Just about abortion? Not hardly

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Has contraception use or pictures of babies on social media contributed more to Iowa’s declining abortion rate?

Jennifer Bowen, executive director of Iowa Right to Life, thinks it’s baby pictures.

When the Iowa Department of Public Health announced a dramatic drop in abortion rates alongside steady birthrates, KCCI asked Bowen about the trend. After a nod to baby pictures, she said contraception was not a factor because of its “huge failure rate.”

The most popular methods of contraception, with the exception of male condoms, have a failure rate of less than 1 percent. Condoms have a five percent failure rate, which most would not refer to as “huge.”

But Bowen isn’t really interested in failure rates, nor advocating for more effective birth control.

Mainstream contraceptives are viewed by Iowa Right to Life as drugs or devices that induce abortions. Their list includes birth control pills, IUDs, injectables like Depo-Provera, implants like Norplant, emergency contraception and more.

The Iowa Right to Life position is that access to these contraceptives “leads to more abortions.” But facts don’t support that statement.

While Iowa’s abortion rate declined, access to long-term contraception increased and the teen birthrate declined. Because Iowa rejected abstinence-only sex ed, provided teens more access to pregnancy prevention information and contraception, fewer teens became pregnant.

Despite such evidence that current policies are working, Iowa Right to Life and eight other groups opposing abortion have joined forces for a backward agenda.

They hope to strip public funding from health organizations that provide abortions or offer referrals. Nevermind use of public funds for abortion is prohibited except in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment. And, if Iowa needs to cast aside federal family planning dollars and launch its own costly state-run program, so be it. Diminishing state revenues and money earmarked for foster care and the disabled be damned.

The group also hopes a Republican majority will set science aside in favor of a yet-to-be-filed bill proclaiming fertilized eggs as people, based on a religious assertion that life begins at conception.

The distinction between conception (when sperm meets egg) or implantation (when egg attaches to uterine wall) may seem insignificant, but it holds serious legal differences.

The medical community uses implantation as a standard for determining pregnancy. That standard forms the definition of contraception: Devices or drugs that act before implantation to prevent pregnancy.

If Iowa adopts the proposed religious concept as a legal definition of when pregnancy begins, what happens to contraceptives that inhibit both fertilization and implantation?

No doubt it is politically expedient to frame this debate on a hot-button issue like abortion. But expediency rarely results in good public policy.

What’s really at stake is women’s health and taxpayer burden. The first will sadly decrease when access is limited. The second will increase alongside the rate of unplanned pregnancy.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on January 14, 2017. Photo credit: The Gazette