Part 1 of 5-part series from Washington Women Deliver conference
A Wedesday panel at the 2010 Women Deliver conference provided a fascinating peek into the pro-abortion lobby’s logical gymnastics regarding their “harm-reduction” strategy for advancing abortion worldwide. While saying the strategy treats the choice of abortion as “value-neutral” in order to push the provision of better abortion facilities, the panelists went on to admit that the method was little more than a “facade” to push their own “value” of expanded abortion.
A real-world analysis of the harm-reduction strategy was provided by Leonel Priozzo, Director of Strategic Programming for Uruguay’s Ministry of Health. Although abortion is illegal in Uruguay, Priozzo boasted that the “harm reduction” mantra had helped public opinion become more favorable toward abortion in his country.
Priozzo briefly claimed that “unsafe abortion was the most important cause” of maternal mortality – the top theme of the Women Deliver conference. However, as confirmed by a crucial Lancet study released in April, pro-life leaders have repeatedly said that illegal abortion has little if anything to do with maternal mortality, which is most heavily dependent on other factors such as average income and trained medical professionals aiding at birth.
Despite the altruistic introduction, the remainder of Priozzo’s presentation, and those of the other panelists, focused heavily on using the strategy simply to change the social and political climate in favor of abortion.
Priozzo revealed figures showing that, under his counrty’s harm-reduction model, over half (55%) the women coming to the agency eventually choose to kill thier unborn child while only 21% follow up to say they will keep their baby. 13.8% do not follow up.
“The political target of our harm reduction model is important,” he noted, “and in this decade, our model advanced to force legal change by means of less resistance.” Priozzo attributed the harm-reduction approach to the Uruguay Congress approving in 2008 a bill legalizing abortion, which was vetoed by president Tabare Vazquez.
Dr. Joanne Csete, an associate professor at Columbia University, took the notion in a broader strategic context, defining harm reduction as “the idea that we will focus on the harms of this behavior, in this case the health-related harms, but we will not so much worry about the behavior itself,” and “will not judge the behavior” or “worry about whether people abstain eventually from the behavior or not.”
Csete said that a good model to follow for applying “harm reduction” to abortion was the UN’s strategy for illegal drug use, which has prompted the organization to fund the distribution of clean needles for drug users. In another example, she bashed the 12-step approach to overcoming harmful behavior, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, for moralizing and having “done a very good job of convincing people that God is on their side.” Csete claimed that simply controlling the timing and type of alcohol consumption is enough to “stabilize the lives of a lot of people who live with alcohol dependency.”
However, because the harm-reduction model could be used to advocate for laws that bar such behavior, said the professor, it is sometimes necessary to make the concept “broader” by focusing on “the harms of criminalization of drug use” which can “cause drug users to spend a lot of time in prison” among other detriments, such as stifling information.
“Certainly we can’t really talk in this framework about the excitement of drug use or the pleasure of drug use – those arecompletely verboten topics,” she said, comparing the situation to the taboo surrounding contraception and sex.
To be successful in overturning pro-life laws, she concluded, the harm-reduction strategy must be linked to a “human rights” perspective demanding the decriminalizaiton of abortion, a theme resumed by University of Toronto professor Joanna Erdman.
“The evidence on criminal abortion laws causing harm is so overwheling that it becomes exceedingly difficult not to argue for law reform under a harm reduction model,” claimed Erdman. “[A] human rights [approach will] provide us with the necessary moral grounding to say that prohibition is not only irrational as causing harm, it’s impermissible. It’s unacceptable.”
A few commenting audience members following the panelists’ presentations shed further light on the tenor of the session: one IPPF representative said that the “right to information” and doctor/patient “confidentiality” – i.e., prohibiting doctors to reveal when an abortion has been committed – are “definitely the most important” places to begin change.
Another revealing moment came when a pro-abortion advocate in the audience referred to an East Timor bill in which abortion would be legal “in cases where [a woman's] physical and mental health were to be affected – which as you all know can be broadly interpreted when need be” – and the panelists nodded in agreement.
In a conversation following the session, a third audience member asked Csete about the objection that, because the model was being used to push abortion as a value, some may call the “value-neutral” claim a mere facade.
“Yeah, I think facade is the right word,” Csete conceded. “Sometimes it’s the only choice you have to get anywhere politically and protect services … I think it’s really the sort of desperate, structurally very hostile circumstances where that becomes a very useful thing to fall back on.”