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Do Texas-style Abortion Restrictions Keep Women Down?

The data documenting the social and economic progress of Irish women suggests otherwise.

Sunday, July 21, 2013 5:35 PM Comments (12)

Abortion-rights advocates have argued that abortion restrictions keep women down,  undermining gender equality and access to first-class healthcare benefits.  

"Governor Perry and anti-choice politicians in the Texas Legislature have worked overtime to advance a cruel assault on women's health, dignity, and constitutional rights, saidJulie Rickelman of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America,  has vowed that Texas GOP lawmakers who approved the bill will pay a high cost, and that women will not forgive them for what they did.

"You will be able to win a tactical advantage," she said in a statement after Gov. Perry signed the bill resetricting abortions in Texas to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. "But in the long run, all they have done is built a committed group of people across this state who are outraged about the treatment of women and the lengths to which this Legislature will go to take women's health care away."

Media coverage and newspaper editorials have repeated such claims. But in a July 20 column for the New York Times opinion pages, Ross Douthat challenges these assertions, and related arguments that present laws restricting abortion as the death knell for women's social and economic progress.

Douthat asks the following question.

What happens to a modern society when abortion is restricted? This question is at the heart of the debate over Texas’s new abortion law, which bans abortions after 20 weeks and issues health regulations that could thin the ranks of state abortion clinics, making even first-trimester abortions harder to obtain.

To prove that women will suffer far-reaching consequences

you would need to look at how abortion restrictions play out in a wealthy, liberal and egalitarian society. Here two examples are instructive: Europe in general and Ireland in particular.

It turns out that

many European countries already have versions of Texas’s late-term abortion ban on the books. France, Germany and Italy all ban abortions after the first trimester, and impose waiting periods as well.

Notably, these nations tend to have lower abortion rates than the United States, and none of them are exactly reactionary dystopias in the style of Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale.” So the European experience suggests that at least some abortion restrictions are compatible with equality and female advancement."

Ireland, of course, offers a striking except to liberal first-trimester abortion laws, so Douthat takes a look at data measuring the social, health and economic status of Irish women.

 

Ireland’s maternal health outcomes have long looked much better than those of its neighbors, and even a recent report that produced a higher estimate for maternal mortality still placed the country well within the European norm.

Meanwhile, international rankings offer few indications that Ireland’s abortion laws are holding Irish women back. The country ranks first for gender parity in health care in a recent European Union index. It was in the middle of the pack in The Economist’s recent “glass-ceiling index” for working women. It came in fifth out of 135 countries in the World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap” report. (The United States was 22nd.)

Now, if only  the editorial board of the New York Times could spare a few moments to ponder the figures Douthat has provided  here, 

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About Joan Frawley Desmond

Joan Frawley Desmond
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Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in Menlo Park, Ca, in the San Francisco Archdiocese.