Many conservatives believe that the loss of access to abortion following the Supreme Court’s reversal Roe vs. Wade will bring a new dawn in which fewer abortions take place and more children are born. This promised new reality risks remaining a fantasy.
Because limiting access to legal abortion does not translate into fewer abortions.
A better course of action, if the goal is to reduce the number of abortions, is regulatory pragmatism – a flexible approach to designing and implementing a regulatory system that avoids legal doctrine and dogma , while emphasizing efficiency and sustainability.
Regulatory pragmatism adapts to context and realities on the ground, putting ideology aside and focusing on the goal, sometimes even employing tactics that seem counter to that goal, simply because they work.
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Take the current state of the battle over reproductive rights in the United States
The stated objective of the Conservatives is to “save the babies”. If he is serious about achieving this goal, it would make sense to look at a similar country that has far fewer abortions per person.
Canada is a democratic, relatively wealthy country, and in 2020 there were a quarter fewer abortions per woman than in the United States. United States
Although it may seem counterintuitive, Canada has not achieved its lowest abortion rate by banning abortion. Quite the opposite, in fact. Canada decriminalized the procedure in 1988. It is now legal, at all stages of pregnancy, and publicly funded. The most pressing concern is access to care, as most clinics are located near major population centers, and people living in rural parts of Canada often have to travel long distances to obtain an abortion. But it’s safe to say that very few Canadians who want abortions are denied abortions by their government.
The example of Canada suggests that completely free access to abortion does not lead to high abortion rates. This means that if the goal is to “save babies” and reduce abortions in the United States, we must consider the larger context when considering how to regulate.
Canada consistently supports women and babies throughout their lives. Women have easy and inexpensive access to contraception. If they choose pregnancy, they receive good health care throughout the process, including prenatal care.
Maternal health is better and pregnancy is safer in Canada. In 2018, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the maternal mortality rate in Canada was 8.82 per 100,000 live births. This contrasts sharply with the same statistic in the United States, which was 17.4 in 2018 and then rose to a shocking 23.8 in 2020. Among high-income countries, the United States has the highest rate of highest maternal mortality, a rate that multiplies by 2.5 to 3.5 times for black women.
In Canada, biological and surrogate parents who have given birth are granted 15 weeks of maternity leave, during which time they receive their usual salary and benefits. Thereafter, all parents, biological or adoptive, can receive an additional 35 weeks of “parental benefits”. These provide for partial pay, with most receiving at least 55% of their average salary. Either parent is entitled to this benefit and it can be shared between the parents. Through the Canada Child Benefit, the government also helps eligible parents with child care costs through a tax-free monthly payment.
The United States, on the other hand, does not offer guaranteed paid family leave, subsidized child care, or universal basic health care. And it has many more abortions than its neighbor to the north.
A system with nearly unlimited access to abortion, when combined with decent health care (including contraception) and good support for new parents, goes a long way toward creating ideal conditions for delivering babies in the world. Indeed, one might even call Canada’s policies more specific examples of what pro-life should mean: policies that support the health and well-being of pregnant women and their children.
But can such pragmatic regulatory policies work in the United States?
A Colorado program suggests they can.
In 2008, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment launched a program to provide low-cost or long-acting reversible contraceptives to low-income women in the state. The results have been staggering: between 2009 and 2014, the abortion rate among teenage girls was almost halved. In addition, teenage birth rates have been nearly halved, births to women without a high school diploma have fallen by 38%, second-and-higher births to teenage girls have been reduced by 57% and rapid repeat births decreased by 12% among all women.
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The decline in rapid repeat births is particularly important for the lives and health of low-income women and their children. Research shows that low-income women with shorter intervals between pregnancies have higher risks of precipitated labor, and infants whose birth was not spaced have higher risks of low birth weight, NICU admission and mortality. Medical research shows that spacing births is essential to their survival.
With the disappearance of roe deerwe have the opportunity to revisit and redefine in the United States what it means to be pro-life.
Those who are “pro-choice” are rarely against saving babies, and most will readily shift their support to a pragmatic strategy that preserves freedom and lowers abortion rates. Those on the right who are more traditionally “pro-life” will have to decide if their anti-abortion stance is really about “saving babies” or something else entirely. The evidence is clear and regulatory pragmatism suggests we follow Canada’s lead.
The opinions of the authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Notre Dame.
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