In his May 4 opinion piece, Ramesh Ponnuru challenges the Guttmacher Institute’s new report, “Abortion in Women’s Lives,” for arguing that better access to contraceptives is needed to bring down abortion rates in the United States. It is true, as both Ponnuru and our report point out, that since the early 1980s we have seen overall declines in unintended pregnancy and abortion-in large part because more women are using effective contraceptives. However, government data show that more recently unintended pregnancy rates have INCREASED among certain subgroups of women, including poor women and women aged 25-34, probably as a result of declines in their contraceptive use.
Unintended pregnancy occurs quite often within marriage-almost one million married women each year unexpectedly find themselves pregnant, and more than a quarter of those pregnancies end in abortion-so abstinence-only-until-marriage is not the solution. Rather, we must refocus our energies on ensuring that all women have accurate information about contraceptives and that every woman has affordable access to the method she wants to use.
Behind almost every abortion is an unintended pregnancy. Therefore, reducing unintended pregnancy will reduce the number of abortions. Preventing a woman with an unintended pregnancy from having an abortion, on the other hand, leaves her with two difficult options: raising a child she is not prepared to care for, or placing her baby for adoption. Improving contraceptive use ensures that fewer women face unintended pregnancies and have to make these heartwrenching choices.
Sharon L. Camp, Ph.D.
President and CEO, Guttmacher Institute
Ramesh Ponnuru, author of Party of Death, replies: I criticized a Planned Parenthood affiliate’s recent report on abortion on several grounds. The report exaggerates the number of illegal abortions in America before Roe. In claiming that legal abortion reduced the maternal death toll from illegal abortions, the authors ignored the evidence right before their eyes: Their own graph shows that they are exaggerating. The report ignores factors other than contraception that have driven the abortion rate down. It wrongly implies that social science can somehow prove the case against parental-consent laws (and stacks the deck in its description of the social science). Its judgment about informed-consent laws reflects moral views that are not widely shared and, in my view, wrongheaded. I concluded that the report was generally untrustworthy.
Sharon Camp, Ph. D., disputes none of these criticisms. Instead she addresses a point I didn’t make. I didn’t say anything about abstinence until marriage. I didn’t dispute that contraception can drive or has driven the abortion rate down. I didn’t even challenge the report’s policy recommendations about increasing access to contraception. (I am, as it happens, skeptical. Have “declines in . . . contraceptive use,” for example, really been driven by declines in “access” to contraception?) I can only assume that Camp is trying to portray me as an enemy of contraception because she can’t answer my criticisms of this shoddy report.