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February 19, 2012 9:15 AM BREAKING: Where Abortion is Available, More Abortions Take Place Than Where It’s Not

By Adele Stan

Ross Douthat, the New York Times’ conservative columnist, this morning brings us this startling revelation: In states where there are few restrictions on abortion, more abortions take place. Herewith:

[A]bortion rates are frequently higher in more liberal states, where access is often largely unrestricted, than in more conservative states, which are more likely to have parental consent laws, waiting periods, and so on. “Safe, legal and rare” is a nice slogan, but liberal policies don’t always seem to deliver the “rare” part.

To be fair to Douthat, the point he’s trying to make is that in states where contraception is easily available to women, abortion rates remain high. But the fact that women have to jump through fewer hoops in order to get abortions in liberal-leaning states likely also has something to do with the higher rates in those states.

What’s really at issue in Douthat’s column is the perils of accepting the right-wing frame when constructing liberal positions. By unilaterally presenting abortion as a very bad thing in the 1990s, the message mavens of the Clinton administration, with their construction of “safe, legal and rare,” gave abortion opponents a rhetorical rationale for piling on restrictions that, in many states, make abortion inaccessible to increasing numbers of women — despite the fact that the Supreme Court decided decades ago that their right to the procedure is protected by the Constitution.

A similar “moral hazard,” if you will, exists in the arguments of some LGBT rights advocates, who assert our rights via the idea that LGBT people are “born this way,” and should therefore not be penalized for sexual behavior, conducted in private between consenting adults, that falls outside the realm of heterosexuality. In rooting one’s rights in the “born this way” claim, one basically makes the case that if one weren’t “born this way,” the behavior would be wrong. How ‘bout the simple constitutional claim that, hey, it’s none of your business?

Our rights come from the Constitution, not from some set of “Judeo-Christian values” selectively defined by right-wing politicians. Leave it to the religious institutions to promote their values as they see fit. After all, that’s their constitutional prerogative.

Every time liberals cede the moral frame to the right wing, liberals lose. Or, at the very least, we have to answer to nonsense such as that promulgated by Douthat.

Comments

  • captain dan on February 19, 2012 9:44 AM:

    The phrase “safe, legal and rare” was NOT intended to be used in a negative manner by the anti-sane forces. It was intended to denote that abortions are “safe, legal and rare”.
    Incidentally, the comma in the blog should go outside of the quotation marks.

  • Anonymous on February 19, 2012 9:45 AM:

    How ‘bout the simple constitutional claim that, hey, it’s none of your business?

    Isn't the conservative position that there is no right to privacy in the constitution? Nothing should prevent them from sticking there snoot in anyone's business any time they want. From shivo to marriage to contraception to voter ID to vaginal ultrasound.

  • Danp on February 19, 2012 9:52 AM:

    More garbage editorials come from newspapers that try to hard to be fair and balanced. I'm talking to you, old gray lady.

  • Shelly on February 19, 2012 9:57 AM:

    "Safe, legal and rare" is exactly the right position. The thing is not to counter conservative framing of abortion as a very bad thing by trying to defend it as a very good thing. It is a necessary thing. Restricting it doesn't make it unnecessary, it makes it unavailable. It would be interesting to compare maternal death rates and infant mortality along with abortion access in conservative vs. liberal states.

  • iyoumeweus on February 19, 2012 10:10 AM:

    We still have freedom of movement. A state which restricts me having an abortion is a state in which I will not go to for one. Freedom of movement implies I can cross my state line visit another state obtain my safe,legal but rare abortion and return to my restrictive state. The results safe, legal and rare states have more abortions then restrictive states. Women are not stupid and we vote!

  • Wapiti on February 19, 2012 10:21 AM:

    As long as women can travel to a safe state to have an abortion, some fraction of Douthat's liberal state numbers are from women who can't get an abortion in their home state.

    Monogamy, not chemicals or latex, is the main line of defense against unwanted pregnancies. - Douthat

    Er, no. Married 20 years, successfully childless by choice. Chemicals and latex work, thx.

  • truthbetold on February 19, 2012 10:22 AM:

    Missing the obvious which is the conservative leaning states that are near to a liberal leaning state will cross the state line to get what is denied in their state. Thereby it increases the rates in the liberal leaning states. Deny people in one area their right to choices will merely travel to an area that will give more choices.

  • Brownell on February 19, 2012 10:26 AM:

    Thank you Adele Stan. First time I'm seeing your name, and it's inspiring to read a commentator willing to debunk rightwing myths that abortion is about "life". Bottom line: Abortion opposition is not based on love of fetuses, it's about hating women - whenever women stray from their only social value of populating the earth. As to "safe, legal and rare", it may mean something positive to some - but the world at large only hears the RARE part. Safe, legal and none of your business should have been the message.

    As a result of looking nervously away from abortion, we now have "life" crazies willing to outlaw anything that impedes unrestricted pregnancy - even ectopic pregnancy. That's a death sentence. Also state-sponsored "transvaginal ultrasound" RAPE. So much for love of "life." Speak louder, Adele Stan. More people need to hear a pro-woman message that isn't scared of anti-feminist backlash.

  • walt on February 19, 2012 10:27 AM:

    While I get the idea that conservatives are better than everyone else, I'm often struck by their corollary idea that they're being overrun by Messicans, darkies, furrners, et al. Why else do they need to hide in gated communities away from the madding crowd they otherwise want to increase?

    Abortion as a political hot-button issue was hatched in hysteria and bad faith. Conservatives don't hate abortion. They hate losing control. And nothing excites that fear more than sex in the steerage. Penalizing abortion is just a proxy war against unbridled passion.

  • crispinpierce on February 19, 2012 10:34 AM:

    Abortion is a politically-sensitive issue, but with most people agreeing that a reduction in the number of abortions is a laudable goal. Data from the implementation of universal health care coverage in Massachusetts in 2006 indicates that abortion rates go down with greater health care access (New England Journal of Medicine, http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1002985).

  • schtick on February 19, 2012 10:36 AM:

    Once you understand that facts, truth, reason and common sense don't exist in the tealiban party, you come to understand their confusion in a different light.


    crapcha....Memodeo but....right.

  • Steve P on February 19, 2012 10:39 AM:

    To give Douthat credit, it takes a lot of effort to anticipate the mental contortions of a senile dotard in Vatican City--and then jump the other way when a new one comes along, all the while hoping for a little more humanity---or at least consistency--in the future.

    Most Catholics have long since given up. In Europe, especially Italy, Il Papa's thundering is little more than a joke. Only in America does anyone make the effort to pay attention and enforce orthodoxy, but only in the hierarchy and colleges. The day when the bishops start demanding the people in the pews have more than 2 or 3 kids will never come.

  • esaud on February 19, 2012 11:15 AM:

    Douthart's fixation on sex and reproduction is downright creepy. He has the mental and emotional development of not-so-bright teenager. Reading his columns is like being transported back to the Catholic high school I attended in the 60's.

  • 2Manchu on February 19, 2012 11:34 AM:

    And how does the level of prenatal care and prevention of childhood illness compare between liberal and conservative states?

    How about a comparison of children living in poverty between the two?

    Or children who are undereducated, neglected, abused, or having to enter foster care?

    Between liberal and conservative states, which one is better at caring for children who need it the most?

  • Elly on February 19, 2012 11:37 AM:

    Douthat is playing word games again. Birth control provides excellent protection, but it's not perfect; and certainly women aren't perfect either. When you consider the number of sexually-active women in the US, there is no realistically achievable number of abortions that will ever be "rare" enough for absolutists like him.

    Yet the word "rare" certainly applies in my own case. I met my husband-to-be in 1978, when I was 20 - and we were sleeping with each other from the get-go. We're still together, and still humping like bunnies 33+ years later (sorry if that's TMI...).

    So let's do a little math: I didn't hit menopause until after I turned 50, but I'll set the cut off at 50 for the sake of having nice round numbers.

    30 years of regular sexual activity x 12 menstrual cycles/year = 360 opportunities to get knocked up.

    I've had one abortion in my lifetime (first trimester). IMHO, 1/360 is pretty "rare," doncha think?

    I had that abortion just before we got married because we were young and among the working poor; and because we were both "kids" ourselves and couldn't imagine ourselves as parents. While I don't believe in a god or gods, if I did, I'd be on my knees thanking her for the availability of safe, legal abortion. Having a child back then would have made it that much harder for us to rise above living paycheck-to-paycheck... making it highly unlikely that the two awesome kids that we have now would ever have been conceived.

  • DCNative on February 19, 2012 11:43 AM:

    Once Virginia enacts the "mandatory female rape" statute, I expect the abortion rate in Maryland and D.C. to climb significantly.

    Then some right-wing nutbjob will claim that D.C. and Maryland are heathen states with unchecked abortion rates.

  • Danny on February 19, 2012 12:03 PM:

    "Every time liberals cede the moral frame to the right wing, liberals lose."

    Nah, this is the shared delusion of people in extreme deciles on opposing ends of the bell curve; teabaggers and firebaggers alike. The fallacy is that of a general that denies the existence of any battlefield that would warrant a defense in depth, rather than blitzkrieg.

    W/r/t abortion we had a huge complete overnight win with Roe Wade, with the wingers trying to furiously claw back some ground ever since, but they have never gotten even halfway to where they were. Defense in depth is always going to be necessary at times when change been rapid enough to cause a huge backlash, e.g. in the case of Roe Wade, or Civil Rights.

  • Anonymous on February 19, 2012 12:24 PM:

    @crispinpierce

    Thank you for the link and the information about the reduced abortion rate with universal health care in MA. I think the only response to the article is: Why?

    Those who suggest that women from abortion restricted states go to states with more liberal laws make sense.

  • Werewolf on February 19, 2012 12:28 PM:

    @Elly:
    In 1930, my grandmother had a life-threatening pregnancy. At the time, abortion was legal in North Carolina (at least for therapeutic reasons), and the pregnancy was terminated. Had it not been, she would have died in that year, and my father would not have been born in 1931. I literally owe my life to that abortion done more that 80 years ago.

  • Still Fighting the Same Ole Battles on February 19, 2012 1:06 PM:

    Sure, here's the keys to my womb. The only issue left between no contraceptives and no abortion is no sex, because even monogamous sex can indeed lead to an unwanted pregnancy. We need to start a No Sex At All campaign.

    BTW, how's that climate change denial thing going, you know the world women without access to contraceptives or abortion will be bringing all the extra kids into?

    Oh, and how will you bolster food stamps, welfare, child services, medicaid, and church funds to assist parents with raising children they KNEW they couldn't afford but had to have anyway? Back to that No Sex At All campaign of yours. Maybe we could just target those under a certain income level. They don't deserve to enjoy sex anyway, the Moochers.

    And how does No Sex At All appeal to males, or are you guys okay with paying child support for extra kids for the next 18 years? How fun will unprotected sex be for you then with the idea of "kid" hanging over the bedroom? After taking over wombs, don't you think it would be fair for the laws to be toughened up in recognition of the fact sexually active women who get pregnant DIDN'T DO IT ALONE?

    Or will regulating my womb take care of all these nasty little human reproduction issues?

  • Cyn on February 19, 2012 1:31 PM:

    Great post!

    Why does he not understand that the best prevention for abortion is for men to zip it up! Men who want to prevent abortion should 1) abstain from sex and 2) begin a campaign to get men to abstain with penalties for those who don't like loss of writing privileges in the NY Times or cutting up their drivers' licenses, ban on purchases of booze, video games and alcohol. I think that would effectively make abortion safe, legal and rare.

    Seriously, RD needs a dose of reality -- experts say 20 million people have sex in the US every night. So face it, RD, you have a long way to go to your chastity regime.

  • Jess on February 19, 2012 2:00 PM:

    Elly and Werewolf,

    Thank you for sharing those stories. I think more women need to stop being ashamed and start sharing. Most women who have abortions are also mothers. Our healthcare should be no else's business, full stop. But maybe if more women put a face (or voice) to "yes, I use birth control, yes, I needed and had an abortion, why is this any of your concern," it would send a strong message.

    But, with regard to "rare" (and Elly makes a good point here), I always took it to mean increasing access to birth control and sex education - two progressive policy positions that could very well decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies thus making abortion more rare than it is now. But I agree that we should not accept the right's framing that abortion is a tragedy.

  • Texas Aggie on February 19, 2012 2:02 PM:

    That Douchehat carefully fails to mention that in states where abortions are difficult to get legally, illegal abortions are more common than otherwise would be, tells us two things about him. The main fact is that he doesn't care about the safety of an abortion and feels that a woman who dies from an illegal one deserved it. The secondary fact is that, like many right wingers, he isn't about to let an ugly fact destroy a beautiful dogma.

    I feel that it was decidedly dishonest on his part to ignore the safety aspect while concentrating on the rare part. I read one of his first columns years ago when he replaced some equally spaced out dingbat (Tierney?) and it was obvious right away that his logic circuits either were malfunctioning or didn't exist.

  • CJ on February 19, 2012 2:05 PM:

    I'm not on the same page as Adele Stan, and I suspect many of my fellow liberals aren't either.

    I'm a pro-choice liberal. Also, my wife and I are currently in the process of going through IVF. We've already decided that, in the unlikely scenario that she becomes pregnant with triplets, we'll take our doctor's advice and abort the third fetus--for my wife's safety.

    That said, I'm both anti-abortion and pro-choice (no that's not a contradiction). As such, I do want to make abortions safe, LEGAL, and rare. Saying so isn't ceding cede moral frame to the right wing. It's stating the moral frame from our own perspective. You caught the word "legal," right?

  • g on February 19, 2012 2:13 PM:

    As long as women can travel to a safe state to have an abortion, some fraction of Douthat's liberal state numbers are from women who can't get an abortion in their home state.

    I foresee border screenings between Virgina and the rest of the world, any woman who passes over the state line must take a pregnancy test and those who test positive are returned behind Virgina state lines.

    Welcome to the Republic of Gilead!

  • g on February 19, 2012 2:16 PM:

    We need to start a No Sex At All campaign

    Indeed. right after the Corps of Engineers devise a method to make all rivers run backwards.

  • Frances Kissling on February 19, 2012 3:34 PM:

    If one added a comparison by country, one would find that the abortion rate where abortion is safe and legal and where contraception widely available often both paid for by national health systems in England, France, Netherlands etc the abortion rates are lower. Why, less stigma about sex, more sex education and a healthier attitude toward sex for the unmarried, including teens .. If one is taught that sex is not dirty, that sex outside of marriage can be moral and loving and that when sought requires not abstinence bu the responsible use of contraceptives, abortion rates go down and contraceptive rates go up - and sex is safe and healthy.

  • elly on February 19, 2012 3:45 PM:

    In 1930, my grandmother had a life-threatening pregnancy. At the time, abortion was legal in North Carolina (at least for therapeutic reasons), and the pregnancy was terminated. Had it not been, she would have died in that year, and my father would not have been born in 1931. I literally owe my life to that abortion done more that 80 years ago.

    Right in one, Werewolf. Anti-choicers often go on about the lives/experiences lost due to abortion, but it's really a sword that cuts both ways. Like you, I probably wouldn't be here, if my mother hadn't had an earlier abortion.

    I think I was about 13 or 14 when she told me about her abortion. Unlike your grandmother's, hers wasn't done to save her life... it was done because she was unmarried, and did not want to have a baby (which was why we were having this conversation - she didn't want me to, either...Mom was quite progressive for her time and very open about her own past - about which she was quite matter-of-fact and unashamed).

    Regardless of her reasons: if she hadn't had that abortion, the odds are excellent that it would have re-arranged her life in ways that would not have been conducive to her marriage to my father, and the eventual conception of yours truly.

  • POed Lib on February 19, 2012 3:47 PM:

    The main reason why we are losing is that we are apologizing.

    The forced-birth fascists have put us in the position of apologizing for abortion.

    We need to change that. Abortion is not a bad thing. It is not a thing that we do reluctantly.

    It is a good thing, and I for one am STRONGLY pro-abortion. There are PLENTY of situations in which abortion is the alternative of choice. Abortion is the best choice for a damaged fetus, like Down's or any of 20-50 abnormalities. These feti should be aborted, and there is NOTHING wrong with that choice. Another situation in which abortion is a good choice is when there are already many children in the house, or when the parent(s) do not want another child.

    Abortion is a good choice in many cases. Stop apologizing.

  • Elly on February 19, 2012 4:01 PM:

    Grrr...so much for using blockquotes above.

    @Jess: agreed. I'm not ashamed or embarrassed by the fact that I had an abortion. Anti-choicers sneer at people like me, by claiming we have them out of "convenience" - as if pregnancy, childbirth and subsequent motherhood don't represent a major disruption in one's life path.

    They can take their contempt and stick it where the sun don't shine. I'm all for comprehensive sex education and readily available, effective birth control... but safe, legal abortion is the final measure needed to guarantee that women have full control over their reproductive destinies.

  • guest on February 19, 2012 4:22 PM:

    The 'safe, legal and rare' frame was specifically aimed at the Republican policy on birth control and women's reproductive health services, it was part of a successful arsenal that helped to de-legitimize the GOP stance on reproductive health among independent voters in the 1990's.

    Go read HRC's statements when she introduced this bill:

    http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/policy-watch/prevention-first-act


  • Anonymous on February 19, 2012 4:28 PM:

    @elly: You say "@Jess: agreed. I'm not ashamed or embarrassed by the fact that I had an abortion. Anti-choicers sneer at people like me, by claiming we have them out of "convenience" - as if pregnancy, childbirth and subsequent motherhood don't represent a major disruption in one's life path."

    Thanks for this comment. I for one think as I indicated above that we should not be ashamed or hide the abortion. By making us ashamed, the forced-birthers gain the initiative. We must stand up and say, as you did, I had an abortion, and THANK GOD I did.

    I too know women (I am a man) who had abortions. Specifically my mother. In 1967, she had her 7th kid. After that, I am pretty sure she had 2 abortions. She had to go to NY to get them. I am not sure why she got pregnant so easily. But she had the abortions, and thank god for that. Our family did not need additional children. We already had 7.

  • Patango on February 19, 2012 5:25 PM:

    The NON OF YOUR BUSINESS tactic falls apart when this issue it is brought to the civil rights part of the argument , as in marriages , insurance , and legal next of kin subjects , it is were the rubber hits the road so to speak....

    For some it is a choice I would imagine , and it is no one else's business indeed , and we all know some are born this way also ...

    The casual dismissal of girls/women having to go to others states bothers me , because a lot of people can not afford to travel , wrong attitude for liberals imo , we all know many will get an abortion one way or another ...And the radical states are near forcing every woman to go full term no matter what ...

    It is wise for liberals to frame these things on the private and health issue it is , as people are doing here in the comments , and you have to sell with the families , women , and the children that they actually effect , put faces on it , when you do it with politicians and a lawyer from the ACLU , it never goes over well ...

  • Patango on February 19, 2012 5:32 PM:


    I did a bad job at being clear there , my 1st 2 sentences were about LGBT , then the abortion issue

  • Alex Blaze on February 19, 2012 5:38 PM:

    Actually, no, the comma goes on the inside. In the UK it'd go on the outside since they decide each time if the punctuation is part of the quotation or to the larger sentence, but US typography calls for commas and periods to go inside, other punctuation to go outside, unless that other punctuation is part of the quotation itself.

    And last I checked, this is the Washington Monthly, not "King George III Monthly."

  • Elly on February 19, 2012 5:41 PM:

    @Anonymous: thanks for being an ally!

    I'm past my reproductive "prime," so it's no longer about me. But these a******s have radicalized me: I have no intention of allowing anti-choicers to impose their twisted morality on younger women - a category that includes my 19 year old daughter. I'm glad that I was able to choose when - and even if - to become a mother, and I want ALL women to be able to do the same.

  • Alex Blaze on February 19, 2012 5:43 PM:

    oh, and on the substance of the post: yes, "born that way" basically concedes that homosexuality is a sin if you aren't "born that way." But I'd also say that "none of your damn business" basically concedes that gay sex is dirty, so just don't ask us about it.

    It's a libertarian argument and it'll bring about libertarian conclusions, as the commenter above pointed out, which means no nondiscrimination legislation, among other things.

    The real argument, to me, is that sexuality is a gift and that everyone's entitled to pleasure, and, short of that, that diversity is a good thing and difference should be celebrated.

    Each time we concede the "sex is dirty argument," we're holding up progress on a number of issues, like comprehensive sex ed, abortion, contraception (ugh, like we should have to be arguing that one), queer rights, and health care for people with STDs.

  • AdmC on February 19, 2012 6:51 PM:

    I think you will find the reason Douchehat didn't post stats or links is that what he claimed is actually untrue--the bible belt has the most number of teen pregnancies, teen repeat pregnancies, STDs, AND ABORTIONS period.

  • Jess on February 19, 2012 7:26 PM:

    "The real argument, to me, is that sexuality is a gift and that everyone's entitled to pleasure, and, short of that, that diversity is a good thing and difference should be celebrated.

    Each time we concede the "sex is dirty argument," we're holding up progress on a number of issues, like comprehensive sex ed, abortion, contraception (ugh, like we should have to be arguing that one), queer rights, and health care for people with STDs."

    Very well said, Alex Blaze.

  • ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© on February 19, 2012 8:01 PM:

    Danny on February 19, 2012 12:03 PM:

    "Every time liberals cede the moral frame to the right wing, liberals lose."

    Nah, this is the shared delusion of people in extreme deciles on opposing ends of the bell curve; teabaggers and firebaggers alike. The fallacy is that of a general that denies the existence of any battlefield that would warrant a defense in depth, rather than blitzkrieg.

    W/r/t abortion we had a huge complete overnight win with Roe Wade, with the wingers trying to furiously claw back some ground ever since, but they have never gotten even halfway to where they were. Defense in depth is always going to be necessary at times when change been rapid enough to cause a huge backlash, e.g. in the case of Roe Wade, or Civil Rights.

    Somebody tell Fred Hiatt that the new David Broder has been located, and he is hilarious!
    ~

  • PQuincy on February 19, 2012 8:13 PM:

    I find Douthat's construction of straw men of the 'liberal' argument particularly infuriating.

    For example, in this weekend's blast of Catholic morality disguised as secular prudence, he claims that, in order to reduce the number of abortions, "The liberal vision tends to emphasize access to contraception as the surest path to stable families, wanted children and low abortion rates."

    I would disagree. The liberal vision I subscribe to emphasizes women's (and men's) empowerment to control their own lives and their own bodies within a supportive community. Of course, Douthat and his mentor Pope Ben have big problems with any argument in favor of human autonomy, too, which is fundamentally incompatible with Catholic claims to a magisterium but let's not go there.

    But Douthat knows that anti-autonomy arguments, whatever he and Ben think, will not fly in the United States. "Listen to what men tell you to do" is not a winning argument outside a limited circle of right-wing women.

    So he simply deletes the liberal argument for autonomy and full empowerment for women, and jumps to matters of technology: contracteption, 'chemicals and latex', all that stuff that he does his best to portray as slightly icky. But to delete autonomy is to fundamentally distort liberal thinking in all of its forms. As a liberal, I really don't think that issues of 'chemicals and latex' are mine to worry about: I respect women's right to decide how to shape their own sexual and family lives.

    Moreover, since our health care finance system treats the management of both male and female sexual health, including conception, as worthy of coverage by health insurance, I conclude that they should provide such coverage for any man or woman who chooses to use contraception. (Yes, I'd cover condoms for men too -- would be a great investment, aside from the fundamental justice of it. Certainly, if we going to cover Viagra, we should certainly cover condoms for both men and women).

    Those are decisions for individuals, along with their families or friends if they want personal advice, and their doctors and health care professionals if they need technical advice. Once we opt for autonomy -- or, to use another, older word for it, liberty -- then the details are simply none of our business; and the funding should be covered on a neutral and equal basis: cover it for none, or cover it for all.

    [PS: how can I re-enter the Captcha after editing if the page loads without a Captcha (or most other HTML) in Firefox?]

  • Bhavana on February 20, 2012 1:28 AM:

    Abortion in all its forms is prohibited by law in Nicaragua. I would like to suggest a documentary "Murder" which brings you face to face with the exposed women of Nicaragua and the courageous ones trying to fight the consequences of this political game of power.

    To watch the documentary online visit:
    http://www.cultureunplugged.com/play/4504/

  • Marie Burns on February 20, 2012 10:47 PM:

    @ Elly. Thank you so much for sharing your story. And a fine definition of "rare."

    BTW, do not believe Douthat's figures. He was picking & choosing, and purposely hiding facts that didn't suit his "Liberals Are Degenerate" thesis: http://www.nytexaminer.com/2012/02/this-weeks-new-york-times-sunday-sex-sermon/