As I've often said - and written here - I have never counseled a woman to have an abortion. Neither have I ever counseled a woman not to have an abortion. I have enough 'respect for life' that I also respect the life - and the intelligence and the wisdom - of pregnant women.
I see my role as helping a pregnant woman to explore all the options available to her and to chose the one that is best for her and her family.
I think abortion ought to be safe, legal, necessary and rare. And always, always, always, it is a woman's decision which is hers and hers alone to make, after careful and prayerful consideration and, optimally, conversation with her husband (or the man who impregnated her), her family, friends, and a trusted member of the clergy.
I think the way to achieve those goals is to begin to confront the major reasons women have abortion: poverty, inadequate education, and lack of access to quality health care, including information about and access to contraceptive devices and/or medicine.
We've been making some progress - uneven progress, but progress nonetheless.
The Guttmacher Institute's report "Abortion Worldwide: A Decade of Uneven Progress" has just been released and it estimates that the number of abortions worldwide fell from 45.5 million in 1995 to 41.6 million in 2003 — the latest year for which global figures were available.
However, they also reported that 19.7 million of the 41.6 million abortions in 2003 were unsafe — either self-induced, performed by unskilled practitioners, or carried out in unhygienic surroundings.
A key reason for that drop, the new report said, was that the portion of married women using contraception increased from 54 percent in 1990 to 63 percent in 2003 as availability increased and social mores changed.
Guttmacher's researchers said contraceptive use had increased in every major region, but still lagged badly in Africa — used by only 28 percent of married women there compared to at least 68 percent in other major regions.
The report notes that abortions worldwide are declining even as more countries liberalize their abortion laws. Since 1997, it said, only three countries — Poland, Nicaragua and El Salvador — substantially increased restrictions on abortion, while laws were eased significantly in 19 countries and regions, including Cambodia, Nepal and Mexico City.
Despite this trend, the report said 40 percent of the world's women live in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, virtually all of them in the developing world. This category includes 92 percent of the women in Africa and 97 percent in Latin America, it said.
The survey concluded that abortion occurs at roughly equal rates in countries where it is legal and where it is highly restricted. A key difference, said the report, is the high rate of deaths and medical complications from unsafe clandestine abortions in the restrictive countries.
"Legal restrictions do not stop abortion from happening, they just make the procedure dangerous," Camp said. "Too many women are maimed or killed each year because they lack legal abortion access."
Listen again to that statistic: the report estimated that 19.7 million of the 41.6 million abortions in 2003 were unsafe — either self-induced, performed by unskilled practitioners, or carried out in unhygienic surroundings.
"Almost all of them occurred in less developed countries with restrictive abortion laws," said the report, which estimated that 70,000 women are killed annually from unsafe abortions and 8 million women suffer complications because of them.
70,000 women are killed annually from unsafe abortions.
8 MILLION women suffer complications because of them.
So much for being 'pro-life', eh? How can anyone make that claim when illegal abortions kill 70,000 women annually? The study's findings show that making abortion illegal does not eliminate abortions.
It just makes them unsafe.
Religious organizations which prohibit contraception or promote "natural family planing" as the only allowable form of birth control are complicit in these startling facts and figures.
Although the Vatican remains officially opposed to the use of contraceptives, the report said the institute had detected a shift in approach.
"The Catholic Church has informally at least stopped fighting against contraception to the degree it once did and put more of its energies into fighting abortion," an institute spokesperson said. "On the ground there are priests and nuns who refer people to family planning services."
* Nearly half of all pregnancies to American women are unintended; four in 10 of these end in abortion.
* About half of American women have experienced an unintended pregnancy, and at current rates more than one-third (35%) will have had an abortion by age 45.
* Overall unintended pregnancy rates have stagnated over the past decade, yet unintended pregnancy increased by 29% among poor women while decreasing 20% among higher-income women.
* In 2005, 1.21 million abortions were performed, down from 1.31 million abortions in 2000.
* Nine in 10 abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.While the hysteria remains unabated from the Radical Right, there's nothing quite like statistics to mark the inevitable progress of education and enlightenment.
* A broad cross section of U.S. women have abortions:
- 56% of women having abortions are in their 20s;
- 61% have one or more children;
- 67% have never married;
- 57% are economically disadvantaged;
- 88% live in a metropolitan area; and
- 78% report a religious affiliation.
We certainly have farther to go. Praise God for the progress we've made!
May God continue to give us strength to continue to eradicate poverty and hunger, provide education for women and girls, and continued expanded access to adequate health care, including contraceptive information, devices and medication, as well as safe, legal abortion.