The GOP Debate in Iowa Reveals the Candidates Have No Grasp on Reproductive Health

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Commentary Politics

The GOP Debate in Iowa Reveals the Candidates Have No Grasp on Reproductive Health

Dr. Jen Gunter

The debate in Iowa was an opportunity for the GOP hopefuls to showcase their stand against abortion. The candidates clearly do not understand any facts related to abortion, and if you are going to discuss a topic then you should learn about it beforehand.

The debate in Iowa was an opportunity for the GOP hopefuls to showcase their stand against abortion, because there’s nothing better than a pissing match about reproductive health to rally the fundraisers and fill the war chest. Here are some quotes from the evening:

Rick Santorum on why abortion should be illegal, even in the event of rape of incest:

“To be victimized twice would be a horrible thing. We should surround these women and help them.”

Tim Pawlenty reflected on his legislative record which he felt led to “abortion at historic lows,” bragging that based on:

Roe has collapsed in Texas, and that's just the beginning.

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“These results, not rhetoric, I may be the most pro-life candidate in this race.”

The candidates clearly do not understand any facts related to abortion (I suspect they don’t care, they’re just after sound bites and money). But seriously, if you are going to discuss a topic then learn about it beforehand. First of all, abortion does not victimize women. The rate of serious complications is less than 0.3 percent and study after study shows no effect on mental health. If I were the moderator I would have asked for clarification from Mr. Santorum for his definition of victimization and to provide medical evidence to prove it.

And Mr. Pawlenty, legislation has little to no effect on abortion rates. The highest abortion rates are in Eastern and Middle Africa, where it is largely illegal.  In Canada, where abortion is legal and free the rate is actually lower than the United States. What restrictive laws have done for American women is raise the price of the procedure and/or made access more difficult. In fact 58 percent of women say they would have liked to have their abortion sooner, with 68 percent of women indicating the time it took to raise the money as a major factor.

The most restrictive abortion laws in this country have been enacted within the past 5 years. The abortion rate has, however, remained stable (graph courtesy of the Guttmacher Institute).

Nearly 21 million unsafe abortions are performed every year world-wide killing 47,000 women and accounting for 13 percent of all maternal deaths. Lack of access to safe, legal abortion kills women.  But that’s okay? Are some lives more valuable than others? (Why do the moderators never ask these questions?)

The CAUSE of abortion is unintended pregnancies. Yes, there are genetic terminations, but these are a small minority of procedures. And unintended pregnancies are the result of lack of access to contraception. Studies show that abortion rates go down when women use contraception, especially long acting contraception such as IUDs or Depo-provera.

FIfty percent of pregnancies in the United States are unintended and 40 percent of these end in abortion (it works out to 22 percent of pregnancies resulting in abortion).  If candidates were serious about preventing abortion they wold talk about the data from 2006, which shows in that year publicly funded family planning services helped almost 2 million women avoid an unintended pregnancy by giving them access to affordable contraception, preventing 810,000 abortions.

There are no studies to support the idea that women feel victimized by abortion.

Laws do nothing to reduce the rate of abortion. They delay access by raising costs, thereby increasing the percentage of later term abortions.

Contraception prevents unplanned pregnancies, and therefore abortion.

If you want to prevent abortion, you need contraception.  The only logical conclusion is that contraception is pro-life.  And I’ll debate any GOP candidate on that subject anytime, anywhere.

And as an aside, abortion laws are expensive. Take the recent Kansas legislation designed to stop clinics from operating. The law was challenged (as they always are) and now the law is costing the tax payers money as it lumbers its way through the legal system. The country is bankrupt, we can’t keep paying to fight the same fight over and over and over again.

Every dollar spent on contraception saves $1.40 in maternal/reproductive health costs. Contraception not only prevents abortions it’s cost-effective. What if all that money spent fighting court battles on abortion was spent on contraception instead? How many more abortions would that prevent than the actual laws?

In a debate, that would be the first question I’d ask.