In comments on that thread on Dawn’s blog, “Butterfingers” wrote:
The bottom line is that abortion is as old as mankind. There has never been a period in human history when abortions were not performed. There has not been a single society – whether it officially approved of abortion or not – where abortions were not performed.
And then “Steve G.” responded:
What you state here is without doubt true in regards to historical accuracy. But that it occurs really has no bearing on its moral correctness, whether we should accept it, or whether it should be legal. I could rewrite the entire paragraph you lay down and substitute the word rape, and it would be equally accurate. I presume you wouldn’t be willing to argue that rape should be legal because, well after all it’s always happened and will always happen, correct? This argument just doesn’t hold any force.
I don’t think Steve’s argument makes much sense. After all, we all want rapists to be punished, regardless of what happens to rape prevalence.
In contrast, what I’ve heard from pro-lifers over and over is that pro-lifers don’t want to punish women. Unless pro-lifers are lying about that, then there’s a critical difference we all agree on between rapists and women who abort – punishing the former is an independent good, punishing the latter is not.
But if punishing women isn’t an independent good, like punishing rapists is, then pro-lifers can’t logically say that women who abort should be punished regardless of what happens to abortion prevalence.
* * *
It’s a more than theoretical point, because in the real world, countries do in effect choose between a punishment-based approach, in which abortions are banned by law, and low abortion rates.
As I’ve said in the past, pro-lifers should be asking which countries have the least abortion? Belgium has an abortion rate of 6.8 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44. The Netherlands, 6.5. Germany, 7.8. Compare that to the USA’s rate of 22. Even better, compare it to countries where abortion is illegal: Egypt, 23; Brazil, 40; Chile, 50; Peru, 56.
According to the World Health Organization:
Contrary to common belief, legalization of abortion does not necessarily increase abortion rates. The Netherlands, for example, has a non-restrictive abortion law, widely accessible contraceptives and free abortion services, and the lowest abortion rate in the world: 5.5 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age per year. Barbados, Canada, Tunisia and Turkey have all changed abortion laws to allow for greater access to legal abortion without increasing abortion rates.
Pro-life policies aren’t associated with low abortion rates. But pro-choice policies are.
Without exception, every country in the world with a very low abortion rate has either legal abortion, or bans so toothless that abortion is effectively legal. But what those countries (Belgium, West Germany, The Netherlands, etc) also have are cultures that strongly promote effective use of birth control, and that have strong social support programs that support poor parents – not just before birth and in the first year of infancy, but for life.
The abortion debate in the US can go on forever. We can have yet another round of clever, heartfelt essays like Dawn’s, implying that the other side is uncaring; or, if we want a better debate than that, we could argue for the zillionth time about how to define personhood. But that will never get us anywhere.
Rather than rehash those questions, I’d like to ask pro-lifers: Do you forsee a time when pro-choicers will give up our most heartfelt goals, and stop finding ways to make abortion available? Will there ever be an abortion ban in the United States that vastly lowers our abortion rate? And since saving baby lives (or what you folks consider to be baby lives) should be more important than opposing birth control and welfare, shouldn’t you be willing to consider supporting policies that are empirically associated with low abortion rates in the real world?
We can have it both ways. We can have full bodily autonomy for women, and combine it with an incredibly low abortion rate. And we can end the deadlock. But it requires both sides to give something up. It requires pro-choicers to agree that pursing low abortion rates is a legitimate policy goal; and it requires pro-lifers to agree to pursue low abortion rates through giving women more choices, not through banning choices.
I know pro-lifers may consider that to be an immoral thing to ask of them. But consider: Real-world experience indicates that Belgium-style social policies are the only national policy that is associated with the lowest possible abortion rates. Is it really clear to pro-lifers that a policy that could potentially prevent tens of thousands of abortions annually is the less moral choice?
(Note to “Alas” posters: I’m really, really interested in what pro-lifers have to say about these issues. But it’s my observation that the most intellgent and thoughtful pro-lifers are also the least likely to hang out in places where they get insulted and flamed. So please, as a favor to me, don’t flame pro-lifers who happen to show up in the comments of this post.)