HomeoldIt is clear that protecting unborn children by law makes a significant...

It is clear that protecting unborn children by law makes a significant impact

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has observed that restricting access to abortion does not necessarily reduce the number of abortions. This is a claim frequently made by supporters of legalized abortion. They argue that legalizing abortion does not increase the number of abortions, but rather makes them safer for women. Similarly, bans or limits on abortion do not prevent abortions from happening. Instead, they only make the abortions that happen more dangerous.

It is evident that the notion that abortion restrictions are incompatible with a high standard of maternal health is erroneous. However, the assertion that restrictions are ineffective remains a matter of contention. To what extent do laws effectively deter abortion?

Abortion laws are effective

Those who advocate for abortion rights often point to countries that do not permit abortion and yet have abortion rates that are similar to those of countries where abortion is readily available. A report by the Guttmacher Institute, which is the primary research organization for the abortion industry, states that women living under the most restrictive laws have abortions at about the same rate as those living in countries where the procedure is available without restriction as to reason.

Does this mean that laws don’t make a difference?

No, it does not. However, it is important to consider that the conclusion may not be entirely accurate due to the presence of confounding variables.

The abortion-prohibiting countries with high abortion estimates are developing nations. (As the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute acknowledges, “The vast majority … of countries with such highly restrictive laws are in developing regions.”) Therefore, it is not possible to simply compare the abortion rates in these regions to the abortion rates in wealthy, developed regions. That might not be the most accurate comparison.

To gain a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of abortion laws, it would be beneficial to compare countries with similar developmental stages, including those with legalized abortion and those without. Alternatively, one could examine the effects of legalized abortion in a given country over time.
As an illustrative example, consider Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland (prior to the Republic of Ireland’s 2019 decision to remove constitutional protection for unborn children), and Northern Ireland.

A 2013 study in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons found that the abortion rate in England and Wales was approximately three times higher than the rate in Ireland and approximately five and a half times higher than in Northern Ireland, even accounting for the Irish women who traveled to Britain or elsewhere to have abortions.

It might be of interest to consider the United States. Estimates of illegal abortions were not always reliable, but after the nationwide legalisation of abortion in January 1973 (which had already been legalised or partially legalised in a number of states), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 615,831 abortions that year.

The annual total then increased by 111 percent by 1980. The abortion rate (the number of abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age) saw a 79 percent increase during the same period.

Another example is Ethiopia, a developing country where the government amended its abortion law to permit abortion in broader circumstances and then worked to expand access to the procedure.

The result?

A study in the journal International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health found that the number of abortions in Ethiopia increased 60 percent from 2008 to 2014. The abortion rate rose 30 percent.

A study in the Journal of Law and Economics analyzed data from Eastern European countries that changed their abortion laws after the Cold War. Some countries made abortion legal, while Poland protected unborn children after decades of allowing abortion. The study controlled for economic and demographic factors.

The authors write that countries where abortion is only allowed in certain cases have abortion rates that are only about 5% of the rate in countries where abortion is allowed on request.

Protecting unborn children by law makes a big difference.

Limited abortion laws are effective

Since abortion was made legal in the United States, there has been no political or legal protection for unborn children. So pro-life advocates have worked to enact laws that are more limited. Do these laws make a difference?

Yes. Restrictions or bans on taxpayer funding of abortion reduce the number of abortions. A review of 22 studies by Guttmacher found that about one-fourth of women who would have had Medicaid-funded abortions instead gave birth when the funding was unavailable. The Hyde Amendment, which bans most federal funding of abortion, has prevented more than two million abortions, according to a 2016 analysis.

Studies show that laws requiring parents to be involved in their children’s decisions about abortion reduce the number of abortions among minors. A study in the American Journal of Public Health found that the abortion rate among minors in Minnesota dropped 28 percent in the years immediately following the enactment of Minnesota’s parental notification law. The most popular type of informed consent law (the kind upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in its Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision) leads to fewer abortions. This was shown in a 2014 study published in State Politics & Policy Quarterly.

Pro-life laws like these have contributed to the long-term abortion decline in the United States.

Laws save lives

Laws have a significant impact on behavior as they often dictate certain actions and behaviors. This is especially true for laws related to abortion, which influence the accessibility and expenses associated with abortion procedures, thus shaping decision-making processes. Additionally, laws can shape citizens’ attitudes and beliefs regarding certain actions, as they serve as a form of instruction that can influence behavior.

Pro-life laws, for instance, impact behavior by prohibiting the termination of pregnancies and thereby preventing the loss of human life in the womb. A recent comprehensive overview of academic research concludes that legal measures aimed at protecting unborn children lead to a clear outcome: reduced abortion rates and the preservation of lives.

It is inevitable that individuals will sometimes contravene abortion laws, just as they will sometimes contravene laws against theft or tax fraud. This is particularly the case when a law is poorly designed or poorly enforced, or when there are societal factors that reduce its effectiveness. However, such problems are not a good reason to get rid of the law. They are a good reason to improve it.

It follows that if unborn children are valuable members of the human family, then justice and equality require that society protect their basic human rights, including their right not to be intentionally killed. This is a fundamental purpose of government.


Daniel Miller is responsible for nearly all of National Right to Life News' political writing.

With the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, Daniel Miller developed a deep obsession with U.S. politics that has never let go of the political scientist. Whether it's the election of Joe Biden, the midterm elections in Congress, the abortion rights debate in the Supreme Court or the mudslinging in the primaries - Daniel Miller is happy to stay up late for you.

Daniel was born and raised in New York. After living in China, working for a news agency and another stint at a major news network, he now lives in Arizona with his two daughters.

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