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John Robbins

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What Rick Santorum Wants to Do to Women's Health

Posted: 03/22/2012 1:55 pm

It appears, for now at least, to be only a rumor that one of the Republican candidates for the presidency has called for the repeal of womens' right to vote. Perhaps we should be grateful that none of them has of yet publicly called for a ban on women's right to own property -- yet.

But an assault on women's health rights is most definitely taking place, and the Republican candidates are not exactly standing in its way.

A law took effect in Texas last month. Now, a woman in this great state who seeks an abortion is coerced into undergoing a vaginal ultrasound. If she wants an abortion, this is what she has to endure. Lying there with her legs open while a probe is inserted into her vagina, she is required to listen to the fetal heartbeat, observe the fetus on a monitor, and listen to a lecture designed to shame her for even thinking about an abortion.

Of course, it's not just Texas. In state after state, bills are being passed that punish women who seek abortions, and that make abortions more onerous to obtain. A bill likely to become law in Tennessee requires the state to publish the names of each doctor who performs an abortion, and detailed statistics about any woman having the procedure.

And now we have Senator Rick Santorum, one of the leading candidates for the Republic nomination and a vehement foe of abortion even when a pregnancy is endangering the mother's life, declaring that contraception is evil, unnatural, and grievously harmful to society. Contraception, he says, is "a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."

Supposed to be? According to whom? Somehow I get the impression that Rick Santorum is not on the leading edge of feminist thought in the country today.

Would someone please tell Santorum that the most realistic and humane way to reduce abortions is to fund and support family planning programs?

History has repeatedly shown that women continue to get abortions even when they are illegal, and even when they have to risk their lives to do so. Closing our eyes to this reality will not make it go away. Making abortion illegal does not succeed in eliminating abortion, but pushes the practice underground, making what can be one of the safest of all surgical procedures highly dangerous, and only marginally reducing the number that occur.

One of the most extreme examples of what can happen when someone like Santorum comes into power took place in Romania, when abortion was made into a criminal offense under dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, and contraception was made unavailable. For 14 years in Romania (ending in December of 1989), no woman under 45 with fewer than five children could obtain a legal abortion under any circumstances. The effort to prohibit abortion was so massive that it involved a special arm of the secret police force, called the "Pregnancy Police," who administered monthly checkups to female workers and monitored pregnant women. Nevertheless, the country exceeded virtually all other European nations on rates of abortion and abortion-related maternal mortality.

At the same time in Western Europe, legalization of abortion coupled with public education efforts on family planning and availability of contraception was dramatically reducing the number of abortions.

On the Swedish island of Gotland, for example, abortions were cut by 50 percent in three years by providing improved family planning services. That is a greater reduction in abortions than has ever been achieved anywhere through illegalization.

In the Netherlands today, abortions are not only legal, but are paid for by the state. This nation, where contraceptives are widely available and comprehensive sex education is an accepted part of the school curriculum, enjoys one of the lowest rates of abortion in the world.

The pattern is clear. Worldwide, more abortions occur in those nations where there is limited access to contraceptives. In 1990, the Soviet Union was home to 70 million women of childbearing age, yet did not have a single factory producing modern contraceptives. At that time the average Soviet woman was terminating between five and seven pregnancies during her reproductive years. Researchers in Soviet health at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. estimated that there were three abortions for every live birth.

When access to contraception for couples in Hungary was poor, the country had one of the highest abortion rates in the world -- even though abortions were illegal. But when Hungary undertook a campaign to reduce the abortion rate by distributing condoms, birth control pills, and IUDs, and educating people about their use, the results were stunning. Even as abortion was being made legal, there was a substantial decline in the number performed.

Why is it that Rick Santorum doesn't seem to grasp that the most effective way to reduce the number of abortions is to provide couples with the means to understand their fertility and to prevent unwanted pregnancies? This is one of the many reasons that we need to support birth control, family planning, comprehensive sex education, and other means to improve the health and welfare of women and children.

Currently, a remarkably high percentage of all U.S. abortions are undergone by teenage girls. Our woeful lack of education regarding family planning methods is one of the primary reasons that we now have the highest rate of unintended pregnancy among teenagers in the industrial world.

Rick Santorum opposes abortion. In this, he is not alone. But he also opposes contraception. His ideology, if it became public policy, would lead to enormous suffering for large numbers of women and families. And he'd like to become Commander-in Chief of our nation.

John Robbins is the author of 'The Food Revolution,' 'No Happy Cows,' 'Diet For A New America,' 'Reclaiming Our Health,' and many other best-sellers. A long time activist for a healthy and sustainable way of life, he is the recipient of many honors, including the Rachel Carson Award, the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, the Peace Abbey's Courage of Conscience Award, and Green America's Lifetime Achievement Award. You can learn more about his work here.

 
 
 

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