Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Katha Pollitt on Abortion in Europe

First read Katha Pollitt's discussion of the newest anti-choice idea:  That making abortion illegal after twenty weeks is AOK because those European countries do it.

When you have recovered from your surprise that anything those surrender monkeys in Europe do is worth quoting approvingly by the American forced-birthers (such as Ross Douthat), you might want to consider the fact that abortion is not the kind of "culture war" issue* in Europe as it is here.  As Katha writes:
And just because you’ve read this far: there are no screaming fanatics thrusting gory photos at you as you make your way to your abortion. No one takes down your license plate in the parking lot and calls you—or your parents—later with hateful messages. Doctors who perform abortions do not wear bulletproof vests, nor are they ostracized by their communities and shunned by other doctors. The whole climate of fear that makes many doctors reluctant to perform abortions and makes some women postpone going to the clinic does not exist.
And as Katha also writes, it's not that abortion is completely unavailable later in pregnancy, as is the desire of American forced-birthers:

Moreover, unlike the time limits passed in Texas and some other states, or floating around in Congress, the European limits have exceptions, variously for physical or mental health, fetal anomaly or rape. Contrast that with what anti-choicers want for the United States, where Paul Ryan memorably described a health exception to a proposed late-term abortion ban as “a loophole wide enough to drive a Mack truck through it.” If a French or German or Swedish 12-year-old, or a traumatized rape victim, or a woman carrying a fetus with Tay-Sachs disease shows up after the deadline, I bet a way can often be found to quietly take care of them. If not, Britain or the Netherlands, where second trimester abortion is legal, are possibilities. (In 2011, more than 4,000 Irish women traveled to Britain for abortions.)
At the same time, Europe is not one homogeneous place.  It's a conglomerate of countries with different histories, languages, cultures and even religions.  Different European countries have different abortion policies and different abortion rates:
 Abortion is complicated, like everything that has to do with sex. Germany’s abortion rate is much lower than ours, but Sweden’s is almost the same. The Netherlands is almost as low as Germany, despite permitting abortion much later. In much of Italy, it’s hard to find an abortion because so many doctors refuse to perform them—and yet Italy, like Germany, has one of the world’s lowest fertility rates. One thing seems pretty clear, though: all these countries have plenty of abortions. But in the Western European countries with time limits, there is less need for second trimester abortion because there is far better access to abortion earlier.
While the 2008 abortion rate for Sweden was 21.3 (measured as the number of abortions per 1000 women between the ages of 15 and 44), the rates for Norway, Denmark and Finland in that same year were 14.5, 15.0 and 8.9, respectively.  As both Norway and Denmark allow abortion on demand in the early weeks of the pregnancy (and the same is true in practice in Finland), the difference cannot be explained by more liberal Swedish laws. The Nordic countries are very similar in economic and demographic respects, so the higher Swedish rate cannot be attributed to economic or general cultural differences either. **

What's my point here?  Perhaps to remind us that international comparisons are complicated, that sex is complicated, as Katha notes, and that taking something like abortion out to be studied in complete isolation has its problems.   

*I hatehatehate the term "culture wars". It sounds like arguments about tea vs. coffee or flower arranging or poetry or musical taste, like something less important than economics, even though it is about the lives of people just as seriously as are economic wars.

**I haven't been able to figure out the reason for the relatively high Swedish rate.  I read somewhere that the contraceptive pill has been less popular in Sweden.  If that's true it could explain the higher abortion rate as a consequence of less reliable contraception.  But I was unable to find statistics on this.  Other explanations are possible, of course.