Michael New

Contraception programs and teen pregnancy rates

Michael New
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This week Slate featured a piece by Amanda Marcotte discussing why New York has lower teen-birth rates than Mississippi. Not surprisingly, Marcotte blames abstinence-only sex education programs in Mississippi and praises New York’s contraceptive-friendly policies. She favorably mentions a pilot program recently started in New York public schools which allows students to obtain contraception — including emergency contraception — directly from the school. Of course, as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat pointed out, Marcotte forgot something. A major reason why New York has a lower teen birthrate is because New York teens are far more likely to abort unwanted pregnancies. Mississippi has a pro-life parental-involvement law in effect, while New York has none.

Now in fairness to Marcotte, Mississippi still has a higher teen-pregnancy rate than New York. However, she, like countless other mainstream-media pundits, is wrong to blame Mississippi’s sex-education policies for the disparity. Many journalists point to the high teen-pregnancy rates in “red” states as proof that abstinence-only sex education programs are ineffective. However, this analysis is flawed for several reasons. First, not every southern school district has adopted abstinence-only sex education. Second, poverty rates are a key determinant in teen-pregnancy rates and many southern states have a high incidence of poverty. Third, the average age of marriage is much lower in many southern states, so some percentage of these teen pregnancies are carried by older teens who are married.

In her article, Marcotte argues that teen sex is inevitable and loudly voices her support for teen contraception programs. As always, the hypocrisy is astounding. Many pro-choice pundits cite a number of studies that purportedly show that abstinence-only sex education is ineffective at curbing teen sexual behavior. However, they are unwilling to subject their own ideas to the same level of empirical scrutiny. Marcotte fails to cite one academic study showing that greater contraceptive availability or more contraceptive spending will lower teen pregnancy rates.

In fact, there is good reason to believe that a more contraceptive-friendly approach to sex education will be ineffective or even counterproductive. A 2012 Centers for Disease Control study of 5,000 teen girls who gave birth after unplanned pregnancies found that only a small percentage had difficulty accessing contraception. Furthermore, in 1999 the British government launched its Teenage Pregnancy Strategy program, the goal of which was to cut the number of teen pregnancies in half by promoting comprehensive sexual education and birth control. Since then, some £300 million ($454 million) has been spent on this initiative. Unfortunately, the British teen-abortion rate has climbed steadily.

In fact, in 2009, the London Daily Mail reported that teen-pregnancy rates in England are now higher than they were in 1995 and pregnancies among girls under 16 (below the age of sexual consent) are also at the highest level since 1998. Unfortunately, stories about the failures of contraception programs both at home and abroad typically receive scant attention from the mainstream media.

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The Detroit News’ biased abortion coverage

Michael New
Michael New

Last week, the Detroit News ran an article about abortion trends in the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan. It found that abortion numbers were increasing in Detroit while falling elsewhere in the state.  In general, abortion trends tend to get very little coverage from the media.  As such, it was heartening to see the paper cover this important topic.

That said the coverage was extremely biased. Twice the article mentioned that legal abortion is a “safe” procedure. In reality, there is a substantial body of public health research which shows that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer and a range of psychological problems, and, more important, that both late-term abortions and multiple abortions significantly increase the risk of these health problems.

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Additionally, everyone quoted in the article assumes that cuts in contraception programs have increased the abortion rate in Detroit and that contraception coverage through the Affordable Care Act will reduce the incidence of abortion. However, academic studies of free contraceptive programs in Britain, Scotland, and San Francisco found that these programs all had little impact on the incidence of abortion. Also, a study conducted by the University of Michigan’s Population Studies Center in 2011 found that increases in the price of oral contraceptives on college campuses resulted in less sexual activity and no significant change in the unintended pregnancy rate.

In reality, there are other factors that could be causing an increase in Detroit’s abortion rate. Some research shows that a slowing economy results in more abortions, and demographic shifts may be playing a role as well.  Unfortunately, the Detroit News chose to focus on contraception instead of thoughtfully considering other factors that might be causing the unfortunate rise in abortions.

Reprinted with permission from National Review.

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Politico spins poll results to make Dems’ abortion views appear mainstream

Michael New
Michael New

Last week Politico released the results of a poll of likely voters in competitive states and congressional districts. The results of their questions about abortion were interesting. Nineteen percent stated that they favored abortion on demand while only 11 percent favored banning abortion in all circumstances. The remainder favored two other categories where abortion would remain legal with some limits in place. These results were consistent with a body of survey data on abortion. Incremental pro-life laws enjoy broad support, but strong majorities think abortion should be legal in hard-case circumstances.

However, Politico’s analysis of this survey question was misleading. In their May 19 articlePolitico took the two most permissive categories — right to an abortion and right to an abortion with a few exceptions — and said that these positions were representative of the Democratic party’s stance on the issue. This is shocking news to anyone who follows pro-life politics at the national level. Of the four positions listed in the survey, abortion on demand most accurately represents the Democratic party’s position at the federal level.

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Indeed, when incremental pro-life laws are introduced in the House or Senate, they typically receive the support of few Democratic elected officials. For instance, no Senate Democrat is currently co-sponsoring the 20-week abortion ban and the only Democrat to publicly announce he will vote in favor of the bill is Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.). Less than a third of House and Senate Democrats voted in favor of the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (CIANA) in 2006, and less than a third of Senate Democrats voted in favor of the partial-birth-abortion ban in 2003.

Politico deserves credit for commissioning a poll that allowed respondents to express their views on abortion in a nuanced manner. That said they, like countless other media outlets, work overtime to present the Democratic party’s position on abortion as both popular and mainstream.

Reprinted with permission from National Review.

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Why is the abortion rate falling? Maybe fewer women want abortions

Michael New
Michael New

The Guttmacher Institute’s report finding a recent reduction in the abortion rate has generated a considerable amount of media coverage, drawing analysis not only from Guttmacher but by Andrew Sullivan and writers for The New Republic, Slate, and Bloomberg Businessweek. Most of these commentators appear to have a vested interest in giving pro-lifers as little credit as possible for the recent decline in the abortion rate, but the theories they offer are either problematic or incomplete. Below is a quick summary of the explanations put forth by various analysts as to why the abortion rate declined by 13 percent between 2008 and 2011:

  1. The slow economy: In their report, Guttmacher theorizes that the slow economy made people more determined to avoid pregnancy and more consistent in their contraception use. However, the 2007–09 recession did not result in a similar abortion decline — making this explanation seem unlikely. 
  2. The recovering economy: The recession officially ended in 2009 and there is some evidence that abortion numbers fall when the economy is doing well. That said, the recovery has been sluggish and times of even stronger economic growth did not result in similar abortion-rate declines.
  3. Contraception use: This theory has been put forth by both Andrew Sullivan and William Saletan of Slate. However, in their report, Guttmacher acknowledges contraception use did not increase between 2008 and 2011. Moreover, gains in contraception use do not always result in reductions in the unintended-pregnancy rate. In fact, that rate has remained fairly steady over the long term — despite increases in contraception use.
  4. Declines in the fertility rate: It is true that the fertility rate declined between 2008 and 2011, and this is likely part of the story. But it’s not clear why the fertility rate declined, and the abortion rate fell faster than the birthrate between 2008 and 2011 – so the declining fertility rate is not the whole story.
  5. Pro-life laws and abortion clinic closures: Guttmacher does acknowledge that certain laws, such as Louisiana’s informed-consent law, likely played a role in that state’s abortion decline. They also acknowledge that the reduction in the number of abortion facilities is playing a role in the declining abortion numbers in some states. That said, abortion rates fell in places where no substantial pro-life laws were passed and the number of clinics remained the same.

Interestingly, none of these analysts is willing to consider that shifts in public opinion on abortion may be playing a role. May of 2009 was the first time that a majority of Americans identified themselves as “pro-life” in a Gallup survey. “Pro-life” has outpolled “pro-choice” six out of nine times since the spring of 2009. The relationship between public opinion toward abortion and abortion rates is not well-researched, but it’s a theory that merits more attention from analysts.

Media outlets have paid considerable attention to the abortion decline that occurred between 2008 and 2011, but have generally given less attention to the fact that the abortion rate has declined by 35 percent since the early 1990s. This suggests the debate has shifted toward pro-lifers: It’s true that contraceptive use has increased since the early 1990s, but that was increasing well before the abortion rate started to decline. More important, data from both Guttmacher and the National Center for Health Statistics shows that the unintended-pregnancy rate has remained fairly stable since the mid 1990s. 

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Since the abortion rate is falling while the unintended-pregnancy rate is stable, a higher percentage of women facing unintended pregnancies are choosing to carry their children to term. Data from the Department of Health and Human Services support this, pro-lifers should take heart in it. 

Regardless of what mainstream-media analysts may say, declining abortion numbers provide evidence that pro-life efforts to change the hearts and minds of women facing unplanned pregnancies are bearing fruit — and, more important, saving lives. 

Reprinted with permission from National Review Online.

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