NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post Web site.
While the level of teenage sexual activity across developed countries is nearly identical, the teenage pregnancy rate is 14.1 per 1,000 teens in Belgium, 20.2 per 1,000 teens in France, 12.0 per 1,000 teens in Italy and 12.3 per 1,000 teens in Spain. Stop right here and ask yourself before reading on: what is the teenage pregnancy rate in the U.S. per 1,000 teens? Have that number in mind? If you said anything less than 83.6 per 1,000 U.S. teens, you were wrong.
U.S. teenagers have higher pregnancy rates, birthrates and abortion rates than adolescents in other developed countries. The primary reason is that those nations don't allow political extremists to dictate reproductive health policy. In countries with the lowest abortion rates, women's health and well being do not take a back seat to politics.
The consequences of right-wing reproductive health policies are devastating not only to women, but also to children and families. If you rate every country in the world starting with whether each provides full access to family planning, emergency contraceptives, pays for abortions and provides comprehensive sex education, and compare those to rates for countries where these policies are opposed, you will see that those who provide full access to EC, abortion, family planning and sex education have the LOWEST abortion rates, lowest STD rates, lowest infant mortality rates, lowest teen pregnancy rates, lowest maternal death rates as well as the best indicators for EVERY measurement of women's health.
On the other side of the spectrum where abortion and family planning are illegal, the worst indicators for women's health are found including the highest ( and most dangerous ) abortion rates in the world. Right now, today, as you are reading this, ½ the hospital beds in every large city hospital in Central and South America are taken by women suffering from illegal abortion attempts. And all these countries have the highest abortion rates in the world.
We know how to immediately decrease the abortion and teenage pregnancy rates in the U.S and Illinois. If you have any doubts, get on an airplane and meet with the leaders in France, Spain, or Italy and ask for some pointers. Or save yourself the time and fully fund family planning, pay for ALL emergency contraceptives, fund all abortions and comprehensive sex education—all dramatically cheaper than the financial and social consequences of not doing so.
The big question here is why do those who claim to be 'pro-life' and are so adamantly against abortion provide the greatest opposition to those very policies that would bring down the abortion rate? Because they are not really 'pro-life.' They have a different agenda. What they are really against is you, dear reader, using birth control and, very importantly, against your engaging in sexual expression within your marriage to enhance intimacy. They believe you should never have sex with your wife or husband except for the purpose of procreation. That is the white elephant ( or donkey if you are an anti-choice Democrat ) sitting under the Capitol dome.
The use of contraception reduces the probability of having an abortion by 85 percent. In states which allowed emergency contraceptives without a prescription prior to the FDA's move earlier this year, the abortion rate dropped by over 1/3. Some 70 percent or 42 million American women today of reproductive age are sexually active and do not want to become pregnant. Only 5 percent of women aged 15-44 in the U.S. use no contraception during sex and they account for 50 percent of the nation's abortions. In light of this overwhelming evidence that unfettered access to contraception causes the abortion rate to plunge, it is stunning that NOT A SINGLE anti-abortion group in the United States supports the use of birth control. The best a few do is say nothing about birth control, but many so-called pro-life organizations lobby vigorously against it. The nation's largest anti-abortion group, American Life League says 'A.L.L. denies the moral acceptability of artificial birth control.' These are the very groups that say abortion shouldn't be used as a form of birth control yet they oppose every type of birth control that would prevent unintended pregnancy.
Now the anti-abortion crowd has decided to 'medicalize' their narrow views about birth control with false information that has been widely discredited in the medical community. They have taken to calling the most common forms of contraceptives 'abortifacients,' despite the pesky little detail that in order for an abortion to take place, conception needs to occur. Barrier methods and oral contraceptives work by preventing conception. American Life League says 'damn the facts.' They are not alone. All over right-wing websites and from the pulpits throughout the nation, birth control is now portrayed as abortion and, of course, murder, and, well, you know the rest! In the make-sure-they-are-born-but-don't-feed-them-department, the 113 members of Congress who had the lowest Children's Defense Fund ratings were all 'pro-life' on abortion.
Parenthood is sacred, and perhaps the greatest responsibility, which is why forcing someone to be a parent against her will and better judgment should be the first definition of insanity in the dictionary. The second definition should be opposing comprehensive sex education because it will entice young people to have sex. Does installing smoke detectors encourage teens to burn the house down? Does insisting they wear seatbelts encourage them to drive 100 mph up the driveway? Numerous studies of abstinence only education find a higher pregnancy rate among teens whose only sex education was abstinence only.
The policies promoted by the pro-choice movement dramatically reduce the abortion rate here in Illinois, across the U.S. and around the world. The policies promoted by those who call themselves 'pro-life' or anti-abortion drive up the abortion rate everywhere. The results are devastating to the women, children and families of our great state. Those who are against abortion for whatever reason shouldn't have one which is why Planned Parenthood has The Cradle adoption agency at its Chicago medical facility. Personal PAC helps elect candidates who believe giving women and families all their choices is good public policy. In our great democracy, personally held religious views should be cherished by all and kept out of our policy making. If you don't believe, re-read the first paragraph and make that plane reservation.
Terry Cosgrove is executive director of Personal PAC, a bipartisan political action committee dedicated to electing pro-choice candidates to state and local office in Illinois.