Planned Parenthood made headlines last summer when undercover videos revealed company executives discussing the sale of aborted fetal parts. The exposé triggered a federal investigation of the women’s health provider and prompted a backlash lawsuit by Planned Parenthood against the pro-life group that organized the sting operation. More than four decades since Roe v. Wade legalized the practice nationwide, media coverage once again fixated the country’s attention on the abortion debate.
Despite longstanding controversy in the U.S., less attention is given to the global scale of abortion practices. Some evangelical pro-life advocates want to see that change.
In 2008 there were 1.4 million abortions performed in North America. Compare that number to 4.4 million in Latin America and 27.3 million in Asia the same year.
Organizations such as the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and The Heritage Foundation work to inform people about worldwide abortion practices so that individuals and churches can advocate for the unborn more effectively across geopolitical borders.
BR photo by Seth Brown
Surveying the landscape
Pregnant mothers overseas often face complicated and uncertain circumstances in ways that may not be well understood by some American evangelicals.
Many developing countries enforce high restrictions on abortion, but there is no indication of lower rates in such areas. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate is 29 per 1,000 women of childbearing age in Africa and 32 per 1,000 in Latin America, where the procedure is illegal under most circumstances. By contrast, the rate is down to 12 per 1,000 women of childbearing age in Western Europe, where abortion laws are less strict.
The Guttmacher Institute reported unintended pregnancies as the root cause of abortion. Approximately 225 million women in developing regions live without adequate access to modern contraceptives and family planning resources.
Pro-abortion groups, such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the Center for Reproductive Rights, advocate legal abortion as a human right in developing regions. They argue for the elimination of unsafe illegal abortions, one of the three leading causes of maternal mortality.
For decades the Roman Catholic Church has opposed abortion on an international scale, but the evangelical impact has been less visible, said Travis Wussow, ERLC director of international justice and religious liberty.
“When these developing countries are coming to the U.N. and you have these pro-choice advocates trying to link aid – trying to link legitimacy – to a country’s position on abortion,” said Wussow, “we have to recognize that many of these countries are under a lot of pressure.”
Evangelical engagement in the international abortion debate would allow “these countries’ representatives [to] realize that there is a diversity of opinion in the West on this issue,” he said.
Understanding the issues
Jennifer Marshall, vice president of the Institute for Family, Community and Opportunity at The Heritage Foundation, pointed out a serious international threat to human dignity from a developed nation.
China’s two-child policy, formerly one-child, suggests that government has the ability to use coerced abortions and forced sterilization to set controls on family life in a way that is concerning for the freedom of the family, she said.
Marshall also noted a broader issue.
“We need to be concerned about the dignity of human life across the life spectrum … concerned about trafficking and the abuse of human beings,” she said. “[W]e should be seeking government according to the rule of law, that protects all people with equal dignity and particularly women and their unborn children.”
Haiti, for example, has the highest maternal mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere, according to a 2011 report by the Human Rights Watch. In 2010 a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, damaging 60 percent of health facilities in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, the center of Haiti’s health system. Ten percent of health professionals were killed in the disaster or emigrated after the earthquake.
Women and girls face obstacles to maternal care, including lack of services, delayed access to services or fear of sexual violence.
They also “continue to be second-class citizens with unequal representation before the law and state,” according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Thinking globally & personally
In addition to specific, international policy changes, Marshall said individual Christians should strive to be aware of international news items, reading them with a pro-life mindset and identifying personal connections to places or situations.
“Others may share that interest. Often in churches, that connective interest leads to something more concrete that the church can do,” she said. “Be open minded about that and how God can bring attention to something.”
Wussow recommended churches begin to think about pro-life advocacy in countries they already engage. Local churches should reach out to their partners in certain countries and ask about issues related to abortion and pro-life movements that exist there.
“The fight is really going to be country by country,” he said. “To some extent, that’s what the church is already doing with missions.”
(EDITORS’ NOTE – Liz Tablazon is circulation and social media manager for the Biblical Recorder. Seth Brown, BR content editor, contributed to this story.)