Ross Douthat’s European Vacation

Earlier this week, the New York Times’s Ross Douthat wrote an op-ed about the “Texas abortion experiment.” While the conservative columnist acknowledged that Texas’s new law could make “first-trimester abortions harder to obtain,” he spent much of the piece downplaying the very real threats this law poses to women’s health and talking up similarly restrictive laws in Europe.

Douthat looks to the example of a number of European countries, including Ireland, for how the Texas law could play out. Yet he rejects comparisons between the United States and other certain countries that enact restrictive abortion laws. According to Douthat, concerns that “Women’s lives will be endangered, their health threatened, their economic opportunities substantially foreclosed” in America stem from similar outcomes in poorer and more conservative areas of the world and therefore are not appropriate sources to examine. He also adds that it is difficult to determine if “those bans actually hold back progress and development.”

Actually, it’s not that difficult. Studies have shown that when abortion is illegal, women still terminate their pregnancies—they just do so in unhygienic and dangerous conditions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank whose work Douthat also links to in his column:

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The Mother, The Welfare State, and The Others

The welfare state began in Europe in the late 19th century, but reached its climax after World War II. Europe was devastated and needed to be rebuilt, and at the time, the guarantees of social security, employment, and retirement were real human progress. The population had also declined, and in France, a country of pro-natalist tradition, policies that encouraged having children were more of a priority than ever. Financial support for mothers and other family benefits were introduced, and these pro-natalist policies still exist in France today.

Generally motherhood is glorified, to the detriment of women that don’t have children. Glorifying motherhood to this point, and to the point that it can seem to be an obligation, can also be considered in attitudes that victimize women and demonize men. The persistence of beliefs such as women are weaker than men, can put women into defenseless roles that are reinforced by other, equally damaging beliefs, like women are kindness incarnate because they can give birth. Such obstinate views like women are incomplete without kids, or men are always the bad guys, can contribute to a perception that women that make different choices are abnormal or bad, and therefore are easier for society to reject.

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Working Towards Reproductive Rights in Nicaragua

In 2006, Nicaragua criminalized all abortions including pregnancies resulting from rape/incest or even when the woman’s life is in danger.  It is one of only three countries in the western hemisphere to have such a strict ban on abortion, the other two are Chile and El Salvador.

This ban in Nicaragua is disappointing on a number of levels. Besides the obvious obstruction of human rights, it is enacted by a political party originally supported by feminists and secular leaders. In fact, the Sandista’s party planned to encourage comprehensive sex education in order to combat unplanned pregnancies from a prevention standpoint. Unfortunately, the church’s influence can be seen in the official education policy that emphasizes abstinence and morality rather than birth control and self-respect.

Currently, President Daniel Ortega returned to power after seeking out support from the Catholic Church. Promptly after his election win he threw his weight behind the ban on therapeutic abortions leading to its passage. [Read more...]