“There is a cure for poverty. It is a rudimentary one, it does work, though. It works everywhere, and for the same reason. It’s colloquially called ‘the empowerment of women.’ It’s the only thing that does work. If you allow women control over their cycle of reproduction, so that they are not chained by their husbands or by village custom to annual animal-type pregnancies, early death, disease, and so on. If you will free them from that, give them some basic health of that sort—and if you are generous enough to throw in, perhaps, a handful of seeds and a bit of credit—the whole floor, culturally, socially, medically, economically of that village will rise. It works every time.”
—Christopher Hitchens, in a debate with William Dembski at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas
This is not a political rant. This has nothing to do with religion or individual beliefs. This post has to do with science. By that, I mean what has humankind been able to learn about our universe and world, what can be demonstrated, what can be shown.
I have long been an admirer of Christopher Hitchens. However, as the Risk Science blog is focused on health issues, I could never think of a way to involve him in any of my posts. Furthermore, I was worried that his atheism, his political views, his opinions of various sacred cows, or his career as an iconoclast and contrarian would anger people causing them not to listen to what I had to say. But, I am now grateful that the recent conflict between the Susan G. Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood allows me to quote him. I am also glad to have the opportunity to lay out some of my observations and conclusions that I have come to regarding various ills of our societies around the world. And, I now have the opportunity to demonstrate what humankind has learned about contraceptives and abortion.
“The cure for poverty around the world is the empowerment and emancipation of women.” If Christopher Hitchens’s word is not enough for you, even the United Nations feel that the empowerment of women is what leads to development. They have listed the empowerment of women as a necessity to reach their Millennium Development goals. And, in my time in the United States Peace Corps in Cameroon where I worked to combat HIV, I would agree wholeheartedly with their assessment. When women have control over their bodies and minds, when women are educated, the society benefits. Women are still the primary caregivers and early educators of their children. If they are able to determine “when” and “how many,” the next generation will be better cared for and better educated. And on and on the generations will pass. “When you teach women, you teach the nation.”
If this is still not enough to convince you, I have one more arrow in my quiver. In the middle of last month, a Lancet article was electronically published in advance of the journal publication. It was an examination of the last 15 years of abortion around the world. I would like to quote an excerpt from this article. It follows.
“We found that the proportion of women living under liberal abortion laws is inversely associated with the abortion rate in the sub-regions of the world. Other studies have found that abortion incidence is inversely associated with the level of contraceptive use, especially where fertility rates are holding steady, and there is a positive correlation between unmet need for contraception and abortion levels.”
In other words, what humankind has learned, what can be demonstrated, what can be shown, is that when abortion and contraception is legally available, abortions are less frequent and contraception is used more effectively. Furthermore, the researchers discovered something else. “Our findings show that the substantial decline in the abortion rate observed between 1995 and 2003 has tapered off, and the proportion of abortions that are unsafe has increased since 1995, such that nearly half of all abortions worldwide were unsafe in 2008.” They relate these findings to changes in laws around the world that make abortion illegal and contraceptives less easily available.
Thus, when contraceptives are available,the evidence suggests that abortions are less frequent, and the ones that do occur are carried out safely. The previous sentence could be one of the sentences of a mission statement of Planned Parenthood. And, oh by the way, according to Planned Parenthood’s Annual Report, 35% of their funding goes to contraceptives, and only 3% goes to abortion services. Also, Planned Parenthood offers health services to women with low incomes who often have no other sources for medical care, cancer and STD screenings, or reproductive services.
Thus, it seems the opponents of abortion who pressured the Susan G. Komen Foundation to sever its ties with Planned Parenthood ended up working towards increasing the number of abortions. Furthermore, as Susan G. Komen board members realized, cutting ties with Planned Parenthood leads to cutting ties with the health of poor women. Thankfully, advocates for women made a massive push to make sure this was understood. They were successful. The mistake was corrected. Thanks be to humankind.
Sedgh G, Singh S, Shah IH, Ahman E, Henshaw SK, Bankole A. Induced abortion: incidence and trends worldwide from 1995 to 2008. Lancet. 2012 Jan 18. (Epub ahead of print)
Planned Parenthood Annual Report
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