What Works for Women

In the lead-up to the presidential election, what I heard from my friends/relatives who are evangelical Christians, was that they would hold their nose and vote for Trump primarily because he would appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe vs Wade.

It can be difficult to argue with people like that who are convinced that any abortion is equivalent to murder. But often it comes down to that old saying about the devil being in the details. We all watched as Trump initially said what is the logical conclusion to that assumption…that women who get abortions should be punished. After all, even if you place the onus on doctors who perform abortions, our legal system holds people accountable for being accessories and/or partners in crime. It’s hard to get around how you avoid punishing women for participating in something your consider to be murder.

We’ve also watched Republican politicians stumble over the idea that there should be exceptions to their position against abortion for women who are the victims of rape and/or incest. If the central objection to abortion is that it is murder, there is a logical argument to be made that the origins of a pregnancy don’t impact on that reality.

The truth is that most people who oppose abortion are not absolutists. They would have trouble making a case to punish women who have abortions and are comfortable with the exceptions for rape/incest. Once you get to that point, a person’s position on this topic begins to become more nuanced and personal. And yet that isn’t reflected in the political positioning we too often see among conservatives. They simple want to get rid of Roe vs Wade and not talk about the particulars.

Getting away from absolutes, an awful lot of people might actually be able to rally round some important news that was recently released by the CDC.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that abortion rates in the United States in 2013 were the lowest recorded since 1971, a full two years before Roe v. Wade established a woman’s right to choose…

Yes, per the CDC’s most recent report, there were 12.5 abortions per 1,000 women, ages 15 to 44, in 2013, a 5 percent decrease from 2012 (13.2 per 1,000 women). Not coincidentally, the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act took effect in August 2012, meaning most health plans had to cover birth control without co-pays starting in January 2013.

By contrast, during George W. Bush’s presidency, from 2001 to 2008, the annual abortion rates hovered around 16 per 1,000 women. Under Bill Clinton, the rate went from 23 in 1993 to 16.4 in 2000. While George H.W. Bush was president, the abortion rate fell one point from 24 to 23. That means the last two Democratic presidencies corresponded with abortion-rate reductions of 6.6 and 3.3 points, while the last two Republican administrations saw the rate go down by a point or less.

For decades now, Republicans have been railing about abortions and promising to stop them. Meanwhile, under Democratic administrations, they’ve actually been reduced significantly. Among the reasons for the most recent reduction: “expanded insurance coverage of contraception [in Obamacare], increasing use of long-acting methods like IUDs and implants, and a decrease in unintended pregnancies.” Who knew that giving women access to contraceptives and providing young people with comprehensive sex ed would reduce the need for abortions? Liberals did…that’s who.

This is yet another way that Democrats have demonstrated a commitment to facts, data and pragmatism. I don’t suspect that this will do much to assuage many of my friends and relatives who are fixated on the need to overturn Roe vs Wade (which won’t eliminate abortions – but simply make them more dangerous). But for anyone out there who is interested in what actually works for women – there you have it: comprehensive sex ed, effective birth control and access to safe, legal abortion.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.