Local & State Voices

Abortion wars taking a nonsensical turn

You’d think Republicans seeking the U.S. Senate seat held by North Carolina Democrat Kay Hagan would learn from what happened to Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor’s race – or from a decisive vote of the folks in Mississippi in 2011.

Cuccinelli’s support of two “personhood” bills in Virginia is widely thought to have been a big factor in his close loss to flawed Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the gubernatorial race last year. Voters in Mississippi – one of the country’s most conservative states – slapped down a constitutional amendment that would have defined a fertilized egg as a person. More than 58 percent of voters rejected the amendment. A similar measure in Colorado went down to defeat in 2008 and 2010, with that state rejecting it by more than two-to-one both times.

But last week, as reported in the (Raleigh) News & Observer, North Carolinians learned that all of the Republican Senate hopefuls in the Tar Heel state support the misguided personhood amendment.

As troubling, all five said they also support a ban on contraceptives.

You read that right. They’re against contraceptives. All of them said states should have the right to ban contraceptives, though most said North Carolina should not or would not do so.

Unsurprisingly, the candidates also are staunchly against abortion, some even in cases of rape and incest.

Across the political spectrum, most people believe that abortion should be rare. But they also believe – like I do – that they should remain legal and safe for those needing and wanting them. And most importantly, the decision – often well-considered and sometimes agonizing – should be left to the woman, not the government.

Banning contraceptives is the last thing anyone truly concerned about reducing abortions should want to do. They have only to look at the results of a study released this week to understand why.

According to The Guttmacher Institute, abortions declined in 2011 to their lowest level – 16.9 per 1,000 women of childbearing age – in more than three decades. And though anti-abortion advocates want to credit a slew of restrictions states have placed on abortion rights in recent years, researchers rightly note that most of those restrictions were not in place during the study period. Those that were in force focused on issues such as adding new information to counseling requirements, or on restricting later abortions, which are only a tiny percentage of the overall number of abortions.

Moreover, the abortion rate declined nationwide – not just in states with new restrictions on the procedure. In fact, there were significant drops in states that did not enact new restrictions and in states with the most liberal abortion laws.

North Carolina was one of 21 states that posted 34- to 38-year lows. South Carolina was too. The others? Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia. North Carolina’s 2011 rate was 14.6 per 1,000; its peak was in 1988 at 25.4 per 1,000. South Carolina stood at 7.1 per 1,000 in 2011, with a peak of 20.7 per 1,000 in 1981.

The Guttmacher study notes that contraceptive use rose decidedly in the 2000s, with a significant move toward long-acting, reversible contraceptives (LARCs) such as IUDs. In 2002, only 2 percent of contraceptive users were relying LARC methods, but the proportion rose to 9 percent in 2009. From 2006 to 2010, “LARC use among women accessing publicly funded contraceptive services increased from 4 percent to 11 percent,” the report said. The estimated number of unintended pregnancies averted by federally funded family planning programs increased by 15 percent over this period (from 1.9 million to 2.2 million), it said.

Guttmacher is pro-abortion rights group. So it’s not surprising that critics are pooh-poohing this study. In addition to seeing no link between states’ new abortion restrictions, researchers said there appeared to be no tie to a decline in the number of abortion providers. The total number of providers dropped by 4 percent, to 1,720, between 2008 and 2011, and the number of abortion clinics declined by just 1 percent to 839. The authors said the clearer link seemed to be with the poor economy and contraceptive use. The authors note that the decline in abortions coincide with a decline in live births and pregnancies.

But it’s not just the Guttmacher Institute with these findings. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention similarly found a decline in abortions, pregnancies and births. And experts pointed to more access to and use of contraceptives, more education and the impact of the recession.

Both the push for banning contraceptives and for “personhood” amendments (a ruse to ban all abortions by designating as a person something most doctors say is not – a fertilized egg; the fertilized egg has to implant in the womb to become a pregnancy and as many as half do not) are unwise and unnecessary. They take the abortion wars down a nonsensical path.

The Republicans eying Hagan’s seat may all be true believers on these issues but they are no doubt being tactical too. In the jockeying to come out on top in the GOP primary in which the more conservative base tends dominate the voting, each probably sees wisdom in taking these far right stands.

But as Virginia’s Ken Cuccinelli and proponents of personhood amendments in Missisissippi and Colorado have found, those are not mainstream views. Voters in general elections don’t like them – especially women voters.

They aren’t likely to play well here in North Carolina either.