Beliefnet
The Deacon's Bench

Here’s one provocative take on the debate now raging in this country, from T.R. Reid in the Washington Post:

The latest United Nations comparative statistics, available at http://data.un.org, demonstrate the point clearly. The U.N. data measure the number of abortions for women ages 15 to 44. They show that Canada, for example, has 15.2 abortions per 1,000 women; Denmark, 14.3; Germany, 7.8; Japan, 12.3; Britain, 17.0; and the United States, 20.8. When it comes to abortion rates in the developed world, we’re No. 1.

No one could argue that Germans, Japanese, Brits or Canadians have more respect for life or deeper religious convictions than Americans do. So why do they have fewer abortions?

One key reason seems to be that all those countries provide health care for everybody at a reasonable cost. That has a profound effect on women contemplating what to do about an unwanted pregnancy.

The connection was explained to me by a wise and holy man, Cardinal Basil Hume. He was the senior Roman Catholic prelate of England and Wales when I lived in London; as a reporter and a Catholic, I got to know him.

In Britain, only 8 percent of the population is Catholic (compared with 25 percent in the United States). Abortion there is legal. Abortion is free. And yet British women have fewer abortions than Americans do. I asked Cardinal Hume why that is.

The cardinal said that there were several reasons but that one important explanation was Britain’s universal health-care system. “If that frightened, unemployed 19-year-old knows that she and her child will have access to medical care whenever it’s needed,” Hume explained, “she’s more likely to carry the baby to term. Isn’t it obvious?”

A young woman I knew in Britain added another explanation. “If you’re [sexually] active,” she said, “the way to avoid abortion is to avoid pregnancy. Most of us do that with an IUD or a diaphragm. It means going to the doctor. But that’s easy here, because anybody can go to the doctor free.”

For various reasons, then, expanding health-care coverage reduces the rate of abortion. All the other industrialized democracies figured that out years ago. The failure to recognize this plain statistical truth may explain why American churches have played such a small role in our national debate on health care. Searching for ways to limit abortions, our faith leaders have managed to overlook a proven approach that’s on offer now: expanding health-care coverage.

There’s much more at the WaPo link.

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