Last Thursday’s New York Times featured an op-ed by Juleanna Glover encouraging pro-life Republicans to support increased federal funding for contraception programs. With this column, Glover becomes that latest in an exceptionally long line of commentators and pundits to encourage the pro-life movement to become more contraception-friendly. Glover’s perspective is somewhat special because she describes herself as pro-life and has worked for a number of stalwart pro-lifer figures, including John Ashcroft and Phyllis Schlafly. Unfortunately, Glover, like most pundits, is not particularly careful with the contraception statistics that she cites.
For instance, Glover states that a 2009 report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) found that Title X Family Planning Program prevents almost 1 million unwanted pregnancies each year. However, this is misleading. This particular CRS report cites a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) publication which found that the Title X program substantially reduces the number of unwanted pregnancies. Not surprisingly, most government agencies find their programs to be effective. How did HHS determine that Title X prevents over 900,000 unwanted pregnancies a year? Good question. The HHS publication simply states this number as fact and does not provide an explanation or cite any other outside research.
There are some studies by an independent group, the Guttmacher Institute, which arrive at similar conclusions about the efficacy of federally funded contraception programs. However, these studies are methodologically weak. They simply assume that more spending will increase the number of women who use more reliable forms of contraception. These studies often fail to consider that these programs may increase the number of sexually active women or that women with access to more reliable forms of contraception may engage in sexual activity more often. Most important, these studies fail to analyze any actual hard data on Title X funding, abortions, or unplanned pregnancies.
Indeed, there exists other research which calls into question the effectiveness of contraception programs which most pundits ignore. First, separate studies by Guttmacher and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) find that only a small percentage of sexually active women forgo contraception due to either the high cost or lack of availability. Additionally, research published by the National Center for Health Statistics shows that even though contraception use has increased since the mid-1990s, the percentage of unplanned pregnancies has also increased. Furthermore, there is no body of academic research analyzing actual data on federal contraceptive spending and abortion rates which shows a negative correlation between the two. Unfortunately, statistics like this seldom appear in New York Times editorials.