Last Friday, after the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, some people immediately took to social media to condemn Ginsburg, with some claiming that she was responsible for increasing the abortion rate.
There is a problem with this rhetoric; while focusing on statistics, it ignores the much larger reality behind abortions and does not take into account the devastating impacts of banning abortion. Even if the objective is to lower the abortion rate, banning abortions is probably the most dangerous and ineffective way to go about it.
Banning abortion will not only increase the abortion rate, it will prevent abortions from occuring safely. Since 1973, after the Supreme Court ruled that a woman’s right to abortion is protected under the Constitution in Roe v. Wade, the abortion rate has actually declined. Today, in countries where abortion is legal, about 90% are considered safe, while in countries where it is illegal, only about 25% are safe.
The evidence strongly suggests that people will still get abortions, regardless of whether or not it is legal. Since the Supreme Court ruling in 1973, there are far more options for safe abortions. One option people currently have is to take a combination of prescription medication at home, which reduces the risk of stigma and gives people the chance to undergo the procedure in a safe environment. If abortion is banned, then people who need these medications will have to look overseas, which is unlikely to be covered by insurance and may not be as regulated as the medication in the U.S.
Even if you consider yourself anti-abortion, banning abortions is the far more dangerous option from a statistical standpoint. One important concept to consider is harm reduction, which is the concept that some behaviors or acts cannot be avoided, and it is far more effective to focus on safety than on banning these acts altogether.
One example of harm reduction is needle exchange clinics, where people with substance abuse disorders who are dependent on heroin can trade in used needles for clean ones. The idea is not to support drug use, but to help those who have likely exhausted all options for quitting drugs to do so in a safer setting and decrease their chances of contracting a disease from unsafe needles.
It makes more sense to encourage safer options than to ban abortion altogether, and the former respects the idea that people are human beings who are capable of making their own decisions. Providing women with safe, FDA-approved medications to end their pregnancies in a comfortable environment with the guidance of a doctor is not encouraging abortion, it is lessening the devastating impact of illegal and unsafe abortions that will likely increase if abortion is banned.
In addition to making alternatives options for abortion available to those who need them, we should also work to eliminate abstinence-based sex education, which has been found to be largely ineffective, and provide birth control to those who need it. According to a 2012 study, providing free birth control actually lowers abortion rates by about 62 to 78%. This is especially important for college students, who may not want to use other contraceptives like IUDs or implants, which are more complex and cost a lot more than birth control.
Because the Supreme Court ruled in July that employers can deny birth control based on “religious or moral grounds,” the most effective way to prevent unintended pregnancies is to increase access to birth control as much as possible. Given that Trump is likely to nominate a conservative Supreme Court justice, the ruling from Roe v. Wade is at stake, and it is critical that we all pay attention. Regardless of your individual feelings about abortion, the right to safely end a pregnancy is not a women’s rights issue. It is a human rights issue, and the fact that some people want to deny people this right is far more scary than any abortion statistic.