Critical Condition

Contraception and Abortion Rates, cont.

Andrew Sullivan engages in a nice rhetorical sleight of hand in response to my Monday commentary about the link between abortion and contraception. A recap: On Friday, Sullivan claimed that guaranteeing free contraception as part of a public option would reduce abortions dramatically. In my response, I confronted Sullivan with good evidence that few sexually active women forgo contraception due either high cost of lack of availability. As such, mandating insurance coverage of contraception would do little to lower abortion rates.

So in response Sullivan decides to…change the subject! Instead of talking about mandating contraception in health care reform, he cites Guttmacher research which purportedly shows that greater access to contraceptives has reduced the abortion rate worldwide.

To demonstrate that there exists no consensus on the correlation between the availability of contraception and abortion rates. I cited a Guttmacher study that provides examples of some countries — including the United States — that saw simultaneous increases in contraception use and the incidence of abortion. Sullivan pounces saying that the same study indicates that there was a long-term decline in the abortion rate in these countries.

Unfortunately, Sullivan, like many commentators, is too quick to believe Guttmacher’s spin. It is true that some of these countries did see long-term declines in abortion rates. However, in many of these countries — including, again, the United States — the abortion rate remained higher than it was before contraception was widely available. This particular Guttmacher study fails even to consider how the availability of contraception affects sexual behavior and how a more permissive sexual culture will result in a higher incidence of abortion.

In the United States, contraception is here to stay. However, in countries with a strong cultural stigma against premarital sex, the widespread availability of contraceptives will very likely lead to more sexual activity. This could shift the culture to hasten the liberalization of abortion laws. All of this would lead to higher abortion rates. As such, the pro-life movement would do well to avoid jumping on the contraception bandwagon.

— Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama.

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.