Ireland cited in Guttmacher Institute report on global abortion trends
A rather curious survey by the Guttmacher Institute (a pro-availability of abortion non-profit organization) has cited Ireland and Poland (which in 1997 re-instated law outlawing abortion except when mother’s life at risk or she had been raped) as the only developed countries in the world where there is not adequate access to abortion, presumably because it is not legal in those countries. While there seems little purpose in re-igniting a debate that sends Irish people on both sides into fits of apoplectic fury (another referendum may be an inevitability if a future FG/Labour coalition achieves a sizeable majority and can thereby avoid destablisation) , it does signifying how far behind/ahead of the rest of our cohorts in the OECD are in this regard, and for that alone, it is worth noting. The Report itself is briefly mentioned in both the Irish Times and the BBC.
Most significantly, the survey of 197 countries carried out by the Guttmacher Institute found there were 41.6m abortions in 2003, compared with 45.5 in 1995 – a drop which occurred despite global population increases. One might of course think this was unequivocally a good thing, but it emerges from the text that the title “Abortion Worldwide: A Decade of Uneven Progress” refers not to the decrease in abortion so much as the fact that the opportunity to abort is not as free as the Institute wishes. The report finds that nineteen countries had liberalised their abortion laws over the 10 years studied, compared with tighter restrictions in just three, but despite the general trend towards liberalisation, some 40% of the world’s women live amid tight restrictions. People far better versed in the issue of reproductive and women rights than I find no contradiction in welcoming a decrease in abortions but lamenting the opportunities for it to occur, but the writer must confess he does (Perhaps the clue is in the word “he”, though the confusion does not appear to be solely a male preserve)
There is a degree of obfuscation in the report. The Institute’s survey found abortion occurs at roughly equal rates in regions where it is legal and regions where it is highly restricted which appears to be correct bearing in mind similar surveys on the issue. However, it has been spun to attach some more questionable conclusions from the fact that restricting the availability of legal abortion does not appear to reduce the number of women trying to end unwanted pregnancies. This of course is not quite the same thing as saying it does not reduce the number of terminations. (The typical debate, fond especially of student advocates for the issue runs along the following lines: The Netherlands has a liberal abortion regime. The Netherlands has few abortions compared to other similar states. QED: The availability of abortion actually reduces abortion). As always, the report more accurately notes that improved access to contraception had cut the overall abortion rate over the last decade. The availability of abortion is something that generally follows in society a responsible approach to the conceptually, legally and morally different matter of contraception.
Tragically, the Report finds that every year, an estimated 70,000 women die as a result of unsafe abortions – leaving nearly a quarter of a million children without a mother – and 5m develop complications. The question of preventing illegal abortion providers does not appear to have been addressed in the report, nor indeed is the issue of how many children are alive today who might have been terminated if there was a more “liberalised” regime. Presumably, most of these people live in the undeveloped (“overpopulated”) world that shares the distinction of restrictive regimes with Ireland and Poland and were considered unimportant. This is more a reflection of the general tenor of the abortion debate as a whole of which this report is typical – it may be unfair to expect a more rounded philosophical approach to th matter when it makes no pretence to do so). The tens of thousands (Millions? We will never know – to the best of my knowledge, no credible attempts have been made to calculate this number aside from crude mathematics of some pro-life groups taken from surveys like this by means of addition and subtraction) of men and women, boys and girls running around the world and living full lives (some of whom you my know, be related to or married to)because there were restrictive abortion regimes are always left out of these surveys, but to my mind at least they are as significant a part of any public discourse on the pros and cons of abortion as the numbers that die in illegal abortions. The Report is worth reading however, and the parts on maternal health are as harrowing in the detail as they are predictable in the solutions.