Dear Fr. Phil,

I read with interest the letter from 16 year old Sarah and your response. The skill of the pro-abortion advocates never ceases to amaze me. Although women and girls who become pregnant as the result of rape make up a tiny fraction of those seeking abortions, the "rape" scenario is almost always cited in support of legal abortions. Likewise, the "mother's life in danger" argument. Once you understand what abortion really is, neither of these arguments holds any water, but most people never get that far.

But I really wanted to make a different point. As you know, I had an abortion myself when I was only a few years older than Sarah. Like the vast majority of women who have abortions, I was not raped and my life was not in danger. I just didn't want to have a baby then. It was an enormous, horrible mistake that has affected my life in way I never would have imagined at the time. Would I have sought out an abortion if it had been illegal? I honestly don't know. Sarah is right about not underestimating the desperation of a woman with an unplanned pregnancy. But I'm afraid that she also may be right about the futility of making abortion illegal. Consider this. Thirty years ago, desperate women did seek out back alley butchers. Many of them died or suffered permanent physical injuries. Now, with the advent of various non- surgical abortion methods, abortion clinics may become a thing of the past. Many pro-abortion advocates have expressed this view in the media. If women can get abortions in the privacy of their homes with a handful of pills, what good does it do to make abortion illegal?

It seems to me that the only way to stop abortions is to change people's hearts. Maybe I am hopelessly naive, but I believe that if men and women understood what abortion really is and what it does, no one would even consider it.

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Your question is something I have pondered a lot and am not entirely sure how to answer. Before trying, let me ask two questions: Are there any statistics or studies comparing injuries and deaths (to the mother obviously) from illegal vs. legal abortions? I shudder at the thought of any woman dying from an abortion. Within the present framework of legal abortion are there any measures we could work for to help the woman make a more "informed choice"? You would obviously be in the best position to answer such a question. In your case, were you given any counseling? Did you have to sign any papers? (I guess that is more than two questions, but your comments would be appreciated.)

Yes, chemically induced abortions are a whole new challenge. And of course what you say about reaching people, especially young people, with the truth is what matters most in the long run.

God bless,

Fr. Phil Bloom

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Fr. Phil, << Are there any statistics or studies comparing injuries and deaths (to the mother obviously) from illegal vs. legal abortions? >>

I am not familiar with the research in this area. I'm sure that Planned Parenthood or the Gutmacher (sp?) institute has reams of reports and statistics on this question, though their obvious bias would require a careful look at the underlying data. Your question reminds me of an article from the Washington Post last week. Apparently the abortion rights organizations are concerned that the combination of diminishing public support for abortion and the apathy of an entire generation of women (and men) who take legal abortion for granted may threaten their political position. To combat this serious problem, they have hired expensive and trendy advertising agencies to scare these folks into activism. Some of the ads have already appeared in the NYC area, mostly on subways and buses. The high-profile attorneys representing these organizations are threatening legal action because the transit system required them to remove the picture of a coat hanger from one of the ads. Near the tail end of the article was a quote from a prolife official commenting that, once the truth of what happens in an abortion is explained to them, young people are generally not in favor of "choice." The reporter did not comment on this quote. Do you know if there are any studies along these lines?

<< Within the present framework of legal abortion are there any measures we could work for to help the woman make a more "informed choice"? You would obviously be in the best position to answer such a question. In your case, were you given any counseling? Did you have to sign any papers? (I guess that is more than two questions, but your comments would be appreciated.) >>

As I'm sure you are aware, the federal courts are loathe to permit any measures that would provide honest and useful information to women in this situation. I "received" counseling, along with a group of other women, and signed papers, but none of these steps seemed designed to encourage a thoughtful consideration of what was about to happen. To be perfectly honest, by that point, I was beyond any counseling. I was absolutely determined to go through with it and was not about to change my mind. I know that "sidewalk counselors" are sometimes successful in dissuading women from obtaining abortions, but I suspect that these instances are by far the exception rather than the rule.

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Fr. Phil,

I had to cut short my reply to your questions. With regard to helping women make an informed choice, one effective measure, I think, would be requiring a sonogram before the procedure. The enormous cost would make this requirement impossible to impose, of course, but it would be effective.

Based upon my own experience, however, I believe that by the time women arrive at a clinic, it is too late to reach them. Somehow, the prolife message must be brought home before a woman is faced with an unplanned pregnancy. I don't know how to go about doing that, but one way to start would be with an honest, unflinching description of the procedure. That approach was used in connection with the partial birth abortion issue, and I think it was effective. It would take a small fortune to present this message through the mass media -- and a major miracle to get it past the lawyers and censors -- but it would be well worth the cost. What do you think

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Dear Fr. Phil,

I don't know whether your local paper picks up these sorts of stories, but I thought this article, "Study Finds Fewer Facilities Offering Abortions" was interesting in light of our recent correspondence. If you don't have time to read the whole article (appearing below), these are a few key paragraphs:

Abortion opponents also tie the decline in abortions and providers to a shift in public sentiment against the procedure, triggered in part by the national debate over the so-called "partial birth" abortions.

"People have become much more educated about abortion. They are rejecting it," said Laura Echevarria, director of media relations for the National Right to Life Committee.

She said nonviolent protests may also have had an effect on the demand for abortions by changing the minds of some women when they arrive at a clinic. She said her organization is opposed to violent protests.

Of course, these are just opinions, rather than statistics. But it is something to think about.

Study Finds Fewer Facilities Offering Abortions By Barbara Vobejda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 11, 1998; Page A04

Nearly one third of the nation's metropolitan areas lack any facility that offers abortions, and in many rural parts of the country women who want the procedure performed must now travel hundreds of miles, according to a comprehensive survey of abortion facilities to be released today.

The study by the New York-based Alan Guttmacher Institute found that nationwide the number of facilities offering abortions decreased 14 percent between 1992 and 1996, nearly twice the rate of decline of the previous four years. That left the nation with 2,042 providers, nearly one-third fewer than the peak number in 1982.

In Virginia, the number of providers has fallen by 30 percent since the early 1980s, from 81 to 57, while the number in Maryland has dropped slightly, from 52 to 47. The District is one of the few jurisdictions in the country where the number increased, from 14 in 1982 to 18 in 1996.

While there has been spotty evidence that the pool of hospitals, doctors' offices and clinics performing abortions has been shrinking, the figures offer firm evidence that the drop is far more precipitous than many had realized and that the trend, rather than slowing, is actually accelerating. The study is the first broad national survey in four years and the only national source of information on the number and location of providers.

The study's author and other experts attribute the sharp drop to intense opposition from antiabortion forces, including picketing and violence that in a few cases has led to the deaths of physicians and clinic personnel.

But also driving the decline, they say, is a changing health care system. Fewer doctors are being trained to perform abortions, providers are moving out of rural areas, and physicians and hospitals are increasingly sending patients to specialized clinics, where 91 percent of abortions are now performed.

"It's a trend that has been taking place for a long time, but has become more and more critical," said Jeannie Rosoff, president of the Guttmacher Institute, which conducts research on reproductive issues. "If you live in a rural area of Mississippi, you have very few choices of providers, the distances become larger."

Andrea Young, acting president of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, said providers in this area are seeing women from farther away as facilities elsewhere become harder to find and more states enact laws requiring teens to inform their parents before they can get an abortion.

"The parental notification requirements now extend all the way to Florida down the Eastern Seaboard. We had a patient from North Carolina" at one local clinic, she said. Planned Parenthood operates seven clinics in the area, four of which provide abortions.

While the Washington area does not lack facilities, 89 of the nation's metropolitan areas do. Another 12 provide so few abortions that they are classified as essentially lacking a provider since the chances of getting a doctor to perform one are so low. Among them are Amarillo, Tex., Yuma, Ariz., Rapid City, S.D., and Athens, Ga.

Wayne Goldner, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Manchester, N.H., said his office is picketed once a week by antiabortion protesters, adding that his home has also drawn picketers and that he is often the subject of harsh letters to the local newspaper. Goldner said many of his colleagues have chosen not to perform abortions to avoid what he has to endure.

"It would be very easy to eliminate abortion from my comprehensive services," said Goldner, whose office is one of just 16 facilities in New Hampshire that perform abortions.

While abortions make up a "very small" part of his practice, he said he has continued to perform them because he believes in "offering reproductive choice to my patients."

In New Hampshire and elsewhere around the country, there has also been a sharp drop in the number of hospitals willing to perform abortions, fueled in part by the merger of secular and Roman Catholic facilities. While abortion facilities have been closing, the nation's abortion rate has been falling. Recent studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Guttmacher have reported abortion rates falling 13 percent between 1992 and 1995, and flattening since then. But researchers generally believe that the decline in facilities is not a major factor in the lower rates.

More important, according to the researchers, are improved contraceptive use and the aging of the Baby Boom generation, making pregnancy less likely.

Abortion opponents also tie the decline in abortions and providers to a shift in public sentiment against the procedure, triggered in part by the national debate over the so-called "partial birth" abortions. She said nonviolent protests may also have had an effect on the demand for abortions by changing the minds of some women when they arrive at a clinic. She said her organization is opposed to violent protests.

The study also pointed to rapid growth in the use of nonsurgical abortions using drug combinations, a process known as "medical" abortion. Eighty-two facilities reported performing this type of abortion in 1996, and that number had increased to 114 through the first half of 1997.

Nearly half of the physicians' offices and clinics in the survey said they were likely to offer medical abortions in the next year if mifepristone, the drug also known as RU-486, becomes available.