Health Care and Abortion: Coercion or Compassion?

A Public Religion Research poll released in September indicates that 83% of conservative religious activists identified abortion as the most important issue on which to focus their energy. At the same time, only six percent of conservative religious activist identified universal health care coverage as an important issue.

This disparity in concern between universal health care and abortion among conservative religious activists raises some interesting questions when one considers that Belgium and the Netherlands have two of the lowest abortion rates in the world and also universally provide extensive pre- and post-natal health care for mothers and children. As Glenn Stassen pointed out in 2005, “Belgium and Holland have the lowest abortion rates in the world (6.8 and 6.5 per 1,000 women of childbearing age in 1996, compared with 22.9 in the U.S). This is because, though abortion is legal, those countries provide strong support for mothers and babies. By contrast, countries in Latin America, where abortion is illegal but mothers are not well supported, have among the highest abortion rates.”
(The Christian Century) February22, 2005

Whether or not the intention of the universal coverage in those countries was to bring about a lower rate of abortions, it would seem to be a least one of, if not, the major factor in contributing to such a low rate of abortions. So I wonder wouldn’t it be worth a try? Maybe universal health care in the United States would not reduce the rate of abortions to the levels found in Belgium and Holland, but wouldn’t any reduction be better than no reduction or even an increase?

What really matters most in the abortion debate, that abortion be made illegal or that fewer abortions are actually performed? In Latin America where abortion is illegal except for in Cuba, the abortion rate is higher than in the United States. Making abortion illegal does not make it go away.

If laws will not stop abortion, perhaps compassion would at least reduce its frequency. People coerced to to good rarely do good for long. Compassion and care might just do what coercion and shouting have been unable to accomplish.

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4 thoughts on “Health Care and Abortion: Coercion or Compassion?

  1. Out of curiosity, what is the rate of teen pregnancies and pregnancies out of wedlock in those countries? Also, what is the rate of divorce and single parent households? Just trying to get a feel for the social dynamic differences.

  2. As Glen said, other factors in lowering abortion rates include widespread public education about effective birth control measures and full employment strategies (because men who are employed tend to marry women they get pregnant and women who are in safe, stable, relationships, are more likely to keep their babies). So, high unemployement (economic injustice) and “abstinence only” education policies raise abortion rates.

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