Anti-Abortion Laws Don’t Reduce Abortion Rates, But Birth Control Does


Anti-choice lobbyists who promote anti-abortion bills and restrictions are going about it all wrong — that is, if they actually want to get rid of abortion in the first place. 

A new study by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute about abortion around the world shows that anti-abortion laws don't actually reduce abortion rates — but access to contraception does. 

Eric Gay/AP

The study, which was conducted between 1990 and 2014, looked at areas around the world where abortion was criminalized or only permitted to save a woman's life. In these countries, abortion rates (37 per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44) were slightly higher than in countries were abortion was legally available (34 per 1,000 women). 

A local population's access to birth control and family planning was directly correlated with falling regional abortion rates throughout the decade. "High abortion rates are directly correlated to high levels of unmet contraceptive need," co-author Dr. Gilda Sedgh wrote in a report on the Guttmacher Institute website.

Researchers estimated that in 2012 alone, more than 6.9 million women in developing areas, which generally had more legal restrictions against abortion and less affordable access to contraception, sought medical help for complications from unsafe abortions. Even in the U.S., women denied legal access to safe abortion often try to find other ways to terminate the pregnancy, such as experimenting with herbal remedies or abortion pills like misoprostol, which can be bought in Mexican pharmacies and is also used to treat stomach ulcers. Google searches for "how to cause a miscarriage" and similar phrases have risen in states with more legal restrictions on reproductive rights. 

Eric Gay/AP

The study concluded with a plea for more affordable birth control for women around the world, something that the United Nations declared a basic human right back in 2012. "Abortion rates have declined significantly since 1990 in the developed world but not in the developing world," the report said. "Ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health care could help millions of women avoid unintended pregnancies and ensure access to safe abortion."

h/t Slate