Vol. 13, No. 4 November/December 2002
Inside this issue...
- New Life for Pro-Life Bills
- New, Improved Partial-Birth Ban
- Respect Life Program
- No Mystery in Declining Abortion Rates
Pro-life gains on November 5 in the House and Senate are breathing new life into key pro-life initiatives.
In the 18-month tenure of "pro-choice" Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), five key pro-life bills, all supported by overwhelming majorities of the public and the House of Representatives, were quietly buried in Senate Chambers. Every effort was made to keep the pro-life agenda from being debated on the Senate floor, lest it pass or lest it call attention to the positions of pro-abortion members and hurt them in the midterm elections. Allowing pro-life bills to reach the floor would also have rankled the abortion lobby. "Pro-choice" candidates hoping for a share of the abortion lobby's $10 million-plus budget for election advertising, can ill afford to offend the lobby.
The Senate also set records in stonewalling judicial nominations to federal appeals courts. In fact, Sen. Daschle made the midterm election a referendum on abortion and judicial appointments, pleading for donations to the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) and warning that, should Republicans gain control, the Senate would confirm Supreme Court nominees willing to reverse Roe v. Wade. It will be refreshing and encouraging that such nominees will now likely get at least a hearing!
Change is already afoot. On November 6, returning Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) promised to move the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act through the Senate: "I will call it up, we will pass it, and the president will sign it. I'm making that commitment – you can write it down."
Other pro-life bills awaiting Senate consideration are as follows: a comprehensive ban on human cloning; the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, protecting the conscience rights of individuals and entities in health care to decline involvement in abortion; the Child Custody Protection Act, protecting parents' rights in states with parental involvement laws by making it a crime for someone else to take their minor daughters across state lines for an abortion; and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which provides legal remedies for killing an unborn child in the commission of a federal crime, paralleling laws in a majority of states.
Only one pro-life Senate seat was lost (in Arkansas), while three seats formerly held by abortion supporters – in Georgia, Minnesota and Missouri – were won by pro-life challengers. Two additional seats could switch to pro-life, pending the December 7 run-off election in Louisiana and results of a possible recount in South Dakota.
Still, enthusiasm should be tempered. It's difficult to pass Senate bills without 60 votes needed to block a filibuster, and abortion supporters in the Senate still outnumber pro-life Senators by a small margin. Also, other legislative priorities, notably homeland security and economic stimulus, could occupy the Senate's calendar for months. Yet voters have handed the pro-life community a tremendous opportunity to advance laws giving greater protection to the lives of unborn children and vulnerable women. Together, we can make this happen!
New, Improved Partial-Birth Abortion Ban
On July 24 the House of Representatives voted 274-151 to ban partial-birth abortion ("PBA") for the sixth time. The measure (H.R. 4965) was not taken up by the Senate during the tenure of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, but is expected to be considered in the next session. A brief recap may be helpful.
In the most infamous PBA method, a living fetus (usually 20 weeks' gestation or older) is removed feet-first from the womb and delivered except for the head. The abortionist pierces the child's skull with scissors, inserts a catheter, sucks out the brain, and completes delivery of the now-dead child. PBA practitioners admit it usually is performed on healthy mothers and babies, for nonmedical reasons.
In 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court found Nebraska's PBA ban unconstitutional, effectively nullifying about 26 similar state bans. The Court cited two "flaws": the definition of PBA (used in most state laws and federal bills) was "vague" and might also outlaw dismemberment abortion, the most common method in later trimesters; and the ban contained no "health" exception. If amended accordingly, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor stated, a ban would be constitutional.
Opponents of PBA were not heartened. The Supreme Court's "health exception" loophole (encompassing "all factors –– physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age" that relate to "well-being") permits abortion on request throughout pregnancy. And an overly precise definition of PBA could be easily circumvented. But Rep. Steve Chabot crafted a bill (H.R. 4965) with a new definition, and extensive Congressional findings on the lack of a "health" indication for PBA that could satisfy Justice O'Connor.
Pro-abortion extremists in Congress claim the new definition of PBA is still too "fuzzy" and could include dismemberment abortion. In fact, the definition elicits a painfully concrete image of what is banned –– i.e., only abortions in which: (1) a living fetus is intentionally delivered vaginally to where (a) his head is fully outside the mother's body or (b) if removed feet-first, his trunk past the navel is outside the mother's body; (2) so that an overt act –– other than completing delivery –– can be performed to kill the partially-delivered fetus; and (3) the overt act is done, killing him.
What about a health exception? With the new precise definition of PBA, a health exception makes sense only if one believes killing a child after he is substantially outside his mother's body could affect her health. Also, once a child is mostly delivered, the subsequent act of killing doesn't implicate her "privacy right" to choose to terminate a pregnancy. That pregnancy is mere seconds and inches from being over. Furthermore, evidence compiled from many Congressional hearings shows that PBA is never necessary to preserve a woman's health, but poses even greater risks to the mother.
Respect Life Program
The thirty-first annual Respect Life Program of the U.S. bishops began Sunday October 6, 2002.
The program, adopted in over 90% of U.S. dioceses, focuses on the sanctity and dignity of human life, while drawing attention to current threats against life. Its goal is to help all Catholics understand, evangelize, and through pastoral and grassroots activities and prayer, bring an end to legal abortion and build a culture of life.
In his Statement for Respect Life Sunday 2002, His Eminence Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities, encouraged "all Catholics to read and discuss" the Respect Life Program materials: "We must inform ourselves about these issues, understand them in light of the Gospel, and respond to them with a firm commitment and healing compassion," he added.
This year's packet contains a summary of the Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, updated and reaffirmed by the U.S. bishops in November 2001, as well as six articles on the following topics:
- the abortion lobby's effort to force Catholic health care providers to perform morally objectionable procedures, such as abortion, sterilization, and dispensing "emergency contraception"
- the risks humanity may face if biotechnology continues to advance unchecked by moral constraints
- natural family planning – a candid discussion by a Catholic wife and mother who uses and teaches NFP
- the joys and challenges of raising a child with Down syndrome
- talking to teens about the benefits of chastity, and
- global trafficking in persons for prostitution and sweat shop labor.
To place an order, please call the Distribution Center toll free at 866/582-0943.
As a special commemoration of 30 years of the Respect Life Program, we have compiled all the Respect Life articles since its inception on a CD-ROM entitled "Celebrating Life 1972 – 2002." Over 200 informative and insightful articles covering all the life issues are easily searchable by keyword or phrase, as well as author, title and year. It's an invaluable resource and costs just $9.95.
No Mystery in Declining Abortion Rates
Several weeks ago the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), an affiliate of Planned Parenthood, reported an 11% decline in the U.S. abortion rate between 1994 and 2000, an acceleration of the downward trend that began in the early 1990s. In the six-year period, the abortion rate dropped even faster among adolescents – declining 18% among teens aged 18-19 and an amazing 39% among teens aged 15-17 (to just 15 per 1,000 girls).
The figures raise some interesting questions. With declines of 18% and 39% among teens, but 11% overall, it would seem that in some subgroups of adult women abortion rates must have dropped only negligibly or, perhaps, have gone up. Where did anomalies occur, and why?
The AGI report suggests that declines among teens were partially offset by increases in abortion rates among economically disadvantaged adult women. The abortion rate rose almost 25% for women below the poverty line (to 44 abortions per 1,000 women) and it rose 23% for women earning up to twice the poverty level (to 38 abortions per 1,000).
It was no surprise that doyennes of the abortion-contraception industry reacted to the drop in abortion rates with ambivalence, alternatively complaining that a failure to follow their policy agenda produced lower rates, and taking credit for the good news of falling rates – as if their policies were responsible. Confused? So is their logic.
Spin #1: Planned Parenthood "linked the reductions in abortions to cuts in abortion funding, restricted access to clinics and a lack of trained doctors" (C. Wetzstein, "Abortion rates decline in the late 1990s," The Washington Times, Oct. 9, 2002, All). The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) concurs, blaming welfare reform for the fact that fewer women are eligible for Medicaid-funded abortion because they now earn too much to qualify.
In other words, the number of "unwanted" pregnancies and the demand for abortion is assumed to be as high as ever, but women either (a) cannot afford abortions or (b) cannot travel a great distance to the nearest clinic (fewer abortionists and fewer clinics means further to travel).
Planned Parenthood's "solution": Force taxpayers to fund all abortions, force all medical schools to mandate abortion training, and coerce Catholic hospitals, providers and other health care entities with moral objections to abortion to violate their rights of conscience and provide abortions.
Spin #2: NARAL also suggests that more and better use of contraception is responsible for the overall drop in abortion rates. NARAL legal director Elizabeth Cavendish explains the disparate results between teens and economically disadvantaged women this way: "It's a 'tale of two nations. ... We're seeing the results of policies that don't afford equal access to contraception'" (Wetzstein supra).
In other words, teens (including rich, poor, minority, white, etc.) allegedly are using more and more effective contraception, thus reducing pregnancy and abortion rates, but economically disadvantaged women over 20 can't afford contraception (the way teens can!), so they're becoming pregnant and aborting at far higher rates than teens.
NARAL's "solution": Force insurance companies and employers to cover all contraceptives and increase government funding of family planning clinics so pills can be distributed free to all.
This explanation and solution enjoy a certain appeal, on a statistical basis at least, but only if one assumes that individuals have no control over their actions. Anna ("The Last Word") Quindlen, writing in the October 21, 2002 issue of Newsweek, falls into this trap. She reduces the arguments against contraception to religious zealotry, presenting a bigoted and baseless caricature of committed Catholics:
"Surely there are still some who believe the sole purpose of sex is untrammeled procreation, but it would be a pitiful nation that would let those fringe zealots run things for the rest of us."
And on the science/ social science of contraceptive use, she wrongly claims:
"It's ridiculous to have to restate the simple fact that cheap, accessible and reliable methods of contraception drive down the rate of abortion [Ed: Untrue!]. ... The good news is that we do not have to figure out what needs to be done, but only do it. Contraception. Enough said."
No, Ms. Quindlen, there's a lot more to say on the subject of contraception.
It's been shown time and again that when access to contraceptives goes up so also does the number of abortions. The abortion lobby tries to demonstrate that contraceptive access reduces abortions by pointing to Russian statistics. But Russia is one of those rare exceptions where, before contraceptives/ sterilization were introduced, abortion rates were unimaginably high – almost 8 times higher than the current U.S. rate (16 per 100 women versus 2.1 per 100 women in the U.S.). The ratio of abortions to live-births illustrates this well. In Russia in 1993, there were 235 abortions for every 100 live births. Compare this to the U.S. ratio of 30.5 abortions for every 100 live births in 1997.
Hormonal contraceptives can reduce, but do not eliminate, the risk of pregnancy in the individual sexually-active woman. But access to contraception increases the number of sexually-active girls and unmarried women, giving them a false assurance of protection from pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). (See, e.g., D. Paton, "The Economics of Family Planning and Underage Conceptions," Journal of Health Economics, March 2002.)
Spin #3: A pro-life organization that does not take a position on abstinence and contraception speculates that the declines may be due in part to pro-life activities such as enacting parental involvement legislation. It points also to ultrasonography and growing pro-life sentiment, which along with greater availability and use of abortion-alternative services, result in pregnancies leading more often to birth and less often to abortion. (C. Wetzstein, supra.)
These factors no doubt contribute to the reduction in abortion rates, but this analysis fails to account for what seems to be the fairly obvious and main reason why abortions are down: because pregnancy rates are down, especially among teens.
Why are pregnancy rates down? Teens in ever-growing numbers are choosing to postpone sexual intercourse until marriage (or at least until "adulthood"). And this trend has coincided with the widespread adoption of abstinence education curricula and supporting initiatives.
"Both abortion rates and birth rates for adolescents have been declining since the early 1990s, reflecting that fewer teens are becoming pregnant. However, the proportion of adolescent pregnancies ending in abortion remained stable from 1994 to 2000" (AGI news release, "U.S. Abortion Rates Continue to Decline, Especially Among Teens,"
Oct.8,2002, available at http:www.agi-usa.org/pubs/ archives/nr_340502.html).
If pregnant teens have been choosing between birth and abortion in roughly the same proportion since 1994 (particularly in minority communities), it means something more or different must be done to convince pregnant teens that abortion is morally unacceptable and that adoption and child rearing are preferable for a host of reasons.
But this statistic also means that since 1994 great progress has been made in explaining to teens the importance of chastity and the moral, physical and emotional risks of recreational sex. LeAnna Benn, director of the Teen-Aid abstinence program in Spokane, Washington points out that "the only thing that changed in that time frame [1994-2000] is the amount of talk and programming for abstinence until marriage" (C. Wetzstein, "Reported number of teen virgins rises," The Washington Times, July 22, 2002, A2).
Today "only 19 states require that high school sexuality education courses cover contraception," whereas "51% of U.S. school districts promote abstinence as the preferred option for adolescents, and 35% require that abstinence be taught as the only acceptable option outside of marriage" (P. East and J. Adams, "Sexual Assertiveness and Adolescents' Sexual Rights, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Vol. 34, July/August 2002, available at http://www.agi-usa.org/pubs/journals/3421202.html).
Although there's plenty of room for improvement, the numbers to date are impressive. The 2001 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System questioned 13,601 teens in grades 9-12. Between 1991 and 2001, the percentage of high school teens who remained virgins rose 19%, from 45.7% of teens to 54.4%. And in 2001, although 45.6% of teens have initiated sexual activity, only one teen in three is currently sexually active (defined as having had sex even once in the 3 months preceding the survey).
Perhaps, it's more than a coincidence that all 5 states with the highest teen abortion rates (NY, NV, NJ, MD and CA) – at almost twice the U.S. average – also include contraception education in STD and sex education courses. And is it only a coincidence that 4 of the 5 states with the lowest teen abortion rates (UT, ND, SD, WV and ID) either prohibit or do not mandate contraception education, or allow it to be taught only if risks and failures are fully explored?
Certainly other factors are involved, but the data from these 10 states contradict the abortion/contraception industry's claim that educating kids about sex and contraception and increasing access to pills and condoms will bring down abortion rates.
Is there a relationship between abortion rates and Medicaid coverage?
Could be it only a coincidence that 4 of the 5 states with the highest abortion rates pay for all "medically necessary" abortions? Or that 4 of the 5 states with lowest abortion rates pay only in the circumstances of life endangerment, rape and incest?
The overall abortion rate is 21 per 1,000 women, but it is 57 per 1,000 among women receiving Medicaid. Their abortion rate increased 14% between 1994 and 2000. Two out of 3 women receiving Medicaid who had abortions lived in the 16 states where Medicaid funds all "medically necessary" abortions.
In states where Medicaid does not fund abortions, women receiving Medicaid had abortions at twice the rate of women not receiving Medicaid, whereas in states with Medicaid coverage for abortion, four times the number of women on Medicaid aborted, compared to women not on Medicaid.
The Final Piece of the Puzzle
The AGI Report contains still another revealing finding: "Nearly 90 percent of abortions in 2000 were performed on women who live in metropolitan areas, where abortion clinics are much more common than in rural areas" (AP, "Mixed News on U.S. Abortions," available at http://msnbc.com/news/818632.asp ).
Recalling that between 1994 and 2000, abortion rates increased 23-25% among economically disadvantaged women which reduced the overall rate of decline to 11%, it was interesting to read:
"PPLA is the largest provider of reproductive health services in Los Angeles County. It provides clinical services to more than 58,000 people a year ... 96% of whom are at or below 250% of the federal poverty level. PPLA's responsible education and outreach programs deliver sexuality and family planning education to more than 76,000 teens, women and men a year."
Imagine how few abortions there would be if Planned Parenthood clinics – strategically located in poor, minority communities – were to offer women a real choice, by extending material, financial and emotional support to the 21% of women who feel compelled to have abortions because "they can't afford to have a baby" (AGI reports)?
Wrapping It Up
Abortion rates are dropping significantly, coincident with the spread of abstinence education. But, generally speaking, abortion rates remain at comparatively high levels and are even increasing in the shadow of Planned Parenthood clinics and where contraceptives and abortion are offered at free or reduced cost. The answer seems clear: stop the flow of taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood at the state and federal levels, fund pregnancy help centers to improve their outreach and services especially in cities, and introduce or improve abstinence education in urban schools and communities.
And that, Ms. Quindlen, is "Enough said."
is a publication of the NCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities
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