Abortion divides Americans along religious lines. A 2009 survey from the Pew Forum confirms other reports that nearly all humanists and other nontheists join most Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus in their support for a woman's right to abortion services, while Christians and Muslims are split on the issue. Leading the charge against abortion access are the evangelical Christians, Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Considering these divisions, and what's currently happening in Indiana in an effort to block funding for reproductive health services, is there a chance to coalesce across religious lines toward shared aims?
Both compassionate humanists and conservative Christians recognize that women do not seek to conceive in order to undergo abortion, and they also agree that it would be best if unintended pregnancies could be avoided altogether, but that's where nearly universal agreement ends. Fundamentalist Christians who see no moral difference between a condom, a morning after pill, a first trimester abortion, and a late term abortion are not going to be swayed by reason to accept anything other than a complete outlawing of abortion, but there is a large group of moderates out there that is looking for a place in this debate. And the vast majority of this group recognizes that contraception is a critical tool and that if a pregnancy is to be ended, the sooner the better.
There are lots of good reasons to prevent unintended pregnancies; among them is an economic perspective. While abortion is relatively inexpensive, with Planned Parenthood's abortion services weighing in at about $30 million annually, nearly two-thirds of unintended pregnancies going to term are publicly funded by government programs. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that it is costing taxpayers over $11 billion a year to bring these unintended children into the world. Meanwhile, abortion rates are rising particularly among poor women due to their inability to afford or access contraceptive services, and their inability to support a child.
Let's consider how well meaning people who favor legal abortion options and those who don't spend millions of dollars each year on attempting to duke it out in courts and legislatures. Those fighting access to abortion are particularly free with their funds, with the combined budgets of top abortion fighting organizations reaching into the nine figures. In a sense their investment is paying off. Across the nation laws are being passed at every level to restrict women's access to abortion. But abortion rates are now rising, according to Guttmacher, so could this money be better used to meet their goal?
In Indiana, the debate is raging with extreme financial consequences attached. GOP governor Mitch Daniels is attempting to block all Indiana Planned Parenthood funding, risking $4.3 billion of Medicaid in the process. This power play will endanger significant numbers of low-income Indiana women in dire need of healthcare access and education.
In South Dakota, a law now requires women to observe a 72-hour waiting period before receiving an abortion and additionally mandates women to undergo counseling at "Crisis Pregnancy Centers." These CPCs are unethically providing false medical information, promoting a government sanctioned religious viewpoint and are unconstitutionally funded by taxpayers. Public funds should never be spent to force women to experience theocratic condemnation and medical misinformation in counseling sessions from non-medically licensed staff, but that's exactly the level this debate has sunk to as people justify unethical means with their religious ends.
But if all those funds used now for suing, lobbying, and conniving were redirected toward comprehensive education in and out of the classroom, as well as providing contraceptive materials and medical care to clinics, the positive difference would be palpable. We could prevent unwanted pregnancies, end unwanted pregnancies as quickly as possible, and prepare the others for motherhood in a way that supports women and children.
The burden for the shift in priorities doesn't fall equally among all the groups involved in the debate. Those seeking to maintain abortion access would be happy not to have to defend that right, but for that to happen the conservative right would first have to recognize the benefit of refocusing their efforts on making a difference.
Medicaid, state appropriations, and Planned Parenthood are providing the bulk of our nation's family planning services. Despite recent efforts to imply otherwise, 36 percent of Planned Parenthood's budget was allotted for providing contraception, 31 percent for the testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, and 17 percent went towards cancer screening and prevention. Abortion, which Congressional conservatives raised as their greatest point of contention this spring, accounted for merely 3 percent of Planned Parenthood's total services. The resources Planned Parenthood provides improves lives and futures of thousands of women and their families. How many lives will be improved when Governor Daniels forgoes $4.3 billion in Medicaid money rather than allowing Planned Parenthood to fund women's health? How much money will be wasted on the ensuing battle? The stand-off benefits no one.
Contrast Planned Parenthood's efforts with that of Crisis Pregnancy Centers. Forcing women to attend "counseling" at these centers is no different than forced church attendance. A 2006 congressional investigation into CPCs that received federal dollars from the Compassion Capital Fund found that 87 percent provided "false or misleading" information. And it's not just the South Dakota legislature that is supporting these CPCs. A proposed GOP budget in Texas moves $7 million over the next two years away from legitimate family planning services toward CPCs.
Those who wish to limit abortion should shift their energies out of the realms of the courts, legislatures, and deceptive tactics of CPCs, and focus on steps that really prevent unwanted pregnancies. They should support comprehensive sex education, preventative screenings, and other resources that will better serve the medical and financial interests of our citizens. In uncertain times such as these, we should all agree that our country cannot afford to risk either.
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