The Dutch Jesuit Ward Biemans has written a significant book on abortion. Indeed, it is quite rare to find this kind of evenhanded, broadly researched study. Biemans’s focus is on Dutch and British abortion history and law, but the book has important insights for people outside of these communities—especially in the United States, where the (often self-reported) data are comparatively poor.
A word must be said about the steady fearlessness of Biemans in this work. Eschewing political rules that constrain most academic writing on this topic, he feels free to follow the data and arguments wherever they lead him. For example, he critically reviews the literature on the relationship between abortion and breast cancer—carefully expressing concern, when warranted, about studies that may suffer from underreporting or reporting bias.
Perhaps the most powerful pro-choice argument rests on the claim that restrictions on abortion do not actually stop abortion from happening—they only make said abortions safer. Biemans devastates the foundations of this argument by invoking multiple studies to show the number of abortions in the United Kingdom and Netherlands increased dramatically after legalization.
Even if the United States had European-style social welfare and access to contraception, there would still be about 700,000 abortions each year.
Even if the United States had European-style social welfare and access to contraception, there would still be about 700,000 abortions each year. Financial reasons are significant factors leading to abortion, but Biemans’s research in the Netherlands demonstrates “relationship conflicts” are at least as important. He notes lack of moral formation in the culture and lack of counseling in the event of a difficult pregnancy. Sex education refuses to focus on the possibility, responsibility and even beauty of parenthood as a result of sexual activity. This while women are rarely counseled on abortion alternatives, and men are generally absent from the scenario altogether.
Biemans’s final conclusion that mothers and fathers ought to have mandated counseling before terminating pregnancy is a good reminder for those who focus on reducing the demand for abortion. While financial injustice plays a role, the formation of a virtuous people is the sine qua non of reducing abortion society wide.