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Should Pro-Lifers Be Held Accountable for Single-Parent Families?



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Last month, Naomi Chan and June Carbone authors of Blue Families v. Red Families had an article in Slate criticizing pro-lifers for an increase in single-parent families. They argue that the religious culture in many southern and midwestern states has little impact on adult sexual behavior. However, the religious culture does make women less likely to choose abortion when confronted with an unintended pregnancy. This leads to more single-parent families in red states. Unsurprisingly, Cahn and Carbone scold pro-lifers for neither grappling with the issue nor having policies in place to address this.

While reading this I was reminded of Matthew 7:3-5. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” The contraceptive culture that Cahn and Carbone promote also bears a great deal of responsibility for the rise in single-parent families. Indeed, several economic studies, notably one by UC Berkeley economists Akerlof, Yellen, and Katz, indicate that expanded access to contraception alters the sex and mating markets. It encourages more women to engage in premarital sex and through risk compensation, actually increases the number of unintended pregnancies. Furthermore, men who impregnate women face considerably less social pressure to marry.

The end result has been more sexual activity, more abortions, and yes, more single-parent households.

However, Cahn and Carbone never address this issue. In their essay, they state that the decline of well-paying blue-collar jobs, has resulted in fewer early marriages and fewer shotgun marriages. There may be an element of truth to this. That having been said, they fail to consider how the widespread availability of contraceptives affected societal and sexual mores in ways that have led to more single-parent homes.

Regardless, Cahn and Carbone consistently demonstrate a misplaced confidence in the efficacy of contraceptive programs. In their essay, they state that despite conservative denials, “Contraception reduces abortions and early births.” However, they only cite one study. It was the 2012 study where a number of St. Louis residents were provided with long acting contraceptives free of charge. However, as I pointed out on National Review Online in November, there are a number of reasons why this particular study greatly overstates the impact of no-cost contraception.   

In fact, throughout the entire book Red Families v. Blue Families, Cahn and Carbone only manage to cite one study that purportedly finds a negative correlation between contraceptive availability and abortion rates. It is a 2003 Guttmacher study, which, in fact, finds that contraceptive use has an inconsistent relationship with abortion rates internationally. The authors remain blissfully unaware of the studies of contraception programs in Scotland, Spain, and San Francisco that show no impact on abortion rates or unintended-pregnancy rates. Perhaps Cahn and Carbone need to address the fact that the contraceptive culture they avidly promote has also played a role in the rise of single-parent households.

— Michael New is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn, a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New



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