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Conservative Abortion Policies Don’t Work


I finally remembered to take the much-discussed Garance Franke-Ruta article about repeat abortions to the gym yesterday, so I’ll have more about that later today. But as a preview, interested to know what would happen if there are enough Scalias and Alitos on the Court to allow Republicans to embed their ideas about abortion and sexuality into law? We need only to look to the south to see the effects of the proposed Republican brew of abortion bans, patriarchal gender relations, and lack of rational sex education:

Latin America holds some of the world’s most stringent abortion laws, yet it still has the developing world’s highest rate of abortions – a rate that is far higher even than in Western Europe, where abortion is widely and legally available.


Regional health officials increasingly argue that tough laws have done little to slow abortions. The rate of abortions in Latin America is 37 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, the highest outside Eastern Europe, according to United Nations figures. Four million abortions, most of them illegal, take place in Latin America annually, the United Nations reports, and up to 5,000 women are believed to die each year from complications from abortions.

In an interview, a doctor in MedellĀ­n, Colombia, said that while he offered safe, if secret, abortions, many abortionists did not.

“In this profession, we see all kinds of things, like people using witchcraft, to whatever pills they can get their hands on,” said the doctor, who charges about $45 to carry out abortions in women’s homes. He spoke on condition that his name not be used, because performing an abortion in Colombia can lead to a prison term of more than four years.

“They open themselves up to incredible risks, from losing their reproductive systems or, through complications, their lives,” the doctor said.

The thing about criminalization is that it’s an extremely bad way of stopping abortions; even in countries more serious about enforcing abortion bans than the United States is likely ever to be, large numbers of abortions will be performed, and whatever modest decreases in aboriton rates they achieve are purchased at the price of negative effects on the health of women and gross inequities in access to safe abortions. Conversely, policies like making birth control and rational sex education widely available and providing child care actually do significantly reduce abortion rates. Even on their own terms, in other words, the set of policies favored by most conservative Republicans don’t work in practice. And if you actually think that women should have the autonomy to control their own bodies and that compelling adherence to traditional sexual mores isn’t a legitimate use of state power, these policies are really, really, really bad.

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