The Defeaning Silence


It's been a week since The Lancet published the comprehensive Guttmacher Institute study which found that bans on abortion fail to reduce abortion rates. The researchers of the study also discovered that countries where abortion is legal (and the emphasis is on prevention rather than prosecution) experience the most dramatic declines in abortion.

Such news should undoubtedly give pro-lifers reason for pause. What with the endless railing about the immorality of abortion, and now it turns out their way of thinking does nothing to actually reduce abortions. It's only fair to give them a minute to collect themselves. Perhaps some careful (re)consideration is in order.

But there has been nothing but silence from the "anti-abortion" movement. There have been no press releases admitting the (now scientifically proven) error of their ways. Nor have we heard that anti-abortion groups are excited to discover that at least there is an approach that succeeds in reducing the need for abortion. (Doesn't that deserve a 'hallelujah' from the religious right?) Instead, the "anti-abortion" movement is silent about the newly revealed "pro-abortion" effects of their efforts.

I came across a blog about the Guttmacher study on a site called Mirror of Justice (it's "dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory"). It was posted the day the report was released and was written by Professor Eduardo Penalver of Cornell University. He wrote,

Here's my question. If this study were true, and if it were the case that making abortion illegal would most likely only drive it underground, without having much effect on its actual incidence but making it far more dangerous for women to have an abortion, would that be a reason to rethink the Church's teachings, not on the morality of abortion, but on the tight connection between abortion's (im)morality and its legality? I've tried to get this conversation off the ground a few times at MOJ, but I feel like we often get side-tracked onto the question of abortion's morality or into the empirical question whether studies like this one are actually correct.

Pro-lifers clearly delight in discussing the morality abortion – all merrily participating in the forced march to the same answer – but when the discussion turns to prevention they're flat out of ideas. Those who can't do, preach. I wrote to Professor Penalver this morning inquiring about the responses he's so far received on this anti-abortion friendly site. He emailed back promptly to report his "disappointment" over "the general lack of a response." And so the silence increases in volume.

Now, to be fair, some spokespeople have spun. These few brave enough to go public with a reaction to this devastating study are engaged in this strategy: kill the messenger.

Randall O'Bannon, saddled with the oxymoronic title "director of education and research" at National Right to Life, said, "These numbers are not definitive and very susceptible to interpretation according to the agenda of the people who are organizing the data." No doubt Mr. O'Bannon understands how Lancet editors let the researchers' agenda trump their science. After O'Bannon is done questioning the validity of studies published by one of the world's renowned scientific journals he can explain why 5 of 15 "fact sheets" on his organization's website offer no citations and 6 of the remaining 10 use the Guttmacher Institute, the very organization he claims has an "agenda," as a source. (Apparently a source can be both trustworthy and untrustworthy depending on the reader's agenda!)

You'd think genuine pro-lifers would be interested in knowing what results in low abortion rates. The fact that the only reaction that has come from the pro-life establishment is one of disbelief, cynicism and silence indicates that's not the case. Indeed, as we've known for a while, this whole ugly conflict isn't really even about abortion. For the anti-abortionists, the goal is to re-introduce the preventable consequences to sex as a way to scare people into abstinence. If that isn't the point, then why aren't National Right to Life staffers on a plane right now heading to the Netherlands to learn how that country managed to achieve the lowest abortion rates on earth? (Because it's free birth control, comprehensive sex ed, and a universal acceptance of sex for pleasure that did it. All solutions they appear to oppose more than abortion.)

It's worth offering up a comparison. What if a whole movement devoted to curing cancer insisted on only supporting techniques shown time and again to fail? What if they supported the ones that result in the highest cancer rates? Would it even be considered an anti-cancer movement? It's time to clean up the semantics: Is it possible that the "anti-abortion" movement is really a pro-abortion movement in disguise?

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with contact director of communications Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • invalid-0

    Thank you, Cristina, for yet another eloquent and passionate piece about the true motives of the anti-choice movement: to punish and control women.

    Always,Marcy Bloom

  • andrea-schwartz

    Ms. Page– Thank you for a very accurate description of their hypocrisy. I feel privileged to have interned under your supervision years ago.

  • invalid-0

    Excellent article on why the anti-abortion people really don’t want to hear about how to reduce abortions. They are not even really anti-choice, what they are is anti-WOMAN.

    They still blame Eve for all the troubles of the world and deep down they KNOW that women have to be kept under control or even more troubles will follow.

    As long as there is this insidious hatred of women in the world (even their own wives and daughters are Eve, after all- and even the women of the religious right feel the guilt of being Eve, having been told the stupid story since childhood) there can never be a rational, scientific, CHILD-CENTERED discussion of how best to prevent unwanted pregnancy, how best to end difficult pregnancies and how best to keep young people from engaging in sex until they are ready. None of these things are the real issue, so the debate will just go on and on and on. I for one am getting discouraged for our future as a species and as a civilization, when our distinguishing feature, our ability to talk to each other, has come to mean so little!

  • invalid-0

    The reason for silence from the antis is clear; if abortion was actually prevented, they would lose their issue and their power to hype the emotions and manipulate voters; they would lose the money they get from fund-raising with outrageous gory pictures and lying claims. Some of the silence might be due to guilt over causing increases in what they said they were trying to prevent – but I doubt it.