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Other Voices: A cooperative approach to ending abortion

Though war and the economy seem to overshadow most issues these days, there is still much controversy and debate around abortion. Abortion rights and anti-abortion advocates seem, at times, to be separated by unbridgable chasms.

I don’t think that has to be the case.

As someone who stands for abortion rights, I can say that my interest is in making sure that women retain the right to make decisions related to their bodies. That does not make me “pro-abortion.” In fact, I would very much like to end abortion, but I prefer doing so by taking actions that prevent the need for anyone to have to decide whether or not to have an abortion.



Everyone I know who is for abortion rights shares a similar philosophy. Anti-abortion advocates also wish to end abortion, although most would prefer to end its legality.

It’s time to stop arguing about whether abortion should be legal or even whether it is moral. Legality has already been decided and history has proven that, despite of the law, abortion will continue to occur if there are unwanted pregnancies.




A key consideration is that legal abortions are medically safer for the pregnant woman. Morality is complicated, but abortion is a personal or religious decision that should be left to the individual, not the government. Legality and morality aside, our focus can and should be on reducing the need for abortions.

How do you reduce the need for abortions? The obvious way is to reduce unwanted pregnancies. If every pregnancy was planned or welcomed, there would be no one seeking abortions. So the more pertinent question is, “How do you reduce or eliminate unwanted pregnancies?” There are some simple and effective approaches:

• Increase funding for comprehensive sex education in our schools.

• Shift the huge amount of money and resources now being wasted on abstinence-only education to programs that have been shown to be effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies.

• Leave abstinence counseling for parents or churches that believe they can successfully influence children to practice abstinence. Abstinence works Ð if you abstain from having sex, you don’t get pregnant. What doesn’t work is the abstinence-only education approach being promoted by various groups, including the Bush Administration. This approach leaves teens lacking in basic knowledge of effective contraceptive use and when the abstinence message doesn’t last, they often have unprotected sex. This results in increases, not decreases, in unwanted pregnancies. In the U.S. today there are more unwanted pregnancies per capita than in any other industrialized country and one in four teen females has a sexually transmitted infection.

• Lift the administration’s restrictions on funding for family planning and contraceptives now placed on organizations giving full service counseling that includes discussion about abortions. Yes, some organizations that provide family planning information and contraceptives also provide information about abortions. This comprehensive information does not “encourage” abortions, but neither does it suggest that abortions are immoral – it merely allows a person to make an informed choice.

Ironically, efforts of organizations like Planned Parenthood have helped reduce unwanted pregnancies and have therefore prevented more abortions than any of the anti-abortion organizations.

The restrictions of the Bush Administration and anti-choice organizations have been particularly onerous in developing countries where resources cannot support their population growth. Women in these countries are often desperate for advice and effective birth control, which is now unavailable due to the administration’s reduction of support for the organizations that could provide it and have provided it in the past. Unwanted pregnancies and STIs are up in these countries due to Bush policies.

• Vote for candidates for president and Legislature on the basis of whether they support programs and practices that will help decrease unwanted pregnancies and the need for abortions and not merely whether they say they are for abortion rights or anti-abortion.

So, how about it? Can we get beyond dogma and cooperate on these simple but effective approaches? If we focus on shared interests we can make far more progress in ending abortions than has been made by arguing about the legality of abortions and about morality issues or by worrying about labels like “pro-choice” or “pro-life.”

Ingrid Elsel is president of Nevada County Citizens for Choice Inc.


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