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Strict US anti-abortion laws harm women

Kommentarbild Christina Bergmann PROVISORISCH
Christina Bergmann
May 15, 2019

A fierce debate is raging in the US over whether women should have the right to terminate pregnancies. The opposition to abortion is driven by misogyny, hypocrisy and ignorance of the facts, says DW's Christina Bergmann.

USA Senat von Alabama stimmt für fast vollständiges Abtreibungsverbot
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/AP/The Montgomery Advertiser/M. Welsh

Alabama's new anti-abortion law, passed on Tuesday by the Alabama State Senate, is the strictest legislation of its kind in the entire United States. It is essentially a ban on abortions, making them illegal from the very moment a woman learns she is pregnant. A doctor who performs an abortion can face up to 99 years in jail. No exception is granted for women who become pregnant through rape or incest.

The law marks a new low point in an uncompromising campaign by anti-abortionists in the US. Radical pro-lifers and conservatives neither care about womens' particular life circumstances, nor their rights, let alone what the facts have to say on the matter. And while they claim to speak for the majority of Americans, that is not actually true: Two-thirds of people in the US today want abortions to be legal, though they favor certain restrictions. Only 18% believe that abortions should be illegal under all circumstances.

Fear-mongering anti-abortionists

Abortion opponents have and continue to attack the fundamental right to have abortions by spreading grisly images and tales of chopped up babies after late abortions. But in reality, 34% of all pregnancies in the US are terminated within the first six weeks, while the vast majority of all abortions are carried out in the first 12 weeks. Yet the anti-abortion camp apparently prefers to shock, rather than rely on facts, when making its case.

Christina Bergmann
DW's Christina Bergmann

If the Republicans really wanted to cut down on the number of abortions in the US, they should pursue a totally different strategy. The statistics show that more, rather than fewer, women terminate pregnancies in countries with strict anti-abortion laws. Strict abortion laws also cause higher rates of maternal and infant mortality, because outlawing the practice makes it more likely that women will have their pregnancies terminated by people who are not medical professionals.  

Sexual education and ensuring access to contraceptives is much more effective in preventing pregnancies. So why don't the 27 out of 50 US states that still teach schoolchildren to practice abstinence do away with this absurdity? And why are there only 18 states (plus the District of Columbia) that make it obligatory to teach teens about contraception? In 2010, 57 out of 1,000 US teens got pregnant – the highest teen pregnancy rate in the entire developed world; 15 of these 57 pregnancies were terminated. Are US conservatives proud of these figures?

Things could be different. Take Switzerland, for example. The country has very liberal abortion laws, and also significantly lower teen pregnancy rates. In 2011, just eight out of 1,000 Swiss teens got pregnant. And just five of these pregnancies were terminated.

Challenging Roe v Wade?

Clearly, anti-Abortionists do not care for facts like these. Instead, many claim to be doing god's will — in a country, one might add, that according to its constitution has a clear separation of church and state. And this very constitution, the Supreme Court ruled in its 1973 Roe v Wade decision, guarantees women the right to have abortions. That ruling means the highly restrictive anti-abortion law in Alabama and many other restrictive laws around the country are effectively illegal. But US conservatives now hope this legal clash will once again require the Supreme Court to rule on the matter and ultimately overturn Roe v Wade.

The odds are in their favor, as President Donald Trump has already appointed two new conservative judges to the Supreme Court during his tenure. Conservative judges now outnumber their liberal peers. The decision by many fundamentalist Christians to back Trump has apparently paid off — despite the fact that the president, a former Democrat who has been married three times and faces multiple adultery allegations, is no poster boy for conservative Christian values.

Fortunately, for now, the Roe v Wade ruling remains binding. If it were to be overturned, however, Alabama's drastic laws, and those in other states, would instantly become legal. If that is indeed the outcome, a small, cynical minority will have succeeded in pushing through its agenda instead of trying to reach a sensible, moderate solution.

In Germany, for instance, an abortion can only be carried out within the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy if strict rules are followed, and neither the doctors nor the women are punished for carrying out the procedure. Strict anti-abortion laws like those in Alabama will not reduce the number of abortions. They merely make life miserable for those women who lack the financial means to circumvent such legislation.