Reality Vs. Rhetoric in the Abortion Debate

I am normally reluctant to write about the highly charged issue of abortion, but this time is an exception.

For those of you who consider all abortion to be murder, you should stop reading now. These remarks are directed to the rest of the population that considers abortion appropriate in at least some circumstances — a clear majority of the American public.

Two noteworthy events occurred recently that are critical to further discussion of this very important public issue: publication by the think tank ThirdWay (search) of a study entitled “The Demographics of Abortion “ and the resignation of Susan Wood, the top Food and Drug Administration official in charge of women’s health issues.

First, let’s examine the ThirdWay study, one of the most comprehensive treatments ever put together on basic facts underlying the abortion issue in this country.

Let’s look at the basic numbers: since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, there have been more than 40 million abortions in America. According to the study, “one of every three American women will have an abortion by the time they reach 45.” Additionally, in a typical year there are 4.1 million live births, 1.3 million abortions and 900,000 miscarriages.

The study found that “the average woman who seeks an abortion is 24 years old, unwed, earns a yearly income of about $25,000 and already is a mother…She has religious beliefs and is a Christian…the typical abortion is performed around the eighth week — well within the first trimester.”

There are two remarkable findings buried in this study. Again quoting, “The social conservatives’ focus on so-called 'partial-birth abortion' affects, at most, eight of every 10,000 abortions performed. The social liberals’ traditional defense of abortion on the grounds of rape and incest or the life of the mother is irrelevant in approximately 98 of every 100 abortions.”

And then there is the issue of religion. The study found “There is a vast gap between the rhetorical positions that religious leaders take on abortion and the actual practices of the laity in those religions.”

Specifically, Catholics represent 27 percent of those having abortions -- roughly 350,000 per year— and Born-Again or Evangelical Christians represent 13 percent of those having abortions – roughly 170,000 per year.

Obviously, abortion is widely practiced in the United States, even though it remains controversial. Virtually no one is pro-abortion, though millions of people want it to be available as an option when a pregnancy is unplanned or when the mother’s health is seriously at risk.

So what’s the answer? One answer is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and thus to reduce the need for abortion.

That’s why the resignation of Assistant FDA Commissioner Susan Wood (search) is so significant.

Wood said she was leaving her position with the FDA because of FDA Commissioner Lester M. Crawford’s recent announcement that he would delay approval of the emergency contraceptive Plan B (search), which is also known as the morning-after pill.

Plan B has been available as a prescription-only drug since 1999. Its distributor applied to the FDA for permission to sell the drug over the counter, and an FDA expert advisory panel voted 23 to 4 in favor of their application. It was Crawford’s action delaying approval of this application that prompted Wood’s resignation after working for the FDA for five years.

Plan B prevents pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of sexual activity. Some religious conservatives have opposed it, even though in most cases it prevents fertilization of an egg and there is no abortion. This is the crowd that must believe that conception occurs when they take Cialis (search).

And so we have the situation that abortion is widely practiced in this country by people of all religious persuasions, many of whom are religious conservatives, and our government is taking action that could actually result in more abortions rather than fewer.

These are things that should be discussed openly, even if the subject itself is considered to be radioactive by many politicians.

Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel, and is currently a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.

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