How To Drive Planned Parenthood Out of the Abortion Business

Science, technology, and life.
Feb. 3 2012 3:25 PM

Planned Obsolescence

How to drive Planned Parenthood out of the abortion business.

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Is it possible Planned Parenthood supporters and detractors really want the same thing in the end?

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images.

Poor Susan G. Komen.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

The Komen Foundation, which funds work against breast cancer, is the latest casualty of a campaign to drive Planned Parenthood out of the abortion business. For years, pro-lifers have picketed Planned Parenthood clinics, pushed lawmakers to stop funding Planned Parenthood, and pressured private donors, including Komen, to stop giving money to the organization. Although Komen’s money has gone to Planned Parenthood’s breast-cancer prevention work, pro-lifers demanded that Komen cut off its support, on the grounds that any money to Planned Parenthood supports abortions.

So Komen gave in and ended its support for Planned Parenthood. And now, after a backlash, Komen is giving in again and rethinking its decision. It’s anyone’s guess where Komen will stand tomorrow. But the underlying question still needs to be addressed. If you want to put Planned Parenthood out of the abortion business, what should you do with your money?

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Look at the latest annual report from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, issued two months ago. The table on page 5 shows that over the course of a year, PPFA provided 3,685,437 contraceptive services and 329,445 abortions. That’s a ratio of 11 to 1.

Internationally, the ratio is even higher. Look at the latest annual report from the International Planned Parenthood Federation. The table on page 13 shows that over the course of a year, IPPF provided 33,854,786 contraceptive services and 1,411,494 abortions. That’s a ratio of 24 to 1. Did I mention condoms? IPPF distributed 152,397,194 condoms. That’s 108 condoms per abortion.

What happens when you provide condoms and contraceptive services? Women who don’t want to get pregnant don’t get pregnant. Which means fewer women are in the market for abortions. The abortion business dries up.

That’s what was happening from 1995 to 2003, according to an analysis published two weeks ago in the Lancet. The article, Induced abortion: incidence and trends worldwide form 1995 to 2008, finds that the global number of abortions fell from 45.6 million in 1995 to 41.6 million in 2003. But by 2008, the number had risen to 43.8 million. On a per capita basis, from 1995 to 2003, the number of abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age fell from 35 to 29. From 2003 to 2008, the rate hardly moved, from 29 to 28.

Why did the decline stop? Look at the trend data published last year by the United Nations in World Contraceptive Use 2010. From 1995 to 2000, contraceptive prevalence increased worldwide at an annual rate of nearly half a percentage point. From 2000 to 2005, the rate of increase dropped in half. From 2005 to 2009, it stopped altogether. The abortion rate stopped falling when the contraception rate stopped rising.

When you break down the data by region, the pattern becomes even clearer. The Lancet article reports:

We found that the proportion of women living under liberal abortion laws is inversely associated with the abortion rate in the subregions of the world. Other studies have found that abortion incidence is inversely associated with the level of contraceptive use, especially where fertility rates are holding steady, and there is a positive correlation between unmet need for contraception and abortion levels. The unmet need for modern contraception is lower in subregions dominated by liberal abortion laws than in those dominated by restrictive laws, and this might help explain the observed inverse association between liberal laws and abortion incidence. Global levels of unmet need and contraceptive use seem to have stalled in the past decade: the percent of married women with unmet need for contraception fell by 0.2 percentage points per year in 1990-2000, but essentially did not change in 2000-2009. Family planning services seem to not to be keeping up with the increasing demand driven by the increasingly prevalent desire for small families and for better control of the timing of births.

In other words, if you outlaw abortion and limit contraception, you get more abortions, because more women who don’t want to have babies get pregnant. And when women who don’t want to have babies get pregnant, they find ways to get abortions, whether you like it or not. The way to get fewer abortions is to provide contraception—and to teach people to use it diligently, which is a moral project, not just a technical one. That way, fewer women who don’t want to have babies get pregnant. And the abortion rate goes down.

Apparently, the evil morons at Planned Parenthood haven’t figured this out. They’re trying to flood the world with contraceptives. If they succeed, they’re going to shrink global demand for abortions. They’re killing their own abortion business.

Why not help them?

If you want to drive Planned Parenthood out of the abortion business, don’t send them less money. Send them more. Help Planned Parenthood become what it has wanted to be all along: The organization that helps women avoid unwanted pregnancies, so they don’t have to abort them.

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