Sex, Preaching, and Abortion

You know the colloquial definition of "chutzpah" as well as I do: the man who murders his parents and then throws himself at the mercy of the court because he's an orphan. As you know by now, our good buddy Newt is steadily exercising more chutzpah than our homicidal orphan. Do you remember that, way back while he was trying to impeach President Bill Clinton for, um, perjury, Newt Gingrich had to resign as speaker because he was cheating on Marianne? And now he is shocked that the liberal media would bring all that up, despite his career as a moral scold. ("Liberal media" is one word, just like "gays in the military" once was.) He prayed it all away, OK? 'Nuff said! Ah, just another entertaining moment in the sideshow we call the primaries.

But while you were snorting out your coffee over Newt's antics, the Guttmacher Institute announced that the drop in the world's abortion rate has stalled. (Guttmacher is generally respected as the most accurate and nonpartisan source of information on contraception and abortion.) Herewith:

Between 1995 and 2003, the abortion rate (the number of abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age—i.e., those aged 15–44) for the world overall dropped from 35 to 29. It remained virtually unchanged, at 28, in 2008.

As I understand the report, the earlier drop came as Eastern Europe and large swaths of the developing world got easier access to contraception. But that wasn't happening between 2003 and 2008. Remember the global gag rule, under which the Bush administration refused to fund local family-planning services unless the health-care provider agreed to never, ever mention abortion? It will be interesting to see whether the abortion rate falls again during the Obama administration, which lifted the gag. 

To me, the most striking bit of information in the full report and associated fact sheets is that, apparently, if you want to reduce abortion, you should make it easier to get one. Or as Guttmacher puts it:

Highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates. For example, the abortion rate is 29 per 1,000 women of childbearing age in Africa and 32 per 1,000 in Latin America—regions in which abortion is illegal under most circumstances in the majority of countries. The rate is 12 per 1,000 in Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds.

Of course, the association isn't precise. Eastern Europe, where for years women used abortion instead of contraception to handle unintended pregnancies, still has the world's highest abortion rate, at 43/1000. But when abortion became legal in southern Africa, abortion rates dropped dramatically—as did abortion-related deaths. Southern Africa's abortion rates are now as low as Western Europe's, at 15/1000—less than half of east Africa's, which has extreme restrictions, at 38/1000. Where abortion is illegal, there are more abortions—and women die from them. Legalize abortions and women have fewer of them and stop dying from them. (Check out the interactive maps for more data. I only wish they had been overlaid with information about contraceptive use, abortion laws, and cultural attitudes—OK, maybe a little too much to ask for, but a nerd can dream!)

Sexuality and reproduction are part of being human. Trying to preach that away kills women and gay men. Talking openly about sex keeps people alive and healthy. How simple is that? 

While we're on the subject, do check out researcher Amy Schalet's comparison of Dutch and American attitudes toward adolescents' developing sexuality—and comparative rates of sexually transmitted disease. Does allowing gf/bf sleepovers reduce your teen's sexual activity? Ah, that's for another day. 

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