July 01, 2011



‘Abortion Free’ Kansas won’t happen
by Bruce Rodgers

Prior to the announcement today that Planned Parenthood in Overland Park was granted a license to perform abortions, speculation swirled about how Kansas might become the first “abortion free” state.

Progressive and mainstream media outlets picked up on the term much more so than the conservative outlets. Credit KS Gov. Sam Brownback and his allies in the legislature for bringing the term to the media forefront. But had abortion foes in the state prevailed — now or in the future — their efforts will not ushering in an abortion free state. What they would have done — and may already have by their ceaseless warfare on a woman’s right to choose — is lay the foundation for the return of illegal abortions.

Women have always sought abortions, legal or otherwise, and laws, punishment, fear of death or illness doesn’t or won’t ever change that.

Pro-choice and anti-choice groups don’t agree on much, if anything when it comes to abortion politics. One side will refute whatever poll or statistic relating to abortion announced by the other side. There isn’t even agreement on the number of illegal abortions annually in the two decades prior to Roe v.  Wade.

A Guttmacher Report on Public Policy gives an estimate ranging from 200,000 to 1.2 million illegal abortions in the 1950s and ‘60s. Citing a report from the Horatio R. Storer Foundation, which is affiliated with the National Right to Life Committee, abortion foes state the number was approximately 100,000 per year. Anti-choice advocates also dispute the figure that 5,000 to 10,000 women died each year prior to Roe from illegal abortions.

That number, publicly put forth by Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman, was, she stated later, pulled from data “circa 1936,” before the advent of penicillin.

Pro-choice groups have moved away from that number also, agreeing that research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows deaths from illegal abortion in the post WWII years around a few hundred annually. In 1965, the National Center for Health Statistics listed 235 deaths from abortion, according to an article in the Scientific American in 1969.

Infection is the main cause of death for women undergoing an illegal abortion and the majority of women dying from botched abortions were poor and nonwhite. The CDC estimated that from 1972 to 1974, the mortality rate for nonwhite women was 12 times that of white women.

The legalization of abortion, say opponents, has increased the number of abortion. “Well over 100% since 1973” (the year of Roe v. Wade) is a statement often used with “repeat” abortions more than 100 percent. With 1.2 million legal abortions in 2008, the statement is true — if you believe that illegal abortions only amounted to 100,000 a year prior to Roe.

In 1972, when abortion was legal in some states — including Kansas, which adopted the American Law Institute model law of permitting abortions when a women’s health was at risk, in cases of rape or incest, or if the fetus had a severe defect — the CDC estimated that in that year 130,000 women obtained illegal or self-induced abortion procedures.

Ongoing research by the Guttmacher Institute doesn’t confirm anti-choice advocates contentions on reducing abortions. Making abortion more restrictive, or illegal, does not reduce the number of abortions. Research shows the opposite; abortions decline with less restrictions particularly when combined with accessibility to contraceptives and other birth control methods.

A Guttmacher report titled “Trends in Abortion in Kansas” indicates that from 1973-2008, after a spike in abortions a few years after Roe, the rate fell below the national average until 1998. Since then the number of abortions in Kansas has been close to the national average of “abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44.”

The peak number of abortions occurred as the number of abortion providers in Kansas grew to over 25 in 1977 then fell. In 1998, when the state approximated the national average, the number of abortion providers in the state of Kansas had fallen to less than ten, then to less than five in 2008. Yet, the state’s number of abortions remained consistent with the national average for women 15-44.

Overall, the number of abortions have held fairly consistent since 1998 despite a decline in abortion providers. The National Organization for Women reports, “86% of all U.S. counties have no abortion provider, and approximately 32% of all women of child-bearing age (15-44) live in these counties.”

Ongoing research by the Guttmacher Institute indicates that where abortion is illegal, it is more prevalent. The institute found that the lowest abortion rate in the world (for 2003) was for Western Europe (12 per 1,000 women age 15-44) “where contraceptive services and use are widespread and safe abortion is easily accessible and legal under broad grounds.”

A 2008 study by El Colegio de Mexico, the Population Council Mexico Office and the Guttmacher Institute, found that in Mexico, where abortion is illegal, “the number of abortions performed in Mexico increased by one-third between 1990 and 2006 (from 533,000 to 875,000), despite legal procedures that virtually ban the procedure in most parts of the country.” The report when on to note that Mexico’s 2006 abortion rate was more than 40% higher than the rate in the United States.

“These findings confirm research from other parts of the world — that making abortion illegal does not significantly decrease its frequency, it just makes it unsafe and puts women’s lives at risk,” said Fatima Juarez, the study’s lead author.

If KS Gov. Brownback and the state legislature drive abortion providers from the state, abortion will not end in the state. It may very well increase, causing pain and suffering along the way. Those with the means will find a way for a safe abortion. The poor and needy will seek an illegal abortion. And with that, a underground network will spring up to do its best to serve those women to counter the hustlers offering a quick fix.

As one women, who started a network to provide referrals for safe abortions at the time abortion was illegal, said in an article for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, “(It’s) a philosophical obligation on our part to disrespect a law that disrespected women.”

Making abortion tough to get, or illegal, does not end it. Abortion foes may think they are caring for human life, but it’s a selective caring.

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at publisher_editeKC@kcactive.com.