Persistent Myths About Abortion

Interview With Bioethicist Doctor Rosario Laris

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By Omar Arcega

QUERETARO, Mexico, MAY 17, 2010 (Zenit.org).- In the public debate about abortion, some still believe in the myths about its goodness for women, says a bioethicist.

In this interview with ZENIT, Doctor Rosario Laris, a surgeon and teacher of public health and bioethics, spoke about the beliefs that contribute to the perpetuation of abortion, and the risks that it implies for women and society.
 
ZENIT: In your opinion, what are the principal myths on abortion that still exist in the world and in Mexico?
 
Laris: I would say [the myths are]: that legalizing abortion reduces maternal mortality -- there is a very high number of women in Mexico who die as a result of having an abortion; that if legalized, abortion diminishes; and that abortion does not have any repercussion on the physical and psychological health of women.
 
ZENIT: Why would they say that abortion reduces maternal mortality?
 
Laris: That's what they say, but the reality is otherwise. At present 25% of maternal deaths in the world happens in India, a country that since 1972 has legalized abortion. Other examples are Russia and Ireland.

In the first country the proportion of maternal deaths is six times higher than in Ireland. Russia has legalized abortion and Ireland has not.

Now let's compare this country with the United States. There are in the United States 16 deaths of women for every 100,000 [mothers with babies] born alive; in Ireland there are only five.

But let's move to countries that are closer. Chile has a smaller proportion of maternal deaths than Cuba, where abortion is permitted.

With this we can establish that there is no direct connection between the percentage of maternal deaths and legalized abortion. What does reduce the number of maternal deaths is quality health services.
 
ZENIT: They say that many women die in Mexico due to the clandestine nature of abortion.
 
Laris: It is thought that in Mexico there is a very high number of women who die because of abortion.

The reality is different. Data of the National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics or of the Health Secretariat says that, in the whole country, the cases of death resulting from problems related to abortion are very low.

The mortality of pregnant women is due primarily to problems of hypertension, not of illegal abortions.
 
ZENIT: And what is your opinion about the theory that legalization decreases the cases of abortion?
 
Laris: That by legalizing it, it is not promoted? That is a lie.

We see the cases of the United Kingdom and Spain. In Spain, abortion was legalized 20 years ago and it has increased by 200%; today one out of six pregnancies in Spain ends in abortion.

Another case to highlight is Poland. For decades abortion was permitted there and the number was very high. When it was outlawed, [the number of abortions] decreased to at least one out of 100 of the total number of pregnancies.

That's why we must be clear: to legalize abortion is to promote it.
 
ZENIT: And the repercussions on women's health?
 
Laris: There is proof that women who abort increase their propensity to suffer depression, anxiety and ideas of suicide versus women who go through with the pregnancy in the same conditions.

A study was made in New Zealand where 630 patients were followed from their birth to 25 years of age. Some became pregnant and of those some aborted. Of the latter 50% showed the propensity to depression, as opposed to 25% of those who had not [had abortions].

There are several studies in different parts of the world and the results are the same: ideas of suicide and the consumption of drugs increase in women who have aborted.

The mistreatment of children also increases in women who have aborted.
 
ZENIT: What would be the ideal public policies to help a woman avoid having to resort to abortion?
 
Laris: There should be legislation that gives greater support to pregnant women, economic support by the state, care in quality health services, so that a woman would see a future for her child, as many times a mother is anguished on realizing that her child will not have a real future. Longer maternal leave is necessary for the better care of offspring.

However, the support must not only come from the government, but also from society.
 
ZENIT: There are those who approve of abortion of younger fetuses that lack neural connections. What is your opinion in this respect?
 
Laris: To consider this implies that a person with Alzheimer's stops being a person. One would have to ask the relatives of a patient with Alzheimer's if they do or do not consider him a person.

It has served, for families with this problem, to fortify their unity. The characteristics of a sickness do not take away from us the rank of persons, nor do physical damages. This was an argument used by the Nazis.

When we do not consider a child of less than 28 weeks or a patient with Alzheimer's as persons, we are discriminating.