Would You Look at That? Anti-Abortion Laws Don’t Actually Reduce Abortions

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Use this pen for free long-acting birth control intsead.
Use this pen for free long-acting birth control intsead.Photo: Gaj Rudolf

The most comprehensive analysis of abortion rates around the world to date found that countries with the strictest abortion laws do not have lower abortion rates. In fact, the numbers are slightly higher than in countries where abortion is legal.

study published in The Lancet determined that there were an average of 56 million abortions annually from 2010 to 2014. That’s about 35 abortions for every 1,000 women of childbearing age. (Between 1990 to 1994, it was 40.) But rates are still higher in the developing world, where access to modern birth control can be limited. In these countries, there were 37 abortions per 1,000 women; the figure is 27 abortions per 1,000 women in developed countries. And the total number of abortions rose from 39 million to 50 million annually.

The paper also compared abortion stats in the 58 countries where it’s illegal or only permitted to save a woman’s life (mostly in South America, Africa, and the Middle East) and the 63 where it is legal. The researchers found that rates in anti-abortion countries were 37 per 1,000 compared to 34 in pro-choice countries. So restricting abortion does not, in fact, decrease how often it happens. It actually increased the numbers observed in this study.

The authors wrote: “The level of unmet need for contraception is higher in countries with the most restrictive abortion laws than in countries with the most liberal laws, and this contributes to the incidence of abortion in countries with restrictive laws.”

In an editorial accompanying the paper, Diana Greene Foster of the University of California at San Francisco pointed out that women in these countries get care from illegal and unregulated providers. “The obvious interpretation is that criminalizing abortion does not prevent it but, rather, drives women to seek illegal services or methods. But this simple story overlooks the many women who, in the absence of safe legal services, carry unwanted pregnancies to term.”

And what reduces both abortion rates and unintended pregnancies? That would be free, long-acting birth control. Hear that, anti-choice lawmakers? That’s the sound of your rhetoric crumbling.