Voices: Practical steps to reduce U.S. abortions

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As Christians, we can find some common ground in our desire to see fewer abortions. Even staunchly pro-choice Christians would like to see fewer abortions.

Consequently, we can celebrate that the number of abortions in the United States has been falling steadily for the last few decades.

This decline has less to do with abortion restrictions—it has become less restricted during this time—than with falling birth rates and fewer unintended pregnancies. This means we are likely to see fewer abortions over the next four years, regardless of the person occupying the Oval Office.

Nevertheless, with yearly abortions numbering more than 500,000, we have a long way to go. There are three practical steps our government could take to greatly reduce the number of abortions in the United States.

Increase access to affordable health care

To reduce the number of abortions, we need to address the underlying conditions that lead women to choose abortion. As a 2017 study of abortions in 14 countries found, the most common reasons women give for having an abortion are socioeconomic concerns and limited childbearing.

Furthermore, since abortion rates are higher among women of lower socioeconomic status, this demographic should be of special concern.

Increased access to affordable health care is an effective way to address the socioeconomic concerns among lower and middle-class women. Evidence has shown the Affordable Care Act has been effective in increasing both rates of coverage and health outcomes for Americans.

With better access to affordable health insurance, fewer women will feel the pressure of socioeconomic concerns as they contemplate abortion.

Furthermore, access to health care—for mother and child—makes women more open to the prospect of carrying and raising a child. This also may be part of the explanation for the much higher abortion rates among developing countries.

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Increase access to safe, reliable contraception

The Affordable Care Act was also instrumental in increasing access to safe, reliable contraception. While this aspect of ACA has been controversial, we must recognize effective contraception is one of the most effective ways to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and, as a result, the number of abortions.

Evangelical Christians have objected to contraception for two main reasons: (1) contraception has—or can have—an abortive function, and (2) contraception contributes to moral degradation and sexual promiscuity within society.

The former has been definitively addressed by the scientific and medical communities, who have shown FDA-approved contraceptive methods are not abortifacients.

Regarding the latter, we should recognize restricting access to contraception will not make people less promiscuous. Instead, such restrictions are more likely to result in higher numbers of abortions.

Increase access to affordable child care

As the costs of child care continue to rise, it becomes harder for women—especially single women—of lower socioeconomic status to raise children. This leads many women to choose abortion, because they either are not in a position to support a child or they already have more children than they can support.

By reducing the cost of child care, our country could address the underlying conditions that lead women to choose abortion.

In sum, our government can reduce greatly the number of abortions by increasing access to health care, reliable contraception and child care.

A failing strategy

Another prominent strategy for reducing the number of abortions takes a more direct approach by seeking to restrict access to abortion. Proponents of this strategy hope to appoint conservative judges to the nation’s courts and to defund providers like Planned Parenthood.

As prominent conservative David French argues, however, this strategy is not likely to work. While recent decisions may look promising, he shows the current U.S. Supreme Court is far from overturning the legal precedent set by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

French writes, “For almost three decades, the Supreme Court lesson has been clear—put not your trust in judges to rescue America from the moral stain of abortion.”

In light of this evidence, the attempts to restrict abortion have a dark side. As access to safe abortion services is restricted, many women will seek abortions by unsafe methods. A report by the United Nations points out that countries with more restrictive abortion policies have much higher rates of unsafe abortions and maternal mortality.

Furthermore, the attempt to defund Planned Parenthood has been less effective than it may seem. While legislation was passed that forced the organization to withdraw from Title X—an important source of federal funds—many states are seeking to pick up the slack.

Addressing underlying causes

As Christians, we are faced with two competing approaches to our shared goal of reducing the number of abortions in our country. On the one hand, we have the direct approach that has been failing for decades. On the other hand, we have an indirect approach that addresses the underlying causes of abortion.

Before you head to the polls this fall, I hope you will take a hard look at both approaches.

Jared Brandt is a philosophy professor and amateur salsa maker. He and his wife, Courtney, live in Arlington, Texas, have two small children and are expecting to welcome a foster child into their home this summer. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

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