Jesurgislac’s Journal

November 22, 2009

On Netherlands and ethics, or lack thereof

Responding to a post by a Catholic pro-lifer (“Disciple”): Netherlands and bioethics, or lack thereof, which illustrates both the particular problem about trying to oppose abortion as a Catholic, and the general problem all pro-lifers have that their movement is based on lies: while they claim to be “against abortion”, they neither support any effective means of preventing abortion, nor do they actually believe their oft-repeated claim that abortion=murder.

Disciple claimed repeatedly that s/he believes “Abortion is MURDER. And that is all there is to it.” (cite, cite)

The only successful way of preventing abortions – if you believe pro-lifers, of “preventing murders” – is to provide both free access to contraception, and educate/encourage young people to use contraception whenever they have sex. Both are essential. Pro-lifers support neither. (Pro-lifers were actively against allowing the US once more to provide funding to overseas family planning clinics, which prevent abortions, and actively against allowing low-income women to claim contraception on Medicaid, which would prevent abortions.)

The global good example of preventing abortions is the Netherlands. This isn’t a flash-in-the-pan good example, and it’s no secret how it was achieved:

People in the Netherlands consider unplanned pregnancy to be a large problem that society and decision-makers should and do seriously address. The abortion rate fluctuates between 5 to 7/1000 women of reproductive age, the lowest abortion rate in the world. Between 1965 and 1975, a shift from a largely agricultural society to an industrial society, rapid economic growth and the establishment of a welfare state, a reduced influence of the church in public and personal life, introduction of mass media, and a rapid increase in the educational level of both men and women brought about a rapid change in traditional values and family relations in the Netherlands. These changes and the introduction of modern contraception effected a breakthrough in family planning and sexual morality. Factors facilitating the rapid transition to a contraceptive society in the Netherlands were a voluntary family planning movement, fear of overpopulation, role of general practitioners in providing family planning services, and inclusion of family planning in the national public health insurance system. Acceptance of contraception preceded liberalization of abortion. Society accepts abortion as only a last resort. The sexual sterilization rate is higher than that in other European countries (25% vs. 0-23%). Special family planning programs in the Netherlands target groups at risk of unwanted pregnancy, particularly teenage pregnancy. Almost all secondary schools and about 50% of primary schools address sexuality and contraception. Sex education has largely been integrated in general health education programs. The mass media address adolescent sexuality and preventive behavior. Very large scale, nonmoralistic, public education campaigns that are positive towards teenage sexual behavior appear to be successful. Teens have wide access to contraceptive services through general practitioners who maintain confidentiality and do not require a vaginal exam and through subsidized family planning clinics. (1994)

What has this meant, in real terms?

In 2002, the total number of abortions in the Netherlands was 34,168. (This includes just over 4000 abortions performed on non-residents, women travelling to the Netherlands to obtain an abortion or on illegal immigrants.) The abortion rate per 1000 women ages 15-44 resident in the Netherlands was 8.7.

In 2002, the total number of abortions reported in the United States was 948,712: it’s estimated that as many as 347,000 were not reported, and the abortion rates for non-residents, which I presume includes all illegal immigrants, are strikingly higher. But the abortion rate per 1000 for women ages 15-44 legally resident in the United States was 20.5.

One presumes, if you genuinely regard abortion as MURDER, you won’t cavil at preventing it among women who aren’t actually legally resident.

In 2002, in the Netherlands, the abortion ratio (abortions per 1000 live births) is 169.1. In the United States, it is 315.5. The abortion rate – considering abortions as percentage of pregnancies (excluding fetal deaths/miscarriages) in the Netherlands in 2002 is 14.5%. In the United States, it is 24%.

How many abortions would have been prevented, in the United States in 2002, if the United States had adopted the same educational/health system as in the Netherlands and only 14.5% of the pregnancies in that year had ended in abortion, instead of 24%? The historical statistics for the Netherlands and the United States are here: you can play around with the statistics for yourself.

But I make it, at lowest, 440,000. Four hundred and forty thousand. 440,000. That’s how many, at minimum, abortions could be prevented, in the United States, each year, if the US would use the Netherlands model.

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