A recent study, released by the Guttmacher Institute of New York and the World Health Organization shows that global abortion rates have stopped declining and have leveled off. The study goes on to say that the abortion rate has leveled off due to a decline of easily accessible birth control. Obviously, if accessibility to birth control becomes difficult than there will be an increase in unwanted pregnancy and thus abortion.
Restricted access to birth control coupled with the fact safe abortions are often heavily restricted have only served to increase unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions. Just because there is restricted access to birth control or safe abortions does not mean unwanted pregnancies vanish, it only makes it more dangerous to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
If the desire is to reduce the number of unwanted pregancies, then restricted access to birth control is actually counterproductive. The study directly states, “Restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates. Measures to reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion, including investments in family planning services and safe abortion care, are crucial steps toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals.”
Restricting access to reproductive health care, including safe abortions and birth control, is counterproductive to any plans that aim to decrease unwanted pregnancies and/or abortion rates. For example, when South Africa liberalized their abortion policy in 1997 maternal deaths due to unsafe abortions dropped by 90%. The country has the lowest abortion rate on the continent. Comparatively, the United States and Western Europe have much lower abortion rates than countries in Latin America and Africa where abortion and birth control is heavily restricted. In fact, birth control may have declined when the U.S., the largest distributor of birth control in impoverished countries, began diverting funding to AIDS research and mosquito nets. While funding for other health measures is vital, the emphasis on quality reproductive health care cannot wane, as it affects such a large part of the global population.
While everyone can agree on wanting to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, we can’t always agree on how to achieve that goal. However, it’s important for leaders to look at the clear facts and realize they have an obligation to offer easily accessible, safe, reproductive health care to women.
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