Editorials

Here’s how NOT to reduce abortions

Meg Stern, left, and other escort volunteers stood outside the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville on July 17, the day of an anti-abortion protest seeking to shut down the center, the last one providing abortions in Kentucky.
Meg Stern, left, and other escort volunteers stood outside the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville on July 17, the day of an anti-abortion protest seeking to shut down the center, the last one providing abortions in Kentucky. AP

As the rate of unplanned pregnancies has fallen, so has the rate of abortion — to the lowest ever.

Increased use of contraceptives is the most plausible explanation, though punitive abortion restrictions also play a role.

If you want to reduce abortions — and who doesn’t? — the most effective way is to reduce unwanted pregnancies, through education and access to contraceptives.

One of the least effective ways to reduce abortions is through the state law that Republicans enacted in January and that a federal judge recently struck down.

Not a single woman decided not to have an abortion after being subjected to the mandated fetal descriptions, heartbeat sounds and ultrasound images, according to testimony heard by U.S. District Judge David J. Hale in March.

Gov. Matt Bevin has vowed to appeal. But if reducing abortions is his goal, he’d get better results by diverting resources from the legal fight into family planning and sex education.

Kentucky’s teen birth rate is less than half of what it was in 1991. But girls in other states are getting support that young Kentuckians need. Kentucky teens are becoming parents at a rate of 32.4 births per 1,000 girls — much higher than the national rate of 20.3. There’s a lot of work to do.

Most of the women who have abortions are adults and have had a child. While the disputed law dissuaded no patients from having an abortion, it did upset them, especially “patients diagnosed with a fetal anomaly, who have already had several ultrasounds performed and heard detailed descriptions of the fetus,” said the judge.

He concluded that the law “has more potential to harm the psychological well-being of the patient than to further the legitimate interests of the Commonwealth.”

Hale also found that the Bevin administration provided no evidence that Kentucky’s informed consent law was inadequate before the the legislature violated physicians’ constitutional rights by adding new requirements. Kentucky has long mandated that, at least 24 hours before an abortion, women receive detailed information about fetal development, alternatives to abortion, medical assistance and the man’s child support obligations. A federal judge upheld that law in 2000.

The new Republican majority that took control of the General Assembly in January made House Bill 2 one of its first official acts. Hale found that the bill was “designed to convey the state’s ideological, anti-abortion message” and went “well beyond the basic disclosures necessary for informed consent to a medical procedure.”

Forcing physicians to communicate this ideological message to patients violates the physicians’ rights, ruled the judge. “The First Amendment protects an individual’s right to refrain from speaking just as much as it protects the right to speak freely.”

Long before Bevin became governor, Kentucky had imposed most of the abortion restrictions that have been upheld by courts. Now Bevin and lawmakers are wasting state resources to defend official harassment of the state’s last abortion provider, even though they have little chance of succeeding under the current U.S. Supreme Court.

Kentucky, struggling to meet basic financial obligations and human needs, should make better use of its resources.

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