Sunday, May 16, 2010

Abortion and Universal Healthcare

On why Britain's abortion rate is much lower than the US's:
[O]ne important explanation was Britain's universal health-care system. "If that frightened, unemployed 19-year-old knows that she and her child will have access to medical care whenever it's needed," Hume explained, "she's more likely to carry the baby to term. Isn't it obvious?"

A young woman I knew in Britain added another explanation. "If you're [sexually] active," she said, "the way to avoid abortion is to avoid pregnancy. Most of us do that with an IUD or a diaphragm. It means going to the doctor. But that's easy here, because anybody can go to the doctor free."

For various reasons, then, expanding health-care coverage reduces the rate of abortion. All the other industrialized democracies figured that out years ago. The failure to recognize this plain statistical truth may explain why American churches have played such a small role in our national debate on health care. Searching for ways to limit abortions, our faith leaders have managed to overlook a proven approach that's on offer now: expanding health-care coverage.

When I studied health-care systems overseas in research for a book, I asked health ministers, doctors, economists and others in all the rich countries why their nations decided to provide health care for everybody. The answers were medical (universal care saves lives), economic (universal care is cheaper), political (the voters like it), religious (it's what Christ commanded) and moral (it's the right thing to do). And in every country, people told me that universal health-care coverage is desirable because it reduces the rate of abortion.


mikhailbakunin said...

I wish this were true, but I think it's total crap.

The author explains:

"The U.N. data measure the number of abortions for women ages 15 to 44. They show that Canada, for example, has 15.2 abortions per 1,000 women; Denmark, 14.3; Germany, 7.8; Japan, 12.3; Britain, 17.0; and the United States, 20.8. When it comes to abortion rates in the developed world, we're No. 1."

There is a range of 7.8 - 17 among countries that do have universal health care. So, if universal care is the primary variable here, what accounts for that enormous variation? The variation among states with universal health care is far greater than the variation between the United States and the United Kingdom.

Also, these differences aren't huge at all. Our abortion rate is 2.08 percent, whereas the United Kingdom's rate is 1.7 percent. If you make the denomnator 1000, then that difference seems more substantial. But it's not!

I also think it's telling that the U.K. -- which is supposed to have the most generous universal health care system of all those listed -- is closest to the United States in terms of its abortion rate.

mikhailbakunin said...

There is another important issue here that I think is being overlooked. The United States has by far the higest rate of teen pregnancy among industrialized nations. This likely translates to a higher number of abortions (per capita).

I think it's very possible that there is third variable here -- call it "social responsibility" -- that may be causing both the absence of a national health care system and the high teen pregnancy/abortion rates in the United States.

MediaMaven said...

By "social responsibility", you mean the idea that Americans, as a whole, are uncomfortable with the idea of government providing many services (eg, "socialism")?

mikhailbakunin said...

I mean that Americans seem to have less of a sense of responsibility to other people (parents, mentors, complete strangers).

Maybe young couples in Americans are less responsible about pregnancy because they have less of a sense of responsibility to their parents and to society. And maybe that lack of social responsibility also makes people less concerned about the uninsured.

mikhailbakunin said...

Here is my response. : )