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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A study of the effects of abortion ... and denying abortions

Here's an interesting article by Annalee Newitz, over at io9, about the social and psychological effects on women of having abortions ... compared with being denied an abortion that you want.

The question here is whether anti-abortion laws can be justified on paternalistic grounds, presumably because women who want abortions, but are prevented from having them, will end up being better off than they would be if they actually had the abortions. Before I go on, there is something offensive about the state enacting laws on this basis... telling you what to do in relation to very important decisions in your life on the basis that it knows your own good better than you do. This is a significant use of coercive power to override your autonomy. But even if we waive that point, are women likely to be better off if denied abortions?

Well, the study (as reported) doesn't seem to support that proposition. On the contrary, it appears more likely that someone who has been "turned away" from having an abortion will be stuck in an abusive relationship and/or trapped in poverty. Moreover, the medical risk of carrying a baby to term is greater than that of having an abortion. Finally, there is no sign of any greater risk of psychiatric illness such as clinical depression. Statistically speaking, there doesn't seem to be any downside to abortion.

Even if we accept the idea of paternalistic laws far more readily than I do, this looks like a weak case.

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