Obviously, abortion is always a personal, even intimate matter. It is also always a tough decision, made under unpleasant circumstances. However, induced abortion is not a rare occasion, whether legal or not, and on the scale of a country the phenomenon might become a public issue. Moreover, in developed countries abortion is a hot topic for political speculations, although in this case it is brought before public artificially by the politicians and their supporters.
To define the harmfulness of various lethal public phenomena (armed conflicts, natural or man-made emergencies, epidemics, etc.) most states’ official statistics measure them against the number of lethal traffic accidents within the same chronological and territorial scope. This approach can be employed to measure the public damage of legalized induced abortions.
In Spain in 2015 the official number of abortions reached 10.4 per thousand women (“Ministerio de Sanidad, Servicios Sociales e Igualdad – Profesionales – Interrupción voluntaria del embarazo – Datos Estadísticos – Tablas y Figuras”, 2017). The general proportion of man to women in Spain is estimated at 0.98 in 2016 (“The World Factbook — Central Intelligence Agency”, 2017). Hence the total index of 5.3 abortions per thousand citizens. With a birth rate of 9.4 children per thousand people and the death rate of 9.1 people per thousand people total natural population growth in Spain is at 0,0003 per cent. In a hypothetical situation, where every child would be given a chance, it would reach 0.0056, or 18.7 times more. Is this a considerable difference? Yes, it is. Moreover, speaking of the number of traffic-related fatalities: in Spain it was 3.7 per 100.000 people in 2015 (World Health Organization, 2016), which is way less than the number of abortions.
However, we should not make any far-fetched assumptions here. Legalization of abortions in Spain did not result in outburst of abortions in the country; the numbers remained almost the same. The number of abortions spiked to 118,611 in 2011 (that is 5.500 more than in 2010), but since then there is a permanent trend for the decrease of this amount, and in 2015 the figure was almost 19 thousand less than it was in 2010 (“Ministerio de Sanidad, Servicios Sociales e Igualdad – Profesionales – Interrupción voluntaria del embarazo – Datos Estadísticos – Tablas y Figuras”, 2017). In addition, in most cases (namely, over 89% since abortions were legalized) an abortion is performed at the request of the woman (as contrasted to the risk for woman’s health or fetal abnormalities) (“Ministerio de Sanidad, Servicios Sociales e Igualdad – Profesionales – Interrupción voluntaria del embarazo – Datos Estadísticos – Tablas y Figuras”, 2017). This once again implies that the number of abortions was at almost the same level before the legalization, yet the women were compelled to perform them in doubtful sanitary and legal environment.
The individual causes of the problem in most cases are trivial: socioeconomic concerns and relationship problems (Bankole, Singh, & Haas, 1998) and, obviously, lack of sexual education along with plenty of sexual energy. Of course, this is not relatable for rape pregnancies.
Socioeconomic concerns include concerns about woman’s own health, social development that might be affected by pregnancy and following lasting restrictions on the ability to study, work, travel or any other aspect of mother’s life, limited by the child. In addition, childbirth in proper hospital and nursing a newborn child requires a considerable amount of money. Having in mind the fact that most of the abortions are performed on single women (Zurriaga et al., 2009), social concerns also include public pressure both on the mother and the child and potential problems with socialization.
The structural causes of the problem are related to the individual ones, and this is especially understandable regarding Spain. First of all, it is economic uncertainty, which makes raising a child expensive and tedious, and therefore makes the mother choose between her own happiness and the happiness of the potential child. Although GDP per capita (in purchasing power parity) in Spain has not fallen below $31.000 even during and after the World economic crisis of 2008 (“Spain GDP per capita PPP”, 2017), the unemployment rate is one of the highest in the EU (“UNEMPLOYMENT RATE”, 2017).
Another factor is that Spain has a positive balance of migration at 8 immigrants per thousand people (compared to 0.3/1000 rate of natural population growth) (“The World Factbook — Central Intelligence Agency”, 2017). And immigrants are mainly people with poor knowledge of local language and lack of money and education (especially sex education, one can suppose). This results in the fact that in 2006 over a third of all abortions were performed on non-Spanish women (Zurriaga et al., 2009). However, since the legalization the proportion of women of Spanish descent who performed abortion (in overall statistics of abortions Spain) had been increasing 0.5-1.5% a year (“Ministerio de Sanidad, Servicios Sociales e Igualdad – Profesionales – Interrupción voluntaria del embarazo – Datos Estadísticos – Tablas y Figuras”, 2017). Although such a phenomenon between 2009 and 2010 could be explained by transfer of abortions, previously performed via abortion tourism, into the country, the stable trend indicates either the readiness of Spanish women to undergo an abortion (when necessary), or just higher incidence of unintended pregnancies in them.
Yet another structural cause is Spanish culture, which is based on patriarchal society with long and assertive Catholic history. Both these aspects contribute to severity of social condemnation of single mothers and children from fatherless families.
Single women (including divorced and widows) perform thrice as much abortions compared to married women; women without 3rd degree (university) education perform 4 times more abortions than women with tertiary education (and this does not really overlap with age factor, as women younger than 25 years account for only 37% of abortions) (Zurriaga et al., 2009).
According to Zurriaga et al, statistically significant factors for induced abortions are: age (women aged 20-34 are most likely to perform an abortion), level of education (women studying at 1st and 2nd level degrees), level of income, and work status (employed women as contrasted to business-women and unemployed women) (Zurriaga et al., 2009).
Numerous other factors show little or no correlation with real-life situation (Zurriaga et al., 2009).
Meanwhile, the global induced abortion rate in 2003 was 29 abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44 (Sedgh, Henshaw, Singh, Åhman, & Shah, 2007). Although it reduced from 35 in 1995 (Sedgh, Henshaw, Singh, Åhman, & Shah, 2007), the difference (with an adjustments for twelve years between 2003 and 2015 and the adjustment for women aged 44 and more, who are included in Spanish statistics) is huge. Obviously, the global statistics are that bad due to the developing countries. But what is interesting: the induced abortion rates stay almost the same in developed countries (Sedgh, Henshaw, Singh, Åhman, & Shah, 2007). And, strictly speaking, I have no credible explanation for this phenomenon. Nevertheless, there are some plausible assumptions. Firstly, the more accessible contraceptives are, the less abortions are performed. Secondly, the proportion of unsafe abortions decreases thanks to legalization (Haddad & Nour, 2009).
Although there are some visible correlations, we have to understand that such complex questions rarely have simple and unambiguous answers, especially in modern globalized society, which is subject to intense migration and economic, educational, social and other disparities. Abortion is one of the topics we will hardly ever be properly informed of (in a matter of true statistics), and also among the moral choices nobody in sound mind would want to judge or even discuss. There is always a person behind those figures, and behind an abortion there are always at least three of them.
- Bankole, A., Singh, S., & Haas, T. (1998). Reasons Why Women Have Induced Abortions: Evidence from 27 Countries. International Family Planning Perspectives, 24(3), 117. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/3038208
- Haddad, L. & Nour, N. (2009). Unsafe Abortion: Unnecessary Maternal Mortality. Reviews In Obstetrics And Gynecology, 2(2), 122-126.
- Ministerio de Sanidad, Servicios Sociales e Igualdad – Profesionales – Interrupción voluntaria del embarazo – Datos Estadísticos – Tablas y Figuras. (2017). Msc.es. Retrieved 27 January 2017, from http://www.msc.es/profesionales/saludPublica/prevPromocion/embarazo/tablas_figuras.htm#Tabla2
- Sedgh, G., Henshaw, S., Singh, S., Åhman, E., & Shah, I. (2007). Induced abortion: estimated rates and trends worldwide. The Lancet, 370(9595), 1338-1345. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(07)61575-x
- Spain GDP per capita PPP. (2017). Tradingeconomics.com. Retrieved 28 January 2017, from http://www.tradingeconomics.com/spain/gdp-per-capita-ppp
- The World Factbook — Central Intelligence Agency. (2017). Cia.gov. Retrieved 27 January 2017, from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sp.html
- UNEMPLOYMENT RATE. (2017). Cia.gov. Retrieved 28 January 2017, from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2129.html
- World Health Organization. (2016) Global status report on road safety 2015 (p. 268). Geneva.
- Zurriaga, O., Martínez-Beneito, M., Galmés Truyols, A., Torne, M., Bosch, S., Bosser, R., & Portell Arbona, M. (2009). Recourse to induced abortion in Spain: profiling of users and the influence of migrant populations. Gaceta Sanitaria, 23, 57-63. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gaceta.2009.09.012