New York Times columnist wants to experiment on poor women in a Red state

22 Jul 2013 05:37 pm
Posted by: Donna

In fairness, op-ed writers don’t typically write their own headlines but Ross Douthat’s Sunday column is called “The Texas Abortion Experiment” and it features New York Times resident moral scold Douthat in full chin-stroking and mansplaining mode about the abortion restrictions recently passed in Texas.

The law’s actual impact may be less sweeping than critics argue. But suppose for the sake of argument that they’re right and that the legislation will dramatically curtail legal abortion. Then further suppose that it somehow survives the inevitable court challenge. What consequences are likely to ensue?

One possible answer is that Texas will make a forced march into squalor, misery and patriarchal oppression. Women’s lives will be endangered, their health threatened, their economic opportunities substantially foreclosed.

To the extent that this case rests on facts rather than fear, it’s based on cross-country comparisons. Around the globe, countries with abortion bans often do have worse outcomes — more poverty, fewer opportunities for women and, yes, often more abortions as well.

But there’s a problem with these comparisons: They don’t compare like to like, or control for the host of variables that separate, say, sub-Saharan Africa from the United States and Europe. They tell us that underdeveloped countries are more likely to ban abortion, but they don’t tell us whether those bans actually hold back progress and development.

Douthat would like the reader to know that context is very, very important when comparing the US to poor countries with harsh abortion restrictions. You need to look at the variables, people.

To prove that case, 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.

Wait, what? Okay, so I guess this particular iteration of “comparing like to like” involves contrasting a fantasy version of Texas against actual liberal and egalitarian Western European countries. Douthat is right that most European countries limit abortion after the first trimester and some even require a waiting period. But they also have universal health care, which Texas doesn’t. They provide abortion at no cost, which is not the case in Texas. Contraception and comprehensive sex ed are readily available, unlike Texas where abstinence-only is more prevalent. And most of Europe has the kind of social safety net for mothers (such as parental leave and generous child care subsidies) that most Texans can only dream of. They also don’t force women seeking abortion to submit to vaginal ultrasounds and listen to fallacious information about the health effects of abortion read to them from a script. In other words, in liberal European countries they do not put the kind of degrading barriers in front of pregnancy prevention and early abortion that they do in here the US, particularly in red states. Unsurprisingly, those liberal European countries have low abortion rates

Ireland differs greatly from other Western European countries on abortion policy in that the procedure is almost completely banned there. This is because the Catholic Church still wields enough influence over the government that the country can rightly be considered a quasi-theocracy. Douthat, like many American abortion opponents, holds up Ireland’s regime as a model for us.

Then there is the specific case of Ireland, which has maintained a near-absolute abortion ban throughout its history. This ban does not mean that no Irish women obtain legal abortions: some go abroad for them, to Britain or Continental Europe. But that actually makes the comparison to Texas more apt — because even if abortion were somehow banned outright in Texas tomorrow, it would still be available to women with the resources to travel out of state.

Isn’t it nice that Texas ladies with money and the ability to take time off to travel will be able take advantage of that? Poor ladies who don’t have the resources? What poor ladies? Douthat mentions the “high-profile case of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian immigrant who died unnecessarily during a miscarriage” having been refused one in an Irish hospital, but isn’t too troubled by it, citing Ireland’s good maternal health outcomes (and apparently forgetting all the women who leave Ireland to get abortions).

Douthat is finally forced to admit that Texas and Ireland differ significantly in health care access, particularly for poor women.

Now it’s also true that Ireland, like most of Europe, is to the left of Texas on many economic issues. All the abortion restrictions described above coexist with universal health care, which Rick Perry’s state conspicuously lacks.

So perhaps, it might be argued, abortion can be safely limited only when the government does more to cover women’s costs in other ways — in which case Texas might still be flirting with disaster.

But note that this is a better argument for liberalism than for abortion.

It suggests, for instance, that liberal donors and activists should be spending more time rallying against Perry’s refusal to take federal Medicaid financing than around Wendy Davis’s famous filibuster.

Condescend much, Ross? He scolds Texas liberals about their priorities as if they have completely been ignoring the Medicaid issue in favor of abortion, abortion, abortion! Oh wait. They haven’t been ignoring it. And the GOP majority in the Texas Legislature pushed those anti-abortion bills at the last minute, leaving Democratic lawmakers and activists no choice but to marshal a concerted protest against them.

It’s very much worth noting that in comparing different countries’ abortion policies Douthat completely ignores our neighbor to the north, Canada. That’s odd since the US is more culturally and economically similar to Canada than to any European country. But we are different in some crucial ways: Canada has universal healthcare and excellent access to contraception and sex ed. They also have no criminal laws against abortion. Restrictions against the procedure were declared unconstitutional in 1988. Guess what? They have a lower abortion rate than we do.

Now contrast the American experience with complicated laws, far greater cost (the average amount paid for a 1rst trimester abortion is $451, with 60% of women paying out-of-pocket for their procedure), indignities (mandatory ultrasound), and inconveniences such as 24 hour delays and uncompensated travel.

So how does lawless Canada stack up against regulated America?

In Canada, the teen birth and abortion rate is 27.0/1,000 women between the ages of 15-19 versus 61.2/1,000 in the United States.

The abortion rate among all women of reproductive age (15-44) in Canada is 14.1/1,000 versus 20/1,000 in the United States.

Put another way, the teen birth and abortion rate is more than 50% higher in the United States versus Canada and the abortion rate is about 25% higher in the Unites States.

Hey Ross Douthat, if we’re going to experiment on women there’s no need to “flirt with disaster” or, you know, create a very real disaster in Texas and other red states. We could try Canada’s experiment instead. Seems to be working for them.


  1. Comment by Mike Slater on July 23, 2013 3:42 pm

    Texas isn’t liberal like Canada or Europe. Thank goodness.

  2. Comment by Timmys Cat on July 24, 2013 8:28 pm

    Shure, just when i get the energy….

    To heck with Canada!

    The American Taliban Party just needs to look to our neighbor in the other direction to get a sense of where their autocratic policies are headed.

    Access to abortion in Mexico depends both on the woman’s place of residence and her socioeconomic status, making access a question of social justice and gender discrimination.

    Following legalization of the procedure in the country’s capital, 17 states rushed to make constitutional amendments protecting “fetal rights” starting at “the moment of conception.” Now, abortion rights in Mexico are a confusing patchwork of legislation that disproportionately hurts underprivileged women.

    However, general reforms to protect prenatal life without considering the protection of the life of the mother in question have negatively impacted the access to legal abortion services and safety throughout the country. … The protection of prenatal life is important, but it must be compatible with the protection of the rights of women. These reforms have generated a climate of persecution against women.

    Sooo, Republicans want American womens reproductive rights to be just like Mexicos?

    May the anti-abortion crowd should take fact finding trips down south to get some pointers.

    <a href=HERE

  3. Comment by Timmys Cat on July 24, 2013 8:30 pm


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