How to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Pro-Life Laws

Pro-lifers are often puzzled at the notion that someone could believe that abortion is morally wrong or bad, perhaps even seriously morally wrong or bad, and yet also believe that abortion should not be criminalized. Along similar lines, pro-lifers are often puzzled by the notion that someone could desire that abortion be rare, and yet also hold that abortion should be legal. It’s one thing to think that abortion is morally acceptable or neutral, and so should be legal on that basis. But it’s another thing altogether to think that abortion is (seriously?) morally problematic, and yet also that it should be legal. How can these beliefs fit together?

Perhaps the most common way to reconcile these two beliefs is to argue that abortion restrictions don’t work. Instead of lowering the rate of abortion, they simply replace safe, legal abortions with unsafe, back-alley-style abortions. If we assume that laws can only be justified by the net value of their consequences—in particular, by whether they lower the rate of the problematic activity without too many countervailing costs—then abortion laws that make abortion less safe without lowering the rate of abortion will not be justified. If all of these assumptions hold true, I think one can consistently hold that abortion is morally wrong or bad (and thus hope that abortion rates go down for that reason), and yet also hold that abortion should not be criminalized.

Indeed, it is safe to say that this is the moderate pro-choicer’s most popular gambit.

The assumption that laws can only be justified on instrumental grounds is bound to be controversial. Some might hold that we have an obligation to prohibit certain evils whenever we can, even if, somehow, prohibiting such evils does not reduce the rate at which those evils occur, and even if there are additional costs attached to doing so. Of course, the only way that successfully prohibiting an evil wouldn’t reduce the rate at which that evil occurs is if the very act of prohibiting it causes more of it to occur. And it is very hard to see why this would be the case when it comes to laws that restrict abortion. At any rate, the point is that some people accept justifications for laws that are rooted in something besides their utility.

For the sake of argument, I will grant the assumption that laws can only be justified by the net value of their consequences. More specifically, I will grant that abortion restrictions are justified only if they reduce the target behavior enough to offset any harms that are likely to result from enacting those restrictions. Indeed, for my part, I’m inclined to accept such a view of how laws are justified.

But is it true that abortion restrictions don’t work? Rather than trying to answer this question in this post, I want to explore the more fundamental question of what it would take in principle to show that abortion laws don’t lower the rate of abortion. It might not be as easy as you think. Much of what passes for good reasoning on the question of the effectiveness of abortion laws is anything but.

By my lights, there are two basic ways to evaluate the efficacy of a law: by careful empirical reasoning based on correlative data on abortion laws and abortion rates, and by an accurate assessment of the psychology of incentives of human behavior. In this post, I will discuss the former.

Note that the question before us is whether abortion restrictions lower abortion rates, not whether they eliminate abortion altogether. This is important, because almost no one thinks that laws are justified only if they eliminate the target behavior altogether. Stealing still happens, despite it being illegal, and no one thinks that this constitutes a sufficient reason to overturn laws against stealing. Exactly how much a law must reduce the target behavior in order to be justified, especially if there are costs attached, is an interesting question, but it is beyond the scope of this post.

Since the question is whether abortion restrictions lower the abortion rate, it will not do simply to show that abortion still happens in places where it is illegal. This tells us nothing about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of abortion laws. This is so even if abortion is relatively common in regions where it is illegal. This is because, for all we know, the abortion rate could be higher were those laws not in place. All such facts would show is that abortion restrictions don’t eliminate abortion in those regions.

Further, it will not do to simply point out that regions with more liberal abortion laws have similar (or lower) rates of abortion than regions with stricter abortion laws. These are mere correlations, and more is required to justify the dreaded leap from correlation to causation. More specifically, making that leap at this stage completely ignores the possibility of confounding factors. If there are other factors present in regions with stricter or looser restrictions that are likely to have an impact on the rates of abortion, those must be taken into account when evaluating the impact that abortion restrictions have on abortion rates. This can be done either by applying what we already know about the effects of such factors on abortion rates and adjusting accordingly, or by finding regions that are already comparable with respect to those factors.

If, for example, regions with stricter abortion laws tend to have higher poverty rates than regions with looser abortion laws, and economic pressures are a plausible motivating reason why many women seek abortions, then one must adjust for the likely impact of the confounding factor of poverty when interpreting the relevant correlations. It may turn out that economic pressures are sufficient to bring the rates of abortion in regions with tighter restrictions in line with the rates of abortion in wealthier regions that have fewer or no restrictions. But it would not follow that the relevant abortion restrictions make no difference in the rate of abortion. In order to show this, the effects of poverty and wealth on the rates of abortion, as well as every other potentially confounding factor, would first have to be screened off. Then, if the rates of abortion are comparable, it will have been shown that the relevant restrictions make no difference on the rate of abortion.

The same principles of good causal reasoning apply when we compare rates of abortion across time in the same region. In this case, you have to be sure to account for possible changes in potentially confounding factors. For example, if there is rapid economic decline around the same time that more restrictive abortion laws are enacted, and the abortion rate stays the same after the restrictions are enacted, one should not conclude that the relevant laws are having no effect. Again, one would first have to control for changes in the rate of poverty, as well as every other potentially confounding factor, before one can conclude that the relevant laws are not making abortion less common than it otherwise would be without those laws.

This leads us right to the moral of the story. What we want to know is whether the abortion rate would be higher were it not for the restrictions in question. Unless and until the moderate pro-choicer makes good on this counterfactual claim, there is no reason to believe that abortion restrictions don’t lower abortion rates.

[Today’s guest post by Kyle Blanchette is part of our paid blogging program.]

How to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Pro-Life Laws

Pro-lifers are often puzzled at the notion that someone could believe that abortion is morally wrong or bad, perhaps even seriously morally wrong or bad, and yet also believe that abortion should not be criminalized. Along similar lines, pro-lifers are often puzzled by the notion that someone could desire that abortion be rare, and yet also hold that abortion should be legal. It’s one thing to think that abortion is morally acceptable or neutral, and so should be legal on that basis. But it’s another thing altogether to think that abortion is (seriously?) morally problematic, and yet also that it should be legal. How can these beliefs fit together?

Perhaps the most common way to reconcile these two beliefs is to argue that abortion restrictions don’t work. Instead of lowering the rate of abortion, they simply replace safe, legal abortions with unsafe, back-alley-style abortions. If we assume that laws can only be justified by the net value of their consequences—in particular, by whether they lower the rate of the problematic activity without too many countervailing costs—then abortion laws that make abortion less safe without lowering the rate of abortion will not be justified. If all of these assumptions hold true, I think one can consistently hold that abortion is morally wrong or bad (and thus hope that abortion rates go down for that reason), and yet also hold that abortion should not be criminalized.

Indeed, it is safe to say that this is the moderate pro-choicer’s most popular gambit.

The assumption that laws can only be justified on instrumental grounds is bound to be controversial. Some might hold that we have an obligation to prohibit certain evils whenever we can, even if, somehow, prohibiting such evils does not reduce the rate at which those evils occur, and even if there are additional costs attached to doing so. Of course, the only way that successfully prohibiting an evil wouldn’t reduce the rate at which that evil occurs is if the very act of prohibiting it causes more of it to occur. And it is very hard to see why this would be the case when it comes to laws that restrict abortion. At any rate, the point is that some people accept justifications for laws that are rooted in something besides their utility.

For the sake of argument, I will grant the assumption that laws can only be justified by the net value of their consequences. More specifically, I will grant that abortion restrictions are justified only if they reduce the target behavior enough to offset any harms that are likely to result from enacting those restrictions. Indeed, for my part, I’m inclined to accept such a view of how laws are justified.

But is it true that abortion restrictions don’t work? Rather than trying to answer this question in this post, I want to explore the more fundamental question of what it would take in principle to show that abortion laws don’t lower the rate of abortion. It might not be as easy as you think. Much of what passes for good reasoning on the question of the effectiveness of abortion laws is anything but.

By my lights, there are two basic ways to evaluate the efficacy of a law: by careful empirical reasoning based on correlative data on abortion laws and abortion rates, and by an accurate assessment of the psychology of incentives of human behavior. In this post, I will discuss the former.

Note that the question before us is whether abortion restrictions lower abortion rates, not whether they eliminate abortion altogether. This is important, because almost no one thinks that laws are justified only if they eliminate the target behavior altogether. Stealing still happens, despite it being illegal, and no one thinks that this constitutes a sufficient reason to overturn laws against stealing. Exactly how much a law must reduce the target behavior in order to be justified, especially if there are costs attached, is an interesting question, but it is beyond the scope of this post.

Since the question is whether abortion restrictions lower the abortion rate, it will not do simply to show that abortion still happens in places where it is illegal. This tells us nothing about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of abortion laws. This is so even if abortion is relatively common in regions where it is illegal. This is because, for all we know, the abortion rate could be higher were those laws not in place. All such facts would show is that abortion restrictions don’t eliminate abortion in those regions.

Further, it will not do to simply point out that regions with more liberal abortion laws have similar (or lower) rates of abortion than regions with stricter abortion laws. These are mere correlations, and more is required to justify the dreaded leap from correlation to causation. More specifically, making that leap at this stage completely ignores the possibility of confounding factors. If there are other factors present in regions with stricter or looser restrictions that are likely to have an impact on the rates of abortion, those must be taken into account when evaluating the impact that abortion restrictions have on abortion rates. This can be done either by applying what we already know about the effects of such factors on abortion rates and adjusting accordingly, or by finding regions that are already comparable with respect to those factors.

If, for example, regions with stricter abortion laws tend to have higher poverty rates than regions with looser abortion laws, and economic pressures are a plausible motivating reason why many women seek abortions, then one must adjust for the likely impact of the confounding factor of poverty when interpreting the relevant correlations. It may turn out that economic pressures are sufficient to bring the rates of abortion in regions with tighter restrictions in line with the rates of abortion in wealthier regions that have fewer or no restrictions. But it would not follow that the relevant abortion restrictions make no difference in the rate of abortion. In order to show this, the effects of poverty and wealth on the rates of abortion, as well as every other potentially confounding factor, would first have to be screened off. Then, if the rates of abortion are comparable, it will have been shown that the relevant restrictions make no difference on the rate of abortion.

The same principles of good causal reasoning apply when we compare rates of abortion across time in the same region. In this case, you have to be sure to account for possible changes in potentially confounding factors. For example, if there is rapid economic decline around the same time that more restrictive abortion laws are enacted, and the abortion rate stays the same after the restrictions are enacted, one should not conclude that the relevant laws are having no effect. Again, one would first have to control for changes in the rate of poverty, as well as every other potentially confounding factor, before one can conclude that the relevant laws are not making abortion less common than it otherwise would be without those laws.

This leads us right to the moral of the story. What we want to know is whether the abortion rate would be higher were it not for the restrictions in question. Unless and until the moderate pro-choicer makes good on this counterfactual claim, there is no reason to believe that abortion restrictions don’t lower abortion rates.

[Today’s guest post by Kyle Blanchette is part of our paid blogging program.]

It’s been five years since Kermit Gosnell’s conviction

Yesterday, as pro-life advocates around the United States celebrated Mother’s Day, Kermit Gosnell marked the five years of life as a convicted felon.

Gosnell, the notorious Philadelphia abortionist, was convicted on May 13, 2013 of three counts of murder, one count of manslaughter, and 211 counts of violating Pennsylvania’s abortion waiting period law. The murder counts were for the deaths of three infants known only as Baby A, Baby C, and Baby D. The manslaughter count was for the death of 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar, a Bhutanese refugee who died after Gosnell administered her an overdose of sedatives during her abortion at 19 weeks.

Abortion advocates are sick of hearing about Gosnell. He was an outlier, they claim. Why are we still harping on this, five years later?

The truth is we have no idea if Gosnell was an outlier. He, like many others in states with abortion-friendly governors, operated without oversight for years. The reason he finally got caught? His over-prescription of narcotics caught the attention of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

That is part of a pattern. Time and time again, dangerous abortionists operate unimpeded for years, even decades, leaving a wide path of destruction in their wake. The abortion industry routinely refuses to police its own. To give just three examples (which are by no means the only ones):

  • Michigan abortionist Alberto Hodari received a $10,000 slap on the wrist in the 2003 abortion death of Regina Johnson; horrifically botched an abortion in 2008; also in 2008, forced a woman to go through with an abortion after she had changed her mind; was cited for numerous health and safety violations in 2009; also in 2009, missed an ectopic pregnancy; and remained in practice until his retirement in 2013. 
  • James Pendergraft‘s medical license was suspended four separate times, but each time, he was allowed to resume his butchery. Like Gosnell, his downfall only came when he was caught dealing drugs—but even now, a Florida abortion facility affiliated with Pendergraft continues to operate without a license. 
  • Abortionist Steven Chase Brigham is so horrific, the vehemently pro-abortion blog RH Reality Check reported: “Since the early 1990s, public records show, Brigham’s patients have suffered emergency hysterectomies, severe bowel injuries, severed ureters, and sweeping lacerations to the uterus. Over a period of two decades, Brigham has been barred from practicing medicine in at least six states, sued by his landlords and business associates, and even served jail time for failing to pay taxes. And yet today, Brigham remains in control of a network of 15 abortion clinics in four states, and there appears little that most state authorities are able—or willing—to do about it.”
Gosnell himself showed early signs of psychopathy on Mother’s Day of 1972:

It was called the Mother’s Day Massacre—the brainchild of Harvey Karman, an eccentric California man without medical training who had served 2½ years in prison for performing illegal abortions in the 1950s. Karman teamed with a young Philadelphia doctor who offered to perform abortions on 15 impoverished women, each between four and six months pregnant, who were bused to the Philadelphia clinic from Chicago on Mother’s Day 1972.

What the women didn’t know was that they were guinea pigs for a device Karman had invented, which he called the “super coil.” He had tested it only on wartime rape victims in Bangladesh, where he had traveled under the sponsorship of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

That young Philadelphia doctor, of course, was Gosnell. The way the “Super Coil” worked was that a bunch of razors were coated with a protective gel and wrapped into a ball before being placed into the mother’s uterus. After warming up in the body, the gel would melt and the razors would spring open, cutting up the baby.

Of the 15 mothers who underwent the procedure, nine suffered serious complications, including one who needed a hysterectomy. Others had a punctured uterus, hemorrhage, infections and retained fetal remains. Karman’s conviction (only for practicing medicine without a license) was overturned and Gosnell totally got away with it. 

Imagine if Gosnell’s license were revoked in 1972! Karnamaya Mongar, and tens of thousands of innocent children, might still be alive.

Justice delayed is justice denied. If health officials acted promptly to shut down abortionists upon their first offense, countless lives would be saved, and women would be spared injury and heartache.

Pro-life, pro-woman advocates are working hard to make that happen, but the usual suspects are fighting progress. Five years after Gosnell’s conviction, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are in court, trying to eliminate an Indiana law that requires annual inspections of abortion centers and reporting of abortion complications.

It’s been five years since Kermit Gosnell’s conviction

Yesterday, as pro-life advocates around the United States celebrated Mother’s Day, Kermit Gosnell marked the five years of life as a convicted felon.

Gosnell, the notorious Philadelphia abortionist, was convicted on May 13, 2013 of three counts of murder, one count of manslaughter, and 211 counts of violating Pennsylvania’s abortion waiting period law. The murder counts were for the deaths of three infants known only as Baby A, Baby C, and Baby D. The manslaughter count was for the death of 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar, a Bhutanese refugee who died after Gosnell administered her an overdose of sedatives during her abortion at 19 weeks.

Abortion advocates are sick of hearing about Gosnell. He was an outlier, they claim. Why are we still harping on this, five years later?

The truth is we have no idea if Gosnell was an outlier. He, like many others in states with abortion-friendly governors, operated without oversight for years. The reason he finally got caught? His over-prescription of narcotics caught the attention of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

That is part of a pattern. Time and time again, dangerous abortionists operate unimpeded for years, even decades, leaving a wide path of destruction in their wake. The abortion industry routinely refuses to police its own. To give just three examples (which are by no means the only ones):

  • Michigan abortionist Alberto Hodari received a $10,000 slap on the wrist in the 2003 abortion death of Regina Johnson; horrifically botched an abortion in 2008; also in 2008, forced a woman to go through with an abortion after she had changed her mind; was cited for numerous health and safety violations in 2009; also in 2009, missed an ectopic pregnancy; and remained in practice until his retirement in 2013. 
  • James Pendergraft‘s medical license was suspended four separate times, but each time, he was allowed to resume his butchery. Like Gosnell, his downfall only came when he was caught dealing drugs—but even now, a Florida abortion facility affiliated with Pendergraft continues to operate without a license. 
  • Abortionist Steven Chase Brigham is so horrific, the vehemently pro-abortion blog RH Reality Check reported: “Since the early 1990s, public records show, Brigham’s patients have suffered emergency hysterectomies, severe bowel injuries, severed ureters, and sweeping lacerations to the uterus. Over a period of two decades, Brigham has been barred from practicing medicine in at least six states, sued by his landlords and business associates, and even served jail time for failing to pay taxes. And yet today, Brigham remains in control of a network of 15 abortion clinics in four states, and there appears little that most state authorities are able—or willing—to do about it.”
Gosnell himself showed early signs of psychopathy on Mother’s Day of 1972:

It was called the Mother’s Day Massacre—the brainchild of Harvey Karman, an eccentric California man without medical training who had served 2½ years in prison for performing illegal abortions in the 1950s. Karman teamed with a young Philadelphia doctor who offered to perform abortions on 15 impoverished women, each between four and six months pregnant, who were bused to the Philadelphia clinic from Chicago on Mother’s Day 1972.

What the women didn’t know was that they were guinea pigs for a device Karman had invented, which he called the “super coil.” He had tested it only on wartime rape victims in Bangladesh, where he had traveled under the sponsorship of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

That young Philadelphia doctor, of course, was Gosnell. The way the “Super Coil” worked was that a bunch of razors were coated with a protective gel and wrapped into a ball before being placed into the mother’s uterus. After warming up in the body, the gel would melt and the razors would spring open, cutting up the baby.

Of the 15 mothers who underwent the procedure, nine suffered serious complications, including one who needed a hysterectomy. Others had a punctured uterus, hemorrhage, infections and retained fetal remains. Karman’s conviction (only for practicing medicine without a license) was overturned and Gosnell totally got away with it. 

Imagine if Gosnell’s license were revoked in 1972! Karnamaya Mongar, and tens of thousands of innocent children, might still be alive.

Justice delayed is justice denied. If health officials acted promptly to shut down abortionists upon their first offense, countless lives would be saved, and women would be spared injury and heartache.

Pro-life, pro-woman advocates are working hard to make that happen, but the usual suspects are fighting progress. Five years after Gosnell’s conviction, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are in court, trying to eliminate an Indiana law that requires annual inspections of abortion centers and reporting of abortion complications.

Three Major News Items Today

Mississippi passes 15-week abortion limit: Last night, Mississippi governor Phil Bryant signed a law limiting abortion to the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, except to save the life or health of the mother. Here, for reference, is what a 15-week-old human looks like (via the Endowment for Human Development):

While much media coverage noted that the new law is exceptionally “tough” or “strict,” that’s only true if you have a narrow, USA-centric frame of reference. Mississippi’s 15-week limit is mundane in the context of other developed nations like Spain, France, Germany, and Belgium (14 weeks LMP); Italy (12 weeks LMP); Portugal (10 weeks LMP); and Ireland, Malta, and Poland (right to life recognized without regard to age).

Mississippi’s sole abortion business has already filed suit to block the law. It will likely remain unenforced while the case works its way through the court system. The current Supreme Court is 5-4 in favor of abortion, so the law will only be upheld if a Justice soon retires or dies.

Illinois Primaries: Both the Democratic and Republican primary races in Illinois, being held today, are critical for pro-life advocates. On the Democratic side, abortion extremists have targeted Dan Lipinski, one of the last remaining pro-life Democrats in the House of Representatives. His challenger, Marie Newman, is funded primarily by NARAL and Planned Parenthood. Pro-Life Action League, Susan B. Anthony List, Democrats for Life, and many others are working phones and knocking on doors for Rep. Lipinski. Illinois has an open primary; pro-lifers of all stripes, including the independent and unaffiliated, who live in the 3rd Congressional District are strongly encouraged to cross over and vote for Lipinski. We must beat back those in the Democratic Party who would impose an abortion litmus test and treat the fundamental human right to life as a partisan issue.

Meanwhile, on the GOP side, Illinois primary voters have the opportunity to boot Governor Bruce Rauner from office. Gov. Rauner is infamous for signing a bill to destroy the Hyde Amendment in Illinois, introducing widespread taxpayer subsidies for the abortion industry. He betrayed not only those pro-lifers who voted for him, but the more than 144,000 Illinoisans who owe their very lives to Hyde Amendment protections. His primary opponent, Jeanne Ives, is an unapologetic pro-life advocate.

Today at the Supreme Court: The U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments today in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra. NIFLA is an umbrella organization for pregnancy resource centers and clinics, who are challenging a California law that forces them to advertise abortions. Pro-life advocates from across the nation (including our own Terrisa Bukovinac, flying all the way from San Francisco!) are convening outside the Court this morning to stand up for life and freedom of speech. It’s going to be an incredible rally, and if you can’t make it in person, you can watch it live at the March for Life facebook page.

Three Major News Items Today

Mississippi passes 15-week abortion limit: Last night, Mississippi governor Phil Bryant signed a law limiting abortion to the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, except to save the life or health of the mother. Here, for reference, is what a 15-week-old human looks like (via the Endowment for Human Development):

While much media coverage noted that the new law is exceptionally “tough” or “strict,” that’s only true if you have a narrow, USA-centric frame of reference. Mississippi’s 15-week limit is mundane in the context of other developed nations like Spain, France, Germany, and Belgium (14 weeks LMP); Italy (12 weeks LMP); Portugal (10 weeks LMP); and Ireland, Malta, and Poland (right to life recognized without regard to age).

Mississippi’s sole abortion business has already filed suit to block the law. It will likely remain unenforced while the case works its way through the court system. The current Supreme Court is 5-4 in favor of abortion, so the law will only be upheld if a Justice soon retires or dies.

Illinois Primaries: Both the Democratic and Republican primary races in Illinois, being held today, are critical for pro-life advocates. On the Democratic side, abortion extremists have targeted Dan Lipinski, one of the last remaining pro-life Democrats in the House of Representatives. His challenger, Marie Newman, is funded primarily by NARAL and Planned Parenthood. Pro-Life Action League, Susan B. Anthony List, Democrats for Life, and many others are working phones and knocking on doors for Rep. Lipinski. Illinois has an open primary; pro-lifers of all stripes, including the independent and unaffiliated, who live in the 3rd Congressional District are strongly encouraged to cross over and vote for Lipinski. We must beat back those in the Democratic Party who would impose an abortion litmus test and treat the fundamental human right to life as a partisan issue.

Meanwhile, on the GOP side, Illinois primary voters have the opportunity to boot Governor Bruce Rauner from office. Gov. Rauner is infamous for signing a bill to destroy the Hyde Amendment in Illinois, introducing widespread taxpayer subsidies for the abortion industry. He betrayed not only those pro-lifers who voted for him, but the more than 144,000 Illinoisans who owe their very lives to Hyde Amendment protections. His primary opponent, Jeanne Ives, is an unapologetic pro-life advocate.

Today at the Supreme Court: The U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments today in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra. NIFLA is an umbrella organization for pregnancy resource centers and clinics, who are challenging a California law that forces them to advertise abortions. Pro-life advocates from across the nation (including our own Terrisa Bukovinac, flying all the way from San Francisco!) are convening outside the Court this morning to stand up for life and freedom of speech. It’s going to be an incredible rally, and if you can’t make it in person, you can watch it live at the March for Life facebook page.

The State of the Abortion Debate in Poland



[Today’s guest post is by SPL supporter Sylwia Gryciuk. She lives in Wrocław and is 25 years old.]

It is a popular myth of our times that free access to abortion reflects society’s high level of cultural development. Another widely adopted view holds that we – as human civilization – gradually struggle towards greater equality and thus respect for (broadly understood) human rights. There are some exceptions, of course, as certain communities divert from the expected path, stripping their members of the previously held rights.

Such narrative was mostly favored by the Western media reporting on recent events in Poland: on October 3 around 100k women nationwide excused from work and dressed in black to protest on the streets against the bill proposal which – in the highly unlikely event of its adoption – would nearly completely ban legal access to abortion in the country, leaving the physicians room for medical intervention only if women’s life was in imminent danger. Considering the already strict pregnancy termination laws in Poland (abortion is only allowed in the cases of danger to woman’s life/health, fetal anomalies and rape/incest), many ordinary foreign commentators lamented Polish women’s situation, perceiving it as a reflection of oppressive government’s violation of women’s rights. As it often turns out, the truth is much more complex and even basic research into the history of Polish abortion law proves that the modern pro-“choice” mindset largely depends on distorted – if not deceitful – historical narratives.

At first and very superficial glance it may appear that in Poland the moral evaluation of abortion should be more or less a settled question. Poland is an ethnically and religiously homogenous country with roughly 93% of its population being nominally Catholic; even though mere 40% of them are church-goers, only 6% of the population as a whole declare themselves to be non-believers. Taking into account the Catholic church’s staunch and consistent opposition to abortion in all cases expect danger to mother’s life, one might expect to find the reflection of this position in the opinions of the church’s Polish members. Indeed, recent studies reveal that 75% of Poles oppose legalization of abortion on demand, that is the abortion of healthy embryos and fetuses carried by healthy women. The percentage dramatically shifts though in the cases of less desirable pregnancies: 73% of respondents support legal access to abortion in the event of rape or incest, with mere 11% voicing their opposition, while the legal access to abortion due to fetal anomalies is approved by 53% of the respondents and condemned by only a third.

The findings unsurprisingly show that even though the moral stances of religious authorities do to some extent correlate with the values held by their communities, the majority of the population tend to develop their conscience independently when it comes to critical moral issues. Among other things, it shows that there indeed is a place and a need for secular opposition to abortion even in communities with strong religious component to their identities. Its lack inevitably leads to primitive ideological war in which the unborn children – the ones who should remain in the forefront – are often pushed to the background.

Indeed, the public debate on abortion in Poland has often been reduced to a manifestation of deeply held prejudice and destructive hate. It is not uncommon for the Polish mainstream media to organize quasi-discussions on abortion with a priest representing the pro-life movement and a radical feminist (boasting about the abortion she allegedly underwent on an important Catholic holiday) on the pro-choice side. The outcome is obviously a disaster, with many ordinary people refusing to take a definite stance on the issue of abortion which they view as a red herring, diverting attention from the “real” problems Poland faces. But the problem of abortion in its legal dimension has in Poland a long and thought-provoking history whose importance is often trivialized.

The controversial bill draft which resparked the national debate was prepared by Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture – a secular and independent foundation self-described as: “[gathering] academics and legal practitioners aiming at promotion of legal culture based on the respect for human dignity and rights.” The petition to have the draft considered by the Polish Parliament was subsequently signed by nearly 500k adults eligible for voting, which is quite an impressive number for the country with the population of 38 millions. Sadly, deeper research reveals Ordo Iuris is a highly conservative organization opposing not only abortion but also sex education and homosexual unions – a view which not only alienates more liberally-minded pro-lifers but also in many people’s minds waters down the abortion issue to a politically and religiously motivated battle. In consequence, on October 3 it was not uncommon to see protestors holding signs attacking Catholic church and current conservative government, even though neither was officially involved in the preparation of the draft bill. The protests also floated Polish Internet with memes and satirical drawings representing both sides of the abortion argument. One of the recurrent motifs was… Adolf Hitler. A popular tongue-in-cheek meme says: “Hitler was fighting for Polish women’s right to abortion before it was cool”. As propagandist as this may sounds to some, the meme’s message is backed by historical facts.

Above: an anti-abortion meme that circulated in Polish social media. Its English translation: “Hitler was fighting for Polish women’s right to abortion before it was cool.”

Poland is quite unique among other European countries in that in the course of the last 70 years its abortion laws have not been growing more liberal but restricted. The current law, the so-called “abortion compromise” came to force in 1993 after Poland has (at least officially) stopped being a puppet state of the former USRR and started seemingly regaining its own political and cultural identity. Under communist regime, abortion in Poland was additionally allowed in the case of difficult economical situation of the pregnant woman (but in practice it was easily available on request). Only once in the history of the country was abortion on demand ever legally obtainable and this was in the Nazi-occupied Poland. In the pro-choice revisionist history of the Nazi regime Hitler’s ban on abortion for German women is a crystal-clear example that abortion restrictions go in pair with totalitarianism and disrespect for human rights. The truth points in quite a different direction, though. In all fairness, the abortion ban in the Nazi Germany was not initiated by the ruling class’s concern for life, but rather the pragmatic desire to expand the German population. For the regime exterminating the disabled and minorities the concept of human rights simply does not exist. This is exactly why on various occasions abortion appears to them as an attractive tool of genocide as well.

For Poles it is widely known fact that the Nazis viewed Slavs as subhumans and intended on exterminated a significant number of them to subsequently turn the rest into a nation of slaves. Eventually, nearly 20% of Polish citizens lost their lives in the course of World War II. Most of them were civilians and about a half were ethnic Poles whose relatives are now the vast majority of Poland’s population. Importantly, this shocking number still does not include the victims of legally obtainable unrestricted abortion.

In order to be ideologically consistent, supporters of legal abortion should conclude that in 1943 Hitler’s regime granted Polish women fundamental reproductive right which their own pre-war government had denied them. Considering all the atrocities that Polish citizens suffered at the hands of the Nazis to say so would be beyond embarrassing, if not downright offensive. Granting free access to abortion in the war-torn Poland was obviously motivated not by concern for women’s rights, by rather by lack of any respect for the lives of Polish women and children on the part of the occupants. It was Hitler himself who concluded that:

In view of the large families of the Slav native population, it could only suit us if girls and women there had as many abortions as possible. We are not interested in seeing the non-German population multiply…We must use every means to install in the population the idea that it is harmful to have several children, the expenses that they cause and the dangerous effect on woman’s health… It will be necessary to open special institutions for abortions and doctors must be able to help out there in case there is any question of this being a breach of their professional ethics.

A statement chilling mostly because of how reminiscent it is of the current policies and viewpoints related to abortion.

Frederica Mathewes-Green, a pro-life feminist, once famously wrote: “No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice-cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg.” For many desperate Polish women caught in the trap of World War II legal abortion on demand offered by ruthless occupants might indeed seem like the only way out of their miserable situation. But would anyone in their right mind claim that the Nazis gave Polish women a right to choose? Comparing the life in the worn-torn areas to the relative luxury of first-world countries seems disrespectful to say the least but in truth, individual people of every cultural and historical background experience their private tragedies, sometimes pushing them towards abortion which they perceive as the only way out of their problems. It is nothing but revisionist narratives though which make some of us claim that by undergoing abortions these fearful women are executing their right to choose or that politicians who introduce a law allowing women to kill their unborn offspring are by definition mindful of the lives of women and children. Sadly, we often quickly forget the valuable lessons of history and turn to tenuous ideologies instead. It should not surprise us then that there are Polish women (and men) who genuinely believe that support for abortion on demand equals support for freedom and compassion.

The State of the Abortion Debate in Poland



[Today’s guest post is by SPL supporter Sylwia Gryciuk. She lives in Wrocław and is 25 years old.]

It is a popular myth of our times that free access to abortion reflects society’s high level of cultural development. Another widely adopted view holds that we – as human civilization – gradually struggle towards greater equality and thus respect for (broadly understood) human rights. There are some exceptions, of course, as certain communities divert from the expected path, stripping their members of the previously held rights.

Such narrative was mostly favored by the Western media reporting on recent events in Poland: on October 3 around 100k women nationwide excused from work and dressed in black to protest on the streets against the bill proposal which – in the highly unlikely event of its adoption – would nearly completely ban legal access to abortion in the country, leaving the physicians room for medical intervention only if women’s life was in imminent danger. Considering the already strict pregnancy termination laws in Poland (abortion is only allowed in the cases of danger to woman’s life/health, fetal anomalies and rape/incest), many ordinary foreign commentators lamented Polish women’s situation, perceiving it as a reflection of oppressive government’s violation of women’s rights. As it often turns out, the truth is much more complex and even basic research into the history of Polish abortion law proves that the modern pro-“choice” mindset largely depends on distorted – if not deceitful – historical narratives.

At first and very superficial glance it may appear that in Poland the moral evaluation of abortion should be more or less a settled question. Poland is an ethnically and religiously homogenous country with roughly 93% of its population being nominally Catholic; even though mere 40% of them are church-goers, only 6% of the population as a whole declare themselves to be non-believers. Taking into account the Catholic church’s staunch and consistent opposition to abortion in all cases expect danger to mother’s life, one might expect to find the reflection of this position in the opinions of the church’s Polish members. Indeed, recent studies reveal that 75% of Poles oppose legalization of abortion on demand, that is the abortion of healthy embryos and fetuses carried by healthy women. The percentage dramatically shifts though in the cases of less desirable pregnancies: 73% of respondents support legal access to abortion in the event of rape or incest, with mere 11% voicing their opposition, while the legal access to abortion due to fetal anomalies is approved by 53% of the respondents and condemned by only a third.

The findings unsurprisingly show that even though the moral stances of religious authorities do to some extent correlate with the values held by their communities, the majority of the population tend to develop their conscience independently when it comes to critical moral issues. Among other things, it shows that there indeed is a place and a need for secular opposition to abortion even in communities with strong religious component to their identities. Its lack inevitably leads to primitive ideological war in which the unborn children – the ones who should remain in the forefront – are often pushed to the background.

Indeed, the public debate on abortion in Poland has often been reduced to a manifestation of deeply held prejudice and destructive hate. It is not uncommon for the Polish mainstream media to organize quasi-discussions on abortion with a priest representing the pro-life movement and a radical feminist (boasting about the abortion she allegedly underwent on an important Catholic holiday) on the pro-choice side. The outcome is obviously a disaster, with many ordinary people refusing to take a definite stance on the issue of abortion which they view as a red herring, diverting attention from the “real” problems Poland faces. But the problem of abortion in its legal dimension has in Poland a long and thought-provoking history whose importance is often trivialized.

The controversial bill draft which resparked the national debate was prepared by Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture – a secular and independent foundation self-described as: “[gathering] academics and legal practitioners aiming at promotion of legal culture based on the respect for human dignity and rights.” The petition to have the draft considered by the Polish Parliament was subsequently signed by nearly 500k adults eligible for voting, which is quite an impressive number for the country with the population of 38 millions. Sadly, deeper research reveals Ordo Iuris is a highly conservative organization opposing not only abortion but also sex education and homosexual unions – a view which not only alienates more liberally-minded pro-lifers but also in many people’s minds waters down the abortion issue to a politically and religiously motivated battle. In consequence, on October 3 it was not uncommon to see protestors holding signs attacking Catholic church and current conservative government, even though neither was officially involved in the preparation of the draft bill. The protests also floated Polish Internet with memes and satirical drawings representing both sides of the abortion argument. One of the recurrent motifs was… Adolf Hitler. A popular tongue-in-cheek meme says: “Hitler was fighting for Polish women’s right to abortion before it was cool”. As propagandist as this may sounds to some, the meme’s message is backed by historical facts.

Above: an anti-abortion meme that circulated in Polish social media. Its English translation: “Hitler was fighting for Polish women’s right to abortion before it was cool.”

Poland is quite unique among other European countries in that in the course of the last 70 years its abortion laws have not been growing more liberal but restricted. The current law, the so-called “abortion compromise” came to force in 1993 after Poland has (at least officially) stopped being a puppet state of the former USRR and started seemingly regaining its own political and cultural identity. Under communist regime, abortion in Poland was additionally allowed in the case of difficult economical situation of the pregnant woman (but in practice it was easily available on request). Only once in the history of the country was abortion on demand ever legally obtainable and this was in the Nazi-occupied Poland. In the pro-choice revisionist history of the Nazi regime Hitler’s ban on abortion for German women is a crystal-clear example that abortion restrictions go in pair with totalitarianism and disrespect for human rights. The truth points in quite a different direction, though. In all fairness, the abortion ban in the Nazi Germany was not initiated by the ruling class’s concern for life, but rather the pragmatic desire to expand the German population. For the regime exterminating the disabled and minorities the concept of human rights simply does not exist. This is exactly why on various occasions abortion appears to them as an attractive tool of genocide as well.

For Poles it is widely known fact that the Nazis viewed Slavs as subhumans and intended on exterminated a significant number of them to subsequently turn the rest into a nation of slaves. Eventually, nearly 20% of Polish citizens lost their lives in the course of World War II. Most of them were civilians and about a half were ethnic Poles whose relatives are now the vast majority of Poland’s population. Importantly, this shocking number still does not include the victims of legally obtainable unrestricted abortion.

In order to be ideologically consistent, supporters of legal abortion should conclude that in 1943 Hitler’s regime granted Polish women fundamental reproductive right which their own pre-war government had denied them. Considering all the atrocities that Polish citizens suffered at the hands of the Nazis to say so would be beyond embarrassing, if not downright offensive. Granting free access to abortion in the war-torn Poland was obviously motivated not by concern for women’s rights, by rather by lack of any respect for the lives of Polish women and children on the part of the occupants. It was Hitler himself who concluded that:

In view of the large families of the Slav native population, it could only suit us if girls and women there had as many abortions as possible. We are not interested in seeing the non-German population multiply…We must use every means to install in the population the idea that it is harmful to have several children, the expenses that they cause and the dangerous effect on woman’s health… It will be necessary to open special institutions for abortions and doctors must be able to help out there in case there is any question of this being a breach of their professional ethics.

A statement chilling mostly because of how reminiscent it is of the current policies and viewpoints related to abortion.

Frederica Mathewes-Green, a pro-life feminist, once famously wrote: “No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice-cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg.” For many desperate Polish women caught in the trap of World War II legal abortion on demand offered by ruthless occupants might indeed seem like the only way out of their miserable situation. But would anyone in their right mind claim that the Nazis gave Polish women a right to choose? Comparing the life in the worn-torn areas to the relative luxury of first-world countries seems disrespectful to say the least but in truth, individual people of every cultural and historical background experience their private tragedies, sometimes pushing them towards abortion which they perceive as the only way out of their problems. It is nothing but revisionist narratives though which make some of us claim that by undergoing abortions these fearful women are executing their right to choose or that politicians who introduce a law allowing women to kill their unborn offspring are by definition mindful of the lives of women and children. Sadly, we often quickly forget the valuable lessons of history and turn to tenuous ideologies instead. It should not surprise us then that there are Polish women (and men) who genuinely believe that support for abortion on demand equals support for freedom and compassion.

Victory for life, and potential pitfalls, in the Lone Star State

Above: underprivileged children from the Rio Grande Valley, a low-income area
of Texas where abortion advocates bemoan the lack of “access” caused by HB2.
This photo is from Buckner International, a faith-based charity that has been at work
in the Rio Grande Valley since 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade.

[Today’s guest post by Rebecca Downs is part of our paid blogging program.]

The pro-life movement is celebrating the results of the omnibus abortion legislation, HB2, that passed about a year ago. A new study from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPep) found that the abortion rate in Texas has already dropped 13%. And a significant portion of the law isn’t even in effect yet! After September 1, according to the Austin Chronicle, fewer than ten abortion businesses are expected to remain; Amy Hagstrom Miller, the CEO of the Whole Women’s Health abortion center in Austin, says “Barring some miracle in the courts, we really have no choice; the state is forcing us to close.”

The Chronicle article emphasizes that Whole Women’s Health doesn’t just do abortions; in fact, it claims only half of its clients get abortions. But its author (whose bias in favor of abortion is obvious) fails to point out that Miller is incorrect: Whole Women’s Health is not, in fact, “forced” to close. Miller could cease doing abortions and continue offering the “annual exams, pap smears, birth control, emergency contraception, and counseling” that are supposedly so important to her. Instead, she’s closing up shop entirely—perhaps because non-abortion services aren’t as lucrative.

Abortion proponents are also claiming, as usual, that HB2 will not prevent any abortions, but instead, merely cause women who would have had legal abortions to have illegal ones instead. That’s at least partially debunked by the TxPEP study, but pro-lifers should not ignore this issue.

The abortion movement’s stance is captured well in this Cosmopolitan piece by Jill Filipovic. Writing about women who cannot get past a highway checkpoint on the way to an abortion center, she says:

When the checkpoint means they can’t drive to San Antonio, some women go through with pregnancies they don’t want. Others turn to Cytotec. Still others find out about unlicensed providers who perform cheap abortions out of their homes.

That’s the sole mention of women who continue their pregnancies. There’s not a word about the children who will get a chance at life.

Filipovic continues:

Along the Texas-Mexico border, 12 percent of women report taking something to try and induce an abortion before coming to a clinic (statewide, the number is 7 percent). And that number counts only women who self-reported and women who eventually made it to an abortion clinic—the actual number of women who attempt to self-abort is surely much higher.

The study Cosmopolitan cites actually predates HB2. The authors blamed “poverty, access to misoprostol
from Mexico, as well as familiarity with the practice of self-induction in Latin America.” Even when legal abortion business were abundant, illegal and herbal methods were apparently the preferred option for many women.

The pro-life movement needs to be cognizant of this reality and make a special effort to reach out to these desperate women. The decrease in abortion centers after HB2 has received excessive media coverage, with little press for the more than 100 Texas charities serving pregnant mothers in need. Under those circumstances, it’s little wonder that some women feel that they have no choice but to have an illegal abortion. If we aren’t careful, the abortion movement’s PR campaign could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The TxPEP numbers are indeed worth celebrating. A 13% reduction in abortions represents thousands of lives saved. But we must resist the temptation to pat ourselves on the back and move on to the next legislative effort. We must follow through and work to improve the lives of impoverished Texas women and their children. Otherwise, victory in Texas will become bittersweet.

Victory for life, and potential pitfalls, in the Lone Star State

Above: underprivileged children from the Rio Grande Valley, a low-income area
of Texas where abortion advocates bemoan the lack of “access” caused by HB2.
This photo is from Buckner International, a faith-based charity that has been at work
in the Rio Grande Valley since 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade.

[Today’s guest post by Rebecca Downs is part of our paid blogging program.]

The pro-life movement is celebrating the results of the omnibus abortion legislation, HB2, that passed about a year ago. A new study from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPep) found that the abortion rate in Texas has already dropped 13%. And a significant portion of the law isn’t even in effect yet! After September 1, according to the Austin Chronicle, fewer than ten abortion businesses are expected to remain; Amy Hagstrom Miller, the CEO of the Whole Women’s Health abortion center in Austin, says “Barring some miracle in the courts, we really have no choice; the state is forcing us to close.”

The Chronicle article emphasizes that Whole Women’s Health doesn’t just do abortions; in fact, it claims only half of its clients get abortions. But its author (whose bias in favor of abortion is obvious) fails to point out that Miller is incorrect: Whole Women’s Health is not, in fact, “forced” to close. Miller could cease doing abortions and continue offering the “annual exams, pap smears, birth control, emergency contraception, and counseling” that are supposedly so important to her. Instead, she’s closing up shop entirely—perhaps because non-abortion services aren’t as lucrative.

Abortion proponents are also claiming, as usual, that HB2 will not prevent any abortions, but instead, merely cause women who would have had legal abortions to have illegal ones instead. That’s at least partially debunked by the TxPEP study, but pro-lifers should not ignore this issue.

The abortion movement’s stance is captured well in this Cosmopolitan piece by Jill Filipovic. Writing about women who cannot get past a highway checkpoint on the way to an abortion center, she says:

When the checkpoint means they can’t drive to San Antonio, some women go through with pregnancies they don’t want. Others turn to Cytotec. Still others find out about unlicensed providers who perform cheap abortions out of their homes.

That’s the sole mention of women who continue their pregnancies. There’s not a word about the children who will get a chance at life.

Filipovic continues:

Along the Texas-Mexico border, 12 percent of women report taking something to try and induce an abortion before coming to a clinic (statewide, the number is 7 percent). And that number counts only women who self-reported and women who eventually made it to an abortion clinic—the actual number of women who attempt to self-abort is surely much higher.

The study Cosmopolitan cites actually predates HB2. The authors blamed “poverty, access to misoprostol
from Mexico, as well as familiarity with the practice of self-induction in Latin America.” Even when legal abortion business were abundant, illegal and herbal methods were apparently the preferred option for many women.

The pro-life movement needs to be cognizant of this reality and make a special effort to reach out to these desperate women. The decrease in abortion centers after HB2 has received excessive media coverage, with little press for the more than 100 Texas charities serving pregnant mothers in need. Under those circumstances, it’s little wonder that some women feel that they have no choice but to have an illegal abortion. If we aren’t careful, the abortion movement’s PR campaign could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The TxPEP numbers are indeed worth celebrating. A 13% reduction in abortions represents thousands of lives saved. But we must resist the temptation to pat ourselves on the back and move on to the next legislative effort. We must follow through and work to improve the lives of impoverished Texas women and their children. Otherwise, victory in Texas will become bittersweet.