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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

A goal for both sides on abortion

Pro-choice activists with the National Organization For Women

Pro-choice activists with the National Organization For Women hold a vigil outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC. (January 23, 2012 ) Photo Credit: Getty Images

A friend, a woman who is a physician in an inner-city hospital, recently shared her point of view on abortion, and helped clarify my own: "I look at some of my patients who are pregnant and poor or quite young or both, and I know that for them to have a baby would be a disaster. And often I know they are pregnant because they've been irresponsible. As their doctor, I believe abortion has to be available, because giving birth to these babies would devastate their lives . . . but I also know that it's murder."

The arguments over Planned Parenthood are largely battles between two groups so wedded to either half of my friend's statement that they cannot comprehend the message of the other side. The ships-passing-in-the-night argument that people are having over the videos released by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group that filmed representatives of Planned Parenthood discussing the price of fetal tissue and organs for medical research, is just this:

Abortion rights advocate: "The videos are a setup made specifically to make Planned Parenthood look bad, and some are unfairly edited. What don't you get about that?"

Abortion opponent: "They kill babies and cavalierly discuss the preserving and exchanging of their corpses for money. What don't you get about that?"

And the same miscommunication passing as communication permeates the debate over Planned Parenthood funding.

Abortion rights advocate: "Only 3 percent of funding goes for abortions. The rest is for women's health and contraception, which prevents pregnancies and thus abortions."

Abortion opponent: "They . . . murder . . . babies!"

Too often the debate is driven by people who only feel and comprehend one side of this argument. But many of us are torn, understanding both truths: that forcing a young, poor or an unready or unwilling woman to carry a baby is monstrous and inhumane. And that abortion is monstrous and inhumane.

So we don't scream our complex feelings, but instead murmur about the first trimester (13 weeks) being different from 20 weeks or 24 weeks in, about those who are raped or are victims of incest, about the need for abortion to be "safe, legal and rare."

And you know, you don't hear about it much, but abortion is, if not rare, rarer. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate in the United States went from 29.3 for every 1,000 women aged 15-44 in 1981 to 16.9 in 2011.

And experts say that's mostly because of better and more easily available contraception.

Last year, a pilot project in St. Louis that offered teen girls free intrauterine and implanted birth control reported that among the subject group, the pregnancy and abortion rates were 75 percent lower than nationally. The study was funded by the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, which then funded a similar, much larger statewide program for young and poor women in Colorado. The results of that project? The rate of teen pregnancy dropped 40 percent from 2009 to 2013, and the rate of teen abortion dropped 42 percent.

While many can't hear the other side's screaming in the abortion fight, most on both sides and in the middle can hear this: You stop abortion by dedicating enough public and private funds to free and easily accessible long-term contraception, which will cut unplanned pregnancy dramatically.

Abortion is not going to be made illegal, nor should it be. Abortion is not going to be broadly accepted as a moral act, nor should it be. And the minorities that believe either of those ought to happen shouldn't be controlling the conversation.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.


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