, Salem, MA


January 24, 2013

Column: In abortion debates, time for prevention focus

As the landmark Roe v. Wade decision hits its 40th anniversary this week, each side in the abortion debate sees the other gaining ground. But 40 years after the Supreme Court legalized pregnancy termination, the unwanted pregnancy rate and the continued political standoff over fertility control suggest that neither side is winning — or at least the American public is not.

A Time magazine cover story, citing public-opinion polls and new state restrictions, claims abortion-rights activists have been ceding ground ever since abortion was legalized. On the other side, the latest National Right to Life News rues the “bitter taste” of President Barack Obama’s second-term election, while trying to convince abortion opponents that their efforts in support of Mitt Romney were not in vain.

Abortion remains legal, though restricted. But if ending the need for it was a goal that advocates and opponents of legal abortion should have shared, it failed. By age 45, nearly half of American women will have had an unintended pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. Nearly 1 in 3 women by that age will have had an abortion.

One reason is the prohibitive cost of birth control. Poor women are most likely to have unintended pregnancies, a Catch-22 since the likelihood of poverty increases with an unintended pregnancy. The Affordable Care Act should help reduce unplanned pregnancies by requiring full coverage for contraception in most employer-sponsored health insurance plans.

But a puzzling and self-defeating campaign against birth control by some stalwarts of the anti-abortion movement undermines the ultimate goal. A failed Arizona bill last year would have required a woman who files an insurance claim for birth control pills to prove she wasn’t taking them to prevent pregnancy. Some members of the Pharmacists for Life movement won’t even sell condoms, much less birth control or morning-after pills. The president of Iowa’s Right to Life organization slammed an awareness-building campaign about long-term contraceptives aimed at college students by the Iowa Initiative to Reduce Unintended Pregnancies. Politicians’ efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, arguably the biggest provider of birth control at both the state and federal levels, are similarly shortsighted.

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