Monday, March 06, 2006

The German model and the new pro-life push

The new colour ultrasound technology has been a key reason for the new round of pro-life progress.

In Britain, the hard left Guardian reports:

Stuart Campbell, former head of obstetrics at King's College Hospital, says striking new images from ultrasound scans that allow doctors to view babies inside the womb have convinced him the normal 24-week legal limit for terminations should be reassessed.
"The more I study foetuses the more I find it quite distressing to terminate babies who are so advanced in terms of human behaviour," he said.

"For normal babies being terminated for social reasons it's probably unacceptable nowadays to be terminating them much after 14 weeks. They can suck their thumbs, they can open their eyes, they can perform complex movements. I think it's time we got our act together."

In the US, President Bush's appointment of two new conservative justices have further emboldened pro-life legislators. South Dakota seeks to ban all abortions except those necessary to save the life of the mother.

Yesterday I tried to explain why the next round of pro-life legislation should rather follow the German model. Glenn Reynolds has also suggested a more European approach.

Two years after Roe v Wade, the German Supreme Court addressed abortion in a very different manner than the US (decision and translation here).

The key points are:

The legislature implemented a system of mandatory counseling which has as one of its goals to present the case that the developing unborn child is an independent human life. However, no legal sanction is applied in the first 3 months of pregnancy if the counseling is completed and the abortion is performed.... Some abortions are therefore de facto legal. A significant number still occur, but the incidence per capita is about one-fifth that of the United States.

The legislature is allowed to institute a counseling system designed to discourage women from the abortion, and the result is an abortion rate only about 20% of the US.

So why does this make sense here?

1. 45% of US abortions are on women who've already had at least one previous previous abortion. So there is a very high chance (70-80%?) that a woman who has one abortion will be back for a second. In other words, women having abortions have very serious issues that strongly commend the wisdom of comprehensive counseling by the state.

2. Counseling can dramatically reduce abortion. As noted above, the German rate is about 20% of the American rate. Counseling is essential for those 45% of American abortions that are second abortions. But mandatory counseling can also help prevent abortions in the first place because it sends a clear message that abortion is not a just another form of birth control.

3. A German-style counseling law has a good chance of being upheld by the Supreme Court. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and (to a lesser degree) Justice Breyer have both indicated that they take seriously international jurisprudence as a means of informing US Supreme Court decisions. That principle is very controversial among American scholars. But the reality for pro-lifers is that both men sit on the Supreme Court and that one or both of their votes is needed for a bill to pass constitutional muster. A German-style counseling law has an excellent chance of winning their approval; a South Dakota-style ban on all abortions except those necessary to save the mother's life doesn't.

A strong counseling bill on the German model would not directly reverse Roe v Wade since it does not challenge Roe's trimester framework. Since it does not explicitly ban abortion, it would be dramatically less controversial with the American public. But it might well pass muster with the US Supreme Court, and help save a lot of lives.

For suggestions as to what kinds of issues should be included in the bill, see this.
UPDATE: Thanks to Instapundit for the link!
UPDATE 2: I checked the Alan Guttmacher Institute figures on abortion in Germany and the US. These figures give the rate of abortion per thousand women age 15-44 and the ratio of abortion as a percentage of known pregnancies. AGI gives for Germany a rate of 7.6 vs 22.9 in the US for the year 1996; meaning that Germany's abortion rate is about 1/3 of the American rate. The ratio is 14.1 for Germany and 25.9 for the US for 1996; meaning that the German abortion ratio is about 40% lower. Both of these figures are less impressive than those cited in the source above, but the basic point remains unchanged: abortion in Germany is much less frequent than in the US. Exactly how much of this can be attributed to abortion policies would take some serious regression analysis. But it's not unreasonable to think that the differing legal framework is an important factor.
UDATE 3: For some strong reasons why mandatory counseling is an urgent need, see the evidence here.


At Monday, 06 March, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you left out a few details about the German model, such as how the Catholic Church was involved in the revenue generating counseling required for those having an abortion (the Catholic Church in Germany only stopped after direct and repeated instruction from John Paul II - the hierarchy here just loved the income created from being involved in the process, with a few principled exceptions).

Germans work very hard at preventing abortion - mainly through sex education, along with widepread and fairly obvious ad campaigns relating to things like condom use - of course, condom use both to prevent conception and to prevent AIDS and other STDs, which is just intelligent public policy.

I guess the simplest way to express this is that Germans have reached the consensus that the best way to deal with the problem of abortion is to ensure that women having sex with men don't get pregnant unless the woman wishes it, but I think it will be a long time before the U.S. approaches that reality. (Maybe the U.S. can also adopt the German system of legally recognized same sex partnerships too.)

The counseling was just a sop to the strong CDU/CSU opposition. Yes, Germany has official 'Christian parties' - the CDU even went so far in Baden-Wuerttemberg as to ban teachers wearing religious head coverings, until they discovered the law also banned nuns in public schools from covering their hair. The state government is still working on how to frame a law which bans the 'wrong' style of head covering while being legally non-discriminatory on the basis of religion (obviously, Germany is a bit touchy in this area).

After Germany re-unified, there was no way that the women in the former DDR would accept the idea that they had lost the right to have an abortion (and yes, even as recently as the early 90s, German women who had an abortion in another country were subject to arrest upon re-entering Germany).

Trust me, a German model would also include naked men and women on primetime TV (government owned, no less), parents who have no problem with teenagers together in a bedroom with a closed door, and a culture which finds 'old-fashioned American values' utterly beyond comprehension. I guess that last part is the real deal breaker.

But hey, considering that America's abortion rate is easily more than 10 times Germany's (older statistics said 12), looking at other societies to see how they deal with the issue is at least a good idea.

And certainly, recognizing what an utter failure American society has been in this area becomes clearer when looking at other cultures. But be prepared to understand that other societies (like Germany) think America's attitudes towards sex cause abortions. Which when looking at the statistics of abortion, would certainly seem to be a fact based truth in an American argument which generally hinges on faith.

Germans tend to be hard headed pragmatists, which means that preventing abortion actually means preventing pregnancy using such proven methods as providing birth control without difficulty to any woman who wishes it, and maintaining a social climate where using birth control is considered both smart and boringly normal. It is a trite stereotype about a mother handing her 15 year old daughter contraception, regardless of whether the daughter even has a boyfriend. You are welcome to contrast to today's America as you wish.

At Monday, 06 March, 2006, Blogger GrenfellHunt said...

Thanks for your post. I was living in Germany when John Paul II was in the process of
changing the Catholic Church's policy toward German abortion law. So I realize there are a number of factors involved here.

The key points to me seem to be: 1) counseling can be very effective; 2) there is a need for counseling given the problem of repeat abortions in the US; 3) given Kennedy's interest in international law, a strong counseling law has a better chance of being upheld than South Dakota has.

I will update some of the German/US statistics as soon as Blogger recovers from the Instalanche!

At Monday, 06 March, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, am I so sick of you Euro-snobs who think you are so much better than the US. Fine. But just so you know Americans do try to prevent abortion through school based sex ed AND birth control AND same sex unions AND law. It may not be as "perfect" as Germany but at least the Catholic Church never got paid for its assistance in our country. And we are proud at being Americans and our values. And I am a pro-choice Democrat, just to put your superior little self at ease.

And for such "pragmatists" you all seem to be arrogant, racist, and smug. If that's pragmatic, forget it

Rachel from Virginia

At Monday, 06 March, 2006, Blogger GrenfellHunt said...

I have to teach class, and won't be back on line for another 4-5 hours. I should perhaps mention that I doubt that Germany's libertarian approach to television or homosexuality has contributed much to its relatively low abortion rate. Whether its sex education policies help is something one could probably make a better case for, although that's not certain.

In any case, the focus here is on abortion policy, and it is striking that Germany's law are substantially more conservative than America's.

At Monday, 06 March, 2006, Blogger frank h said...

Neither the German not the US approach recognizes the father as being part of the equation, which is unaccaptable to most men. How we continue to get away with murdering the children of the father without even asking his opinion is beyond unreasonable. At LEAST bring him into the metting. At LEAST ask if he's willing to be complicit in the murder of his children. If you're going to saddle him with the economic responsibility, at LEAST hear what he has to say.

Like it or not, reproduction is STILL a two-part process: equal parts of male and female.

At Monday, 06 March, 2006, Blogger GrenfellHunt said...

Frank H: I agree that it's unjust to exclude completely the father from the equation. But that will be very difficult to change under current constitutional law. One benefit of a solid counseling law is that it could be designed to help the strengthen the relationship between the mother and the father. And that could strengthen both her relationships and society as a whole.

At Tuesday, 07 March, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A couple of comments from my first post -

To Rachel from Virginia -
'Euro-snobs?' I am an American, and grew up and lived 30 years in Fairfax.
I have seen the difference between the America I grew up, and Germany where my children are growing up. Of course, you don't have to agree with my opinion or tone, but a 10 to 1 ratio of abortions is certainly a noticeable difference (refining that number is not something I plan to do - the rough magnitude is enough ). I think it has to do with society - and since a later poster remarked a tight focus is desired, I won't even begin to go into the difference in violence and acceptable violence and exposure to media violence between America and Germany. But I do think it all quite connected.

To Grenfellhunt -
I had a conversation with a Lutheran pastor about the abortion counseling and the Catholic Church. We both agreed that one of the most the obnoxiously conservative bishops (name not ready - Meissner? Diocese also unremembered.) was at least principled in his opposition, and worthy of respect regardless of personal opinion.
We also both agreed that counselling is better than nothing, but from a consistent Catholic view of sin and soul, abortion is not truly a pragmatic question. As a Lutheran, he did not have to believe in this to at least acknowledge the internal logic - though he regretted the obvious social cost of such a position in turn. We also both agreed that these are religious questions, and not ones well suited for the state to judge.

German law is both more and less conservative - conservative in the sense that the state is not allowed to decide about life and death (a recent court casejudged that shooting down a hijacked airliner would involve the state in murder, which is forbidden). Further, the state has an obligation to protect life, and in all senses not allow to use death as a policy. The conflict in abortion is obvious, and the fact that the German laws where very obviously Catholic influenced led to a certain political collision with the entry of East Germany into the political equation. (Still playing itself out is whether religion classes can be legally replaced with 'ethics' - the churches are quite vocal in being represented, even if a majority of voters in several East German states continue to reject the idea - having a truly atheist block of voters is also an interesting difference between the U.S. and today's Germany.)
Much more liberal in the sense that the real focus remains on not having abortions. Abortion was 'legal' long before the court decided it was really legal, with conditions. Previously, abortion was available as a 'medical option,' and there were a number of professionals ready to certify that fact - under a number of aspects. But essentially no one has any problems with dealing with the mechanics of women (from the age where they can) not getting pregnant while having sex. The punishment aspect in parts of the American debate seems to be almost completely lacking here, for example. And in this sense, the counselling is based on a pragmatic aspect unlikely to be duplicated in all the American debates I read - abortions will happen, and the number should be as low as possible. Finding a workable balance is the long term goal.

At Tuesday, 07 March, 2006, Blogger GrenfellHunt said...

Dear Anon:

The whole debate in Germany when the Vatican was pulling the Catholic Church out of abortion counseling was remarkable--at least for an American. I don't think any one thinks of Germany as a theocracy (and it's not!), but if any American tried to suggest that the state should require counseling by a pastor or priest before a woman could get an abortion, you would see the theocrat charge coming thick and fast.

I understand why the Vatican wanted to end it, but it seemed to me on balance that the defenders of Catholic counseling had the better case.

While there are aspects of the German experience that can't be duplicated, I think there is much that can be profitably ported over to American policy.

See now:

At Wednesday, 08 March, 2006, Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

03 08 06

What a very thought provoking and thorough post! I didn't know that about Germany's policies on abortion. I do know that they have a freer attitude towards sex than we do here, which has its good and bad parts. But their policy seems sound. My only issue is the thought of the STATE paying for the counseling treatments. Maybe they can choose who they wish to see for treatment adn their insurance (if they have it) can pay for it. Other than that, good idea!


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