by Craig M. Watts
Originally published at Red Letter Christians
I’m a Christian who sees abortion as an ethical issue. I believe people of faith should oppose abortion and work to reduce the abortion rate. Because of this I won’t vote for politicians who tout the label “pro-life” when in fact they don’t really help preserve life.
I think most in the pro-life movement have failed to accurately identify those who really are the so-called “baby-killing politicians.” Consequently, Christians keep giving their support to the ones who refuse to support policies that actually reduce abortions, even as they claim to be pro-life.
It is true that many Christians are one-issue voters. Unfortunately, many are one method or strategy voters. And that is a serious problem. Most pro-life Christians are fixated on legally banning abortion. But in fact this is not the most effective means of reducing abortion. By single-mindedly pushing to elect politicians who say they support a legal ban on abortion, many Christians failed to support those whose public policies have been shown to more effectively reduce abortions.
By focusing with laser intensity on abortion as the supreme political issue for Christians, many believers have been willing to “cover a multitude of sins” in other areas. Donald Trump, who was on so many levels an utterly unsuitable candidate for Christians, managed to get the vote of the clear majority of American Christians for the most part because he said he supported a legal ban on abortion.
The fact is that banning abortion is not the best way to safeguard the unborn. Three of the five nations with the lowest abortion rates are nations where abortion is legal. Further, the regions of the world where abortion rates are the highest are where abortion tends to be illegal. No doubt many factors account for this fact. Regardless, all in all, there is no correspondence between the legality or illegality of abortion and abortion rates.
What many pro-life Christian also don’t know is that abortion rates in the United States have been dropping and are now at pre-Roe v Wade levels. Some would like to claim that abortion rates are dropping because of the restrictive laws that have been put in place that have closed abortion clinics or otherwise made it more difficult for women to get abortion.
But the facts don’t support that claim. States where abortions are easily available have seen abortion rates fall as much or more. One report observes, “Five of the six states with the biggest declines – Hawaii at 30 percent, New Mexico at 24 percent, Nevada and Rhode Island at 22 percent, Connecticut at 21 percent – have passed no recent laws to restrict abortion clinics or providers.” Further, other developed nations have seen abortion rates drop without laws that have restricted abortion.
Those of us who oppose abortion have a responsibility to be honest about what does and doesn’t work. Something besides a desire to protect unborn life is at work if most of the anti-abortion efforts are dedicated to pushing an approach that has not been shown to be consistently effective. The desire to control and punish women seems to be over-riding the desire to reduce abortions. This is deeply misguided.
So what works? Essentially, it comes down to three things: (1) easy access to cheap or free contraceptive, (2) sex education which includes information about how to correctly use contraceptives, and (3) a strong social safety net.
For years, those who are fixated on banning abortion have denied that easy access to contraceptives lead to fewer abortions. They point to the imperfections in contraceptive methods, insisting, “the practice of birth control does not necessarily or consistently prevent abortions.” But when coupled with sex education, contraceptives will more consistently prevent abortions. Of course, the more effective the method of contraceptive, the more likely it will prevent an unwanted pregnancy and subsequent abortion.
This is particularly true of long-acting reversible contraceptives. The state of Colorado offered free birth control for five years before August 2015. Unintended pregnancies fell by 40 percent in that period. Notably, 42 percent fewer abortions were performed during the period, and millions of dollars in healthcare expenditures were saved by it. This should have led to rejoicing among those who claim to be pro-life. Nevertheless, without regard to the unborn lives that would otherwise have been terminated, conservative politicians opposed the program.
Conservatives continue advocating for abstinence-only programs, but the success of these efforts is poor. Like the campaign to ban abortion, the abstinence-only efforts — regardless of their positive intentions — are ineffective in reducing unwanted pregnancies and abortions.
But what about women who do get pregnant when they don’t want to be? What needs to be faced is that economic fear is a major factor that leads to abortion. Threatening women or those who provide abortion with legal action will not erase this fear or lessen the likelihood of abortion, as the experience of many countries have shown. Addressing the economic concerns will. Developed nations with stronger social safety nets and less economic inequality tend to have fewer teen births and lower abortion rates.
A disproportionately large portion of the total number of abortions in the U.S. are had by women who fall below the poverty line. In a 2004 study, nearly three quarters of the women who were asked why they had an abortion named financial difficulties among the top reasons. A poor woman was five times more likely to get an abortion than a more affluent woman in 2011. More recently it was found that abortion rates increased during the Great Recession. Clearly, abortion and economic inequality are related.
A woman who is afraid that she will be unable to provide for the needs of a child or that an additional child in the family will lead to grave hardship is more likely to see abortion as a solution. Judging her, condemning her, threatening her will not help. Fixing the inequality will. Strengthening the social safety net is a more meaningful way to combat abortion than instituting a ban on abortion.
So who really are the “baby-killing politicians?” They are the ones who oppose providing cheap or free contraceptives, sex education, and a strong social safety net. Christians need to stop supporting them. They don’t deserve it. They might sloganeer against abortion, but they are not genuinely forces for life.