Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Fostering Abortion With Soviet Gusto

• October 07, 2009 • 12:03 PM

One way America resembles the old Communist bloc can be found in the nexus of abortion and public health care.

Europe, of course, is a decadent place where spoiled, cheese-eating hedonists tolerate socialist taxation and sexual perversion of almost any kind. European national health systems even pay for abortions.

President Obama has tried to be very clear that any American system won’t — “Under our plan,” he told Congress on Sept. 9, “no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions” — but that hasn’t kept the issue from flaring up.

An amendment to strengthen anti-abortion language in the controversial Baucus bill was voted down by the Senate Finance Committee on Sept. 30. Republican senators argued that the bill would allow health plans with government subsidies to offer elective abortion. That would be illegal, though — federal law already prohibits federal money from flowing to abortion doctors. The hitch is that Congress has to renew the prohibition every year, and the anti-abortion senators were trying to make the ban permanent.

Europe confronted this problem a generation ago. (“Solved” is not the word.) It now has a patchwork of abortion policies: Catholic nations like Ireland, Poland and Spain have tighter laws than others — the mother, in general, has to prove a threat to her health — and Malta prohibits any abortions at all. Some Protestant-minded countries cover the procedure at no cost through their medical programs (Denmark, the Netherlands); others, like Germany, don’t. French national health schemes have covered the procedure since the ’80s, but French law also lets doctors “conscientiously object” to performing it.

So Europe is less predictable than it seems. I happen to think public money shouldn’t fund abortion, but abortion rates don’t seem to depend on whether it does or not. In fact, one transatlantic trend is as clear as it is consistent: More abortions happen in America.

In 2007, the United Nations recorded a (falling) rate in America of 20.8 abortions per 1,000 women between 15 and 44 years old. Meanwhile, rates were 7.8 in Germany, 10.4 in the Netherlands and 16.9 and 14.3, respectively, in France and Denmark —the highest in Europe. The transatlantic gap has narrowed; in the ’90s the American rates were higher and the European numbers lower.

So what accounts for the difference? Well, teen pregnancy — rates in America are much higher than rates in Europe — and, of course, contraception.

European kids are both more frank about sex and less promiscuous, according to Advocates for Youth, an American group that compares U.S. and European policies on adolescent sexual health every year. That means they’re more likely to buy condoms and pills, which are advertised freely on billboards in European cities and easier to obtain through national health plans. European kids, overall, also receive better sex education.

The spur for these policies in Europe was the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s and ’90s. “A national desire to reduce the number of abortions and to prevent sexually transmitted infections, including HIV,” reads one conclusion by the group in 2001, after looking at policies in Germany, the Netherlands and France, “provide[d] the major impetus in each country for unimpeded access to contraception, including condoms, consistent sexuality education and widespread public education campaigns.”

The more American pattern of high teenage pregnancy, high rates of abortion and low contraception was also typically communist. Abortion rates have plummeted in Eastern Europe since the fall of the Wall because of a generally higher standard of living and more access to good contraception, according to the U.N. But Russia still has one of the highest abortion rates in the world — 53.7 per 1,000 women in 2007.

The reason abortion became so popular in the Soviet Union had to do with both dogma and poor health care management. It’s a cautionary tale for the U.S. “First, Soviet ideology hindered the development and spread of effective contraception,” writes a Rand Corporation report on Russia. “Second … until the late 1980s, obtaining a legal abortion required a subsequent three-day hospital stay, a boon to Soviet hospitals financed by their number of occupied beds.”

So that’s one thing to look forward to if Congress passes a functioning health care plan (a big if) — a culture war over whether Washington should pay for contraception. The abortion question can be left where it is, on the floor of the Senate Finance Committee, but condoms for American kids might just be one of those preventative public-health measures — like mosquito nets in Africa — that are both inexpensive and eminently sane.

Sign up for our free e-newsletter.

Are you on Facebook? Become our fan.

Follow us on Twitter.

Add our news to your site.

Michael Scott Moore
Michael Scott Moore was a 2006-2007 Fulbright fellow for journalism in Germany, and The Economist named his surf travelogue, "Sweetness and Blood," a book of the year in 2010. His first novel, "Too Much of Nothing," was published by Carroll & Graf in 2003, and he’s written about politics and travel for The Atlantic Monthly, Slate, the Los Angeles Times, and Spiegel Online in Berlin, where he serves as editor-at-large.

More From Michael Scott Moore

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.


October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.



October 29 • 6:00 AM

Tell Us What You Really Think

In politics, are we always just looking out for No. 1?


October 29 • 4:00 AM

Racial Resentment Drives Tea Party Membership

New research finds a strong link between tea party membership and anti-black feelings.


October 28 • 4:00 PM

The New Health App on Apple’s iOS 8 Is Literally Dangerous

Design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power, and domination both subtle and not. Apple should know that.


October 28 • 2:00 PM

And You Thought Your Credit Card Debt Was Bad

In Niagara County, New York, leaders took on 40-year debt to pay for short-term stuff, a case study in the perverse incentives tobacco bonds create.



October 28 • 10:00 AM

How Valuable Is It to Cure a Disease?

It depends on the disease—for some, breast cancer and AIDS for example, non-curative therapy that can extend life a little or a lot is considered invaluable. For hepatitis C, it seems that society and the insurance industry have decided that curative therapy simply costs too much.


October 28 • 8:00 AM

Can We Read Our Way Out of Sadness?

How books can help save lives.


Follow us


We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.