The Corner

How Dare Pro-Lifers Criticize a Contraception Study?

Pro-choice pundits Amanda Marcotte and Robin Marty appear pretty disgusted with pro-lifers lately. Some of us have actually had the audacity to be skeptical about the recent Obstetrics and Gynecology study which purportedly showed that a no-cost contraception program lowered pregnancy rates and abortion rates.   

Marcotte and Marty seem to think that pro-lifers should accept the study because, well, it is peer-reviewed! Interestingly, I do not recall either Marcotte or Marty showing much deference to peer-reviewed studies that (1) highlight the effectiveness of pro-life laws or (2) demonstrate a link between abortion and breast cancer, or (3) show that abortion leads to a range of mental-health problems. However, that is a topic for another article.

In particular, Marty takes issue with my critique of the no-cost contraception study. She fails to understand my concern about comparing abortion rates of study participants to national and state averages. To clarify matters, not everyone contacted by the researchers agreed to take part in the study. It is reasonable to hypothesize that those who did agree to participate had a greater desire to avoid pregnancy than the rest of the population. It seems likely that women who strongly wish to avoid getting pregnant have below-average pregnancy rates. As such, comparing pregnancy and abortion-rate data from a cohort of women with a strong desire to avoid pregnancy to national and state averages is a flawed approach.

After all, there is a good chance, absent the program, that this group of women would still have had below-average pregnancy and abortion rates.

Furthermore, recent developments indicate that the skepticism of pro-lifers and conservatives was justified. Writing for 1flesh.com, a medical student contacted the authors of the study to ask how they obtained pregnancy and abortion data from study participants. As it turns out, the researchers used telephone surveys. Overall, this is extremely problematic. Many women who submit to an abortion will not voluntarily reveal that information. As such, this study likely undercounts abortions and overestimates the effectiveness of contraceptives. This is obviously a significant methodological limitation to the study — one no mainstream-media outlet has yet to cover.

Pro-lifers are usually not enthusiastic about research which purportedly shows that increased availability of contraceptives lowers abortion rates. On a theoretical level, we know that a sexually liberated culture is never going to support significant restrictions on abortion, regardless of the availability of contraceptives. No contraceptive is 100 percent effective and when contraceptives fail in a sexualized culture, there will be significant demand for legal abortion as a “back up” measure. We also know that we will struggle to enact meaningful legal protections of unborn children until the culture becomes more chaste — and a chaste culture is incompatible with a contraceptive culture. 

Of course, on a more practical level, considering the numerous limitations of this study and other studies, pro-lifers would do well to remain skeptical of the claims made by contraception advocates.

Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor of social research and political science at the Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.

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