With Roe Vs Wade never far from America’s mind, and Poland’s landmark decision to ban almost all abortions, the question has to be asked: Does banning abortion actually stop abortion?

Pro-life advocates believe life begins at conception, and that the right to life is the most fundamental human right. They also emphasise the physical and mental health concerns that can develop during and post-abortion for women undertaking it.

Pro-choice advocates believe a woman has the right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy or not. They emphasis the health and wellbeing concerns that can impact women when they are not able to access safe abortion as well as some of the measures women end up taking due to these restrictions.

On the 22nd of October Poland’s constitutional tribunal ruled that leading cause of 98% of abortions undertaken in the country, foetal defects and malformations, was unconstitutional.

The commissioner for human rights for the Council of Europe Dunja Mijatovic sparked a conversation around the topic of what happens when abortion is banned in her tweet below reacting to the ruling.

The Federation for Women and Family Planning based in Poland, estimates that between 80-100,000 Polish women seek abortions each year, and outline several methods Polish women use to by-pass some of the most restricted laws in Europe, in their 2013 report, however they can easily be applied across the world.

This give us insights into a world where abortion is unavailable or illegal, and what options and pathways are around for women who still wish to terminate the pregnancy.

  • Underground clinics

Available if you know where to look, underground clinics have been a popular option for many decades however do require financial means and both expertise and facilities can vary without proper regulation

  • Medical abortion

Medical abortion consisting of medicinal induced miscarriages. These are often sourced or brought in from overseas through the internet. This has become a popular option with the rise of technology with one organisation citing 200,000 applications from Poland alone. Much like underground clinic however, internet sourced medication requires a level of access and drugs from blackmarkets can vary.

  • Overseas abortion

For those with the money and ability, overseas abortion in nearby European Union countries became an easier and safer option than seeking it internally. Whilst difficult to calculate how many Polish women seeked abortion overseas, one German clinic near the Polish border estimated being visited by over 1,000 Polish women each year.

  • Home remedies

Home remedies are often the source for many without the means or ability to source an abortion in one of the other forms discussed above. They often involve combing various chemicals and drugs to induce a miscarriage however can be extremely dangerous.

Observations:

Regardless of one’s individual view on abortion and whether it should be legal or not, it is quite clear that banning abortion does not simply mean abortion stops all together.

Banning abortion has the potential to decrease the amount seeked each year, but it also has the potential to simply pull the sheet over the issue; An action which not only impacts statistics and safety standards but also develops a tiered level of options, many of which are unregulated, often disadvantaging poor or low income women who are not able to access higher tiered services.

Amnesty International supports the concept that regardless of law, abortion still happens and The World health Organisation states that women in both economically-challenged countries and households were more likely to have an unsafe abortion.

So if simply banning abortions does not and will not stop women around the world seeking them, what does have power to reduce the amount of procedures taking place each year?

Better sexual education, particularly in schools, and access to contraceptive (both preventative and emergency) have long been considered key in diminishing the amount of abortions performed, particularly for unwanted pregnancies.

Pro-life groups dispute this however, and some such as they Pro-life Action League ask why widespread access to contraception has not lead to a significant decrease in unwanted pregnancies, Sexually Transmitted Infections and abortions if it is so key? Instead, organisations such as the Pro-life Action League argue that along side banning it, abortion can be stopped by changes to societal attitudes towards sex and reconnecting sex with its proper context of marriage and family.

These groups should in turn ponder the true accessibility of the contraceptive they call “widespread” when many of these same organisations are calling for a decrease in funding to family planning providers such as Planned Parenthood who whilst beyond abortion, offer services from childbirth classes to cancer screening, also fund and provide much of the contraceptive to those most vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies potentially leading to abortions that they call “widespread”.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, around 21 million women were likely in need of publicly funded services due to economic situations or age in the united States. They also found that nearly 700,000 abortions were avoided in 2016 due to accessibility to funded family planning services. The World Health Organisation, supported this statement and found that unsafe abortions is higher where contraception access and safe abortion is limited or unavailable.

Overall, it is clear that banning or restricting abortion does not make abortion stop or go away, as long as there are women can get pregnant there will be women seeking to terminate them. Restricting abortion makes the procedure harder to monitor in terms of both safety and statistics by pushing it underground. Banning abortion and deeming it illegal or unconstitutional simply throws a sheet over the issue without looking to see what is contributing to it and how rates can be lowered effectively. It appears that both Pro-life and Pro-choice groups seem to realise this to various degrees, however differ over how to do this.

Key Sources:

Amnesty Key Facts on Abortion

BBC

Focus on the Family

Guttmacher Fact Sheet: Paying for Contraception in the United States

Planned Parenthood

Prolife.org.nz About Us

Pro Life Action League

Reuters More Polish women seen seeking abortions abroad

The Federation for Women and Family Planning 2013 Report

The Guardian: Poland rules abortion due to foetal defects unconstitutional

Women on Waves

Women On Web

World Health Organisation Preventing Unsafe Abortion 

Image:  Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

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