“We do not mostly provide preventative medical care [or]cure diseases or prevent them. What we do is social change.” So writes Daniel E. Pellegrom of Pathfinder International in a recent scholarly book marketed to educators, policymakers, and advocates for abortion and other aspects of “reproductive health.” Pathfinder boasts helping the Communist government in Beijing when it launched its brutal one child per family policy.
Critical Issues in Reproductive Health, released this year by academic publisher Springer, provides a revealing view into the current state of the worldwide debate over abortion, contraception, and the role of human reproduction in society.
Two of the most common strategies employed in the twentieth century to advance the abortion agenda were linking it to women’s health and population growth. In this book, chapters addressing these and other topics demonstrate what critics have long contended: that these concerns were a pretext for making abortion more acceptable.
In a chapter on abortion laws and demography, sociology professor Dennis Hodgson observes that many of the countries with the most permissive abortion laws are now suffering from declines associated with aging populations and below-replacement fertility. He fears governments may restrict abortion to encourage more births.
Because African countries boast the highest fertility in the world and some of the strongest legal protections for unborn children, they are experiencing great internal and external pressure to legalize abortion. But fertility is declining there, too.
Hodgson warns that “The window for exploiting the antinatalist stress point is short, even for Africa.” As fertility declines, policymakers “will be feeling noticeably less demographic pressure to liberalize their abortion policy.”
For a scholarly book devoting a considerable amount of space to abortion, this volume suffers from a relatively one-sided perspective. Although Hodgson admits that “government leaders are far from a consensus about the proposition that all women should have uncomplicated access to abortion,” the pro-life position is viewed at a distance by the book’s many authors, who discuss it as a curiosity to be examined or an obstacle to be confronted, but fail to provide space for it to stand on its own merits. Women Deliver president Jill Sheffield admits that “[l]egal abortion can be and often is unsafe” and suggests that by focusing on safety, “we allow those who oppose abortion to be part of the conversation.”
Daniel Pellegrom seems less conciliatory: “[W]e can reassure ourselves that the opposition is so voluble because it is losing.” He accuses pro-life advocates of “harness[ing]the emotional reactions of the general public” using “simplified, emotive and manipulative” language and complains that abortion and contraception are often “treated according to cultural and religious principles and ideals, rather than scientific and evidence-based facts.”
Meanwhile, in a chapter about the semantics of reproductive health issues, sociology professor Alaka Malwade Basu attempts to bypass scientific evidence entirely in favor of readily-exploited confusion. With regard to questions such as when life begins or when a human being acquires a soul, he writes: “Not only is there much scope for ambiguity in the answers to these questions, cultures can often actively encourage such ambiguity.”
Basu suggests that even where laws and societal norms clearly protect the unborn child, “the state, as well as organized religion may, through the right choice of words, make it much easier for women to obtain an abortion.”
While acknowledging the vast differences between Pathfinder International and Catholic Relief Services, Pellegrom argues that they share an interest in addressing poverty. Then, citing Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger as a source of inspiration, he goes on: “The family planner doesn’t just want to alleviate poverty, the family planner wants to obliterate poverty.”
He closes with a call for legal abortion – with no mention of safety. “This is not about public health; it is about public policy.”