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War on women: Abortion debate remains ugly and polarized

About 3,315  abortions occur per day in the U.S., a 2005 statistic from the Guttmacher Institute.

This statistic was brought up by anti-abortion activist Kristina Garza, the outreach director for Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust.

Garza and other protesters, some from the International House of Prayer in south Kansas City, visited UMKC on the afternoon of Sept. 14, displaying large placards with photos of aborted fetuses across the street from the Student Union.

Garza said she believes abortion is a “genocide, which denies babies justice and executes them with no judge, no jury and no trial.”

The Guttmacher Institute, a nonpartisan group that researches reproductive health, reported that between 1994 and 2006, unintended pregnancy rates grew by 50 percent for women below the poverty line.

However, this number decreased by 29 percent for women with higher income.  Nearly 43 percent of unexpected pregnancies end in abortion, and the U.S. abortion rate is at the lowest level since 1974, according to Guttmacher.

June Carbone, Smith Chair Distinguished Professor of Law at UMKC, who specializes in family law, said this could be because people below the poverty level are more likely to receive abstinence-only sex education.

“Poor women are more likely than wealthier women to have high school sex education classes as their only source of information about contraception at the time they first become sexually active, and they are significantly more likely than wealthier women to be enrolled in abstinence only classes,” Carbone said.

“When we deny women we know are at risk access to reliable contraception this could be considered systematic assault.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a major source of grants supporting U.S. education and global development, provides funding for contraception to underprivileged communities.

In recent years, Melinda Gates has committed to making birth control her primary focus.

“We’re not talking about abortion. We’re not talking about population control,” Melinda Gates said in the Berlin TEDxChange talk. “What I’m talking about is giving women the power to save their lives, to save their children’s lives and to give their families the best possible future.”

College graduates are more likely to use multiple forms of contraception, which results in fewer unplanned births.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate among college graduates was substantially lower than for other women, at 12.4 abortions per 1,000 pregnancies.

A plurality of women who have abortions are economically disadvantaged and often face other hardships. Many already have children.

“These women may not agree with abortion, but they’re desperate and out of options,” Carbone said.

Contraception vs. abortion:

“You can’t talk about abortion without the necessary contraception debate,” Carbone said. “College graduates have access to the more reliable forms of contraception such as IUD’s and the pill, which require a doctor’s prescription, and are more likely to be in families or communities that encourage their use.”

Contraceptive methods such as the morning after pill have caused controversy across the political spectrum.

“Some Republicans believe this Plan B pill causes abortions, so they oppose bills requiring doctors from mentioning the option in emergency rooms even in cases of rape,” Carbone said.

“Indeed, Governor Romney vetoed a bill when he was Governor of Massachusetts that would have required emergency rooms to provide it for rape victims.  A recent study, however, confirmed that it operates just like the birth control pill.  That is, it prevents ovulation, but does not affect the likelihood that an embryo will be carried to term.”

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed a restrictive anti-abortion bill in May that allows pharmacists to refuse to dispense drugs they believe might cause an abortion.

Carbone stressed that emergency contraception is not an abortion pill, but only a large dose of levonorgestrel, a hormone used in birth control pills for more than 35 years.

“A new study now establishes that the morning after pill cannot prevent implantation,” Carbone said. “Instead, it has an effect similar to the birth control pill in preventing ovulation.”

Garza disagrees with this form of contraception and considers it an “abortion method.”

UMKC graduate student Dominico Nguyen is president of Roos for Life, an anti-abortion group at UMKC.

Nguyen is against all forms of abortion, including the morning after pill.

“It goes against the natural law,” he said. “Life begins at conception to natural death. Sonogram machines prove that fact.”

Carbone strongly disagrees.

“No one likes the idea of abortion, but it has been an indispensable component for those communities that have effectively held the line on the single parent pregnancy,” Carbone said.

“Conservative societies that have failed to make contraception available to young women tend to have higher abortion rates than those that encourage systematic contraceptive use.”

The religious debate:

Carbone cited a statistic from the Guttmacher Institute, that 90 percent of the population has pre-marital sex, including Christians, who tend to delay initial sexual activity by an average of six months.

Of women obtaining abortions, 37 percent identify as Protestant and 28 percent as Catholic.

A devout Catholic, Nguyen believes this is a major issue for those in the religious community.

“If we didn’t have so much pre-marital sex, abortion wouldn’t be that big of a deal,” Nguyen said.

The political debate:

“Single women like Obama because these issues are extremely important,” Carbone said. “If only women voted, it would be a landslide for the Democrats.”

Both parties have a vested interest in the abortion debate. Carbone suggested the issue of rape has polarized the two parties.

“Issues like this energize the population and force us into such an extreme divide,” Carbone said.

Carbone mentions in her book, “Red Families versus Blue Families,” that blue, or Democratic, families believe abortion should be rare but available.

This belief was articulated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a June 2007 speech.

“We come to [the abortion] issue as men and women, young and old, some far beyond years when we have to worry about getting pregnant, others too young to remember what it was like in the days before Roe v. Wade,” Clinton said. “Our core beliefs and values can guide us in reaching our goal of keeping abortion safe, legal and rare into the next century.”

President Obama also advocates for abortion rights.

“As we mark the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we must remember that this Supreme Court decision not only protects a woman’s health and reproductive freedom, but also affirms a broader principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters,” Obama said in a January 2012 speech. “I remain committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose and this fundamental constitutional right.”

Mitt Romney’s campaign website claims the candidate is “pro-life” and “believes that the right next step is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.”

However, Romney previously supported abortion rights.

“I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country,” Romney said in a 1994 speech. “I have since the time that my mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a U.S. Senate candidate. I believe we should sustain and support Roe v. Wade, and the right of a woman to make that choice. And my personal beliefs, like the personal beliefs of other people, should not be brought into a political campaign.”

Garza claimed that abortion for any reason carries severe consequences and should never be the solution to a problem.

“They tell you, it’s a quick fix,” she said. “They say it will solve your problems and allow you to get on with your life.”

Garza expressed a similar standpoint on the election.

“The candidates’ position on abortion are extremely important this election,” Garza said. “Our current president is the most pro-abortion candidate America has ever had in history.”

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