An abor­tion fight that lacks logic

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - DANAMIL­BANK Twit­ter: @Mil­bank

Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Carolina on Thurs­day — the very day the bach­e­lor se­na­tor was dubbed a “bro with no ho” by his fel­low Se­nate Repub­li­can Mark Kirk of Illi­nois — pro­claimed him­self to be “on the right side of his­tory.” It ain’t so, Bro. What led Gra­ham to be­lieve him­self on his­tory’s side was his in­tro­duc­tion of leg­is­la­tion ban­ning all abor­tions af­ter five months. But while the ver­dict of the ages has yet to be re­turned, Gra­ham, a GOP pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, cer­tainly is not on the right side of logic.

The pro­ce­dures Gra­ham seeks to ban ac­count for less than 1.5 per­cent of all abor­tions in the United States, and those are of­ten the most dif­fi­cult cases, such as the woman who dis­cov­ers late in preg­nancy that she has can­cer. Even in the ex­tremely un­likely event Gra­ham were to per­suade his col­leagues and Pres­i­dent Obama to agree to the bill, it would make barely a dent in the num­ber of abor­tions. By con­trast, if Gra­ham were to sup­port ef­forts to make con­tra­cep­tion cheaper and more widely avail­able, the num­ber of abor­tions would al­most cer­tainly plum­met.

Alas, pol­i­tics gets in the way. Op­pos­ing lateterm abor­tions does next to noth­ing to re­duce abor­tions, but it works well with Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial pri­mary vot­ers. Broad­en­ing the use of con­tra­cep­tives would se­ri­ously re­duce abor­tions, but it would be poi­sonous to the GOP pri­mary elec­torate.

The para­dox — an­tiabor­tion ad­vo­cates’ an­tipa­thy to the pol­icy that would do the most to achieve their goal— was high­lighted in an As­so­ci­ated Press sur­vey last week of state by state changes in abor­tions since 2010.

Some states that have passed the most strin­gent an­tiabor­tion laws in re­cent years, in­clud­ing In­di­ana, Mis­souri, Ohio and Ok­la­homa, have seen their abor­tions drop by more than 15 per­cent. But states with vir­tu­ally un­re­stricted abor­tions such as New York, Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton have had sim­i­lar de­clines. In­deed, five of the six states with the big­gest de­clines — Hawaii (30 per­cent), New Mex­ico (24 per­cent), Ne­vada and Rhode Is­land (22 per­cent) and Con­necti­cut (21 per­cent) have had no re­cent laws re­strict­ing abor­tions.

The only states with no­table in­creases in abor­tions were Louisiana and Michi­gan, both of which passed laws re­strict­ing abor­tions. Ap­par­ently, abor­tion seek­ers vis­ited those states be­cause of more strin­gent re­stric­tions in neigh­bor­ing states— more ev­i­dence that the re­stric­tions haven’t de­terred abor­tion.

To­ex­plain this, I turned to my friend Will Sale­tan of Slate, an author­ity on abor­tion and au­thor of “Bear­ing Right: How Con­ser­va­tives Won the Abor­tion War.”

“All the re­search shows the sin­gle most ef­fec­tive way to re­duce abor­tion is con­tra­cep­tion,” he said. “The prob­lem with pro­life groups is all the so­lu­tions they pro­mote to re­duce the abor­tion rate, none of them moves it in a re­li­ably pos­i­tive di­rec­tion. ... The data show no re­li­able cor­re­la­tion be­tween the de­gree of re­stric­tions in a state and the abor­tion rate.”

Yet pro­life groups refuse to take up the cause of birth con­trol, be­cause so many of their sup­port­ers have prob­lems with that, too. “They’ve be­trayed the one thing they stand for, which is re­duc­ing abor­tions,” Sale­tan said.

A 2014 study by the Guttmacher In­sti­tute (an abor­tion­rights out­fit but one whose re­search is cited by both sides) found that be­tween 2008 and 2011 “a com­bi­na­tion of in­creased con­tra­cep­tive use and greater re­liance on highly ef­fec­tive meth­ods helped re­duce over­all lev­els of un­in­tended preg­nancy and sub­se­quent abor­tion.” In par­tic­u­lar, Guttmacher cred­its an in­crease in the use of “lon­gact­ing, re­versible con­tra­cep­tives” such as new­gen­er­a­tion IUDs.

But an­tiabor­tion groups ques­tion this con­clu­sion. Char­maine Yoest, who runs Amer­i­cans United for Life, told me that “I haven’t seen any­thing” to con­vince her that more con­tra­cep­tive use re­duces abor­tion. She pointed to Guttmacher’s 2011 find­ings that be­tween 2001 and 2008, a re­duc­tion in the pro­por­tion of preg­nan­cies end­ing in abor­tion “could rep­re­sent in­creased dif­fi­culty in ac­cess­ing abor­tion ser­vices.”

In the­ory, that could con­trib­ute to the re­cent decline. But as the AP sur­vey finds, there’s lit­tle cor­re­la­tion. Deny­ing the more ob­vi­ous con­tri­bu­tion made by broader ac­cess to cheap, lon­gact­ing birth con­trol re­quires some self­de­cep­tion. Fifty years af­ter the Supreme Court’s Gris­wold v.

Con­necti­cut de­ci­sion cre­ated a con­sti­tu­tional right to use con­tra­cep­tion, Sen. Patty Mur­ray (DWash.) in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion that would al­low in­sur­ance-cov­ered birth­con­trol pills to be sold over the counter. This, fol­low­ing the re­quire­ment (un­der­mined by the Supreme Court) that health­care plans of­fer con­tra­cep­tion, would do far more to re­duce abor­tions than Gra­ham’s bill go­ing af­ter 1.5 per­cent of cases.

“I would love to see se­na­tor and pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Gra­ham get on board,” said Il­yse Hogue, pres­i­dent of NARAL ProChoice Amer­ica, which backs the Mur­ray bill.

She can be sure of Bro Gra­ham’s an­swer: Hell no.

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