when to decide.

Looking at the decision rationally, as a scientist would, you might hypothesize that making abortions illegal would reduce their number. But looking at it through the eyes of a pregnant woman determined to not carry and birth a baby, it looks a little different.

Also, let's not forget the matter of enforcement. While the image of the back-alley abortion is widely associated with a time and place where abortion is illegal, a more accurate image might be in a doctor's office, after closing, where a physician might induce abortion at a patient's request, whether the law was on their side or not. Many doctors do things that would be widely considered illegal or unethical at the behest of their patients, because they see their commitment to their patient coming before their commitment to the law. Let's face it, if you want to uphold the law, you go become a cop or a lawyer; if you're willing to go through the decade of advanced and expensive schooling and training to become a doctor, it's because you care about people's health.

Ultimately, I would suggest that it's one thing to discuss these ideas rationally and academically, like scientists, but we can't assume that real people in real situations would make similar decisions because when it comes down to it, the question of whether a woman is going to have a baby or have an abortion is less a question of 'is the law on my side' and more a question of 'do I want a baby?'

Dave Barrett said...

I am sorry if I offended you but I could not imagine that you would be offended by me saying that since neither of us are trained sociologists that readers would be advised to look at the qualifications of those doing the study rather than take either of our words about how valid the study is.
I dispute your interpretation of the results of the study but am not inclined to argue the point with you. Now that you seem to be accepting the validity of the study itself I think I will content myself with that.

matt moran said...

I'm sorry the tone in my comments was less respectful than it should have been. I'm not sure why I get so riled up, but I'll make sure it doesn't happen again. The really ironic thing is that abortion is an issue on which we mostly agree.

Michelle said...

I think you are extremely wrong in everything you said. Abortion is an "easy way out". People don't want to act like adults and deal with their consequences or actions and so instead, they kill babies. Sounds real humane doesnt it? I suspect that YOU are the one who does not care about unborn babies well-being since you are opposed to making abortion illegal. It should be illegal, ITS MURDER! We get in trouble for killing another human being outside the womb, but are allowed to kill an unborn child in the same perspective and get no punishment for it? This is rediculous. I disagree with you 100%