Victorian postcard

Victorian postcard Wikimedia Commons

That’s the clear lesson of a forthcoming report from the Guttmacher Institute, reported in today’s New York Times. The report shows a striking decline in the abortion rate in the U.S. from 2008 to 2011, from 19.4 to 16.9 per thousand women of childbearing age. The decline parallels a reduction in pregnancy rates, which is attributable to the increased use of contraception by younger women.

So it stands to reason that making it easier — i.e. cheaper — for women to have access to contraception will ensure that the abortion rate continues to go down. Indeed, because the decline is attributable to increased use of more expensive contraceptive technology, such as intrauterine devices, the no-extra-charge contraception coverage mandated by the Affordable Care Act ought to be welcomed by anti-abortion advocates.

But they want no part of it. Look at the list of those who have filed briefs in support of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood and you’ll find a virtual catalog of abortion opponents. To be sure, their arguments are all about guaranteeing religious liberty. In the case of the Catholic groups, there’s doctrinal opposition to contraception as well.

But Catholics consider abortion a far greater evil than contraception. And most other religious opponents of the mandate think contraception is just fine, at least for married women. So if there’s strong empirical evidence that contraception use reduces abortion, why fight the mandate all the way to the Supreme Court? Isn’t the anti-abortion cause worth a little religious liberty?

Some dispute the evidence. Americans United for Life wants to attribute the decline in the abortion rate to recent state laws they’ve promoted that have made it increasingly difficult for women in many places to obtain abortions. But a disproportionate number of these laws have only gone into effect since 2011, so whatever effect they may have had falls outside the time period covered by the report. Moreover, large decreases in the abortion rate have occurred in states like California and New York, which have not acted to restrict abortion availability.

You’ve got to think that it’s not just the termination of fetal life that concerns those opposed to abortion rights. It’s anything that gives freer rein to women’s libidos. Like Mike Huckabee said.

Categories: Culture

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Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


  1. Frank – I’m missing your point. Isn’t the argument that the abortion rate has gone down because of “increased use of more expensive contraceptive technology” and that since the mandate will make this technology available to even more women the rate should decline even further? JK

    • The main problem being that the people opposing the contraception mandate are not doing so for rational, sensible reasons. It would make sense to anyone opposing abortion to support easier access to contraception.

      But since the rationale used by them is purely religious, we get the irrational, nonsensical arguments full of finger-wagging, holier than though shaming tactics and attempts to intrude upon personal lives and control human sexual conduct.

        • Unless they want to use their healthcare compensation to pay for it as mandated by law.

          Then it is subject to the myths and fairy-tales the employer wants to use to justify dodging such things. At least according to the people at Hobby Lobby. There is no rational argument employed in avoiding the contraception mandate. Just excuses for being too cheap to follow the laws.

          • Health care is not compensation its a benefit, a bonus. Your logic fails and its time to move on and find something more compelling to back up your opinions.

          • Your ignorance is duly noted.

            All benefits are forms of compensation. They are hardly done out of the kindness of an employers heart. They are a form of payment for services rendered to the company. One is not eligible for benefits unless they have performed services to the satisfaction of the employer in some respects.

          • Larry having the ignorant judge ignorance is kinds funny. Might want to try something else. Clearly whatever it is you are doing isn’t working.

  2. I see nothing but conjecture so far as to why the rates have dropped.

    I am quoting the original article:

    “The report did not include a detailed analysis of the reasons for these trends, which pose complicated research issues.”

    • I agree Frank. The cause & effect of the lower abortion rate has many variables. It could be that both women and men have been preoccupied during the economic downturn with two partners working different shifts resulting in less interest in sex, let alone babies. Could be that some single men would rather satisfy themselves with the higher availability of free online pornography than put up with all the drama associated with commitment, and all the emotional responsibility associated with intercourse. (Most men are immature and many women are web-weavers.) I do believe that in the pro-choice ethos SOME pro-choice women are beginning to understand that, when pregnant, it is not just their body involved. I have noticed an increased quality of videos and stills of unborn babies posted on YouTube and Facebook which I feel backs the science that a fetus is indeed a baby.

        • Even if contraception is a mandate in insurance policies,SO WHAT! Nobody is forcing anyone to use that part of the policy,if they have any objections.A lot of insurance policies cover blood transfusions. There are certain religious groups that oppose that. They simply do not take advantage of that particular insurance clause. So,come on,Frank. If you do not like liver,nobodys going to shove it down your throat!

    • James Keegan

      Frank – This report appears to support the conclusion that free birth control leads to lower rates of abortions.


      • There may be other data that supports that. And certainly there is other data that supports legislation is working. But for this study no causality was referenced.

        Free condoms work. No one doubts that. If you want something more sophisticated pay for it.

  3. samuel Johnston

    The Catholic Church could solve this problem overnight – since they have created it. Come to think of it, so could God.
    What was God thinking anyway? People are lustful and selfish because he made them lustful and selfish. Unwanted children are born because God did not provide an off switch for the reproduction of the lustful and selfish. Come to think of it, they reproduce faster than the virtuous, despite the fact that they have abortions at a higher rate! Methinks God lacked either good judgment, or foresight. Small wonder he has disappeared.

  4. samuel Johnston

    Psalm 14:1-7
    King James Version (KJV)
    14 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.

    Pretty original insult. Like Pagan, Atheist, et al, they are nothing but naked insults.
    The OT God appears in a burning bush, a whirlwind or a dream, NEVER in the flesh so an ordinary man can see him/her/it.
    In the NT Jesus comes and goes, and then Paul meets him in a vision. Others see an empty grave, or meet him – but do not recognize him until later.
    Where is your God? He has disappeared. Only legends remain.
    None of this means that folks do not have visions and “religious” experiences. What it does mean, however, that the solid, definite, anthropological, and historical Gods (as claimed by the Church and other religious authorities) are mere human constructs, made in order to appeal to………fools.

      • Give it a rest Frank,birth control has nothing to do with GOD. It is all about common sense. Provide everyone who wants it with cheap,effective,safe,means of birth control,then there will be no unwanted or unplanned babies,and NO NEED for abortions. DUH!! And,please don’t give me that abstinence only crap. It is a stupid idea,does not work. It is a 17th century,head in the sand concept that totally disreguards the nature of the human animal. In the 21st century there is no reason any couple should produce a child they do not want,did not plan for,or cannot afford.

  5. samuel Johnston

    If those who condemn abortion would care for and support all the unwanted children, then at least they would not be guilty of hypocrisy. Most folks want to be virtuous on the cheap!
    I spent my fifth year in an orphanage. At age 21 I worked as a child care officer in the Birmingham Juvenile Court (jail). During my private legal career I handled more than a hundred involuntary commitment hearings. I am one of the lucky ones, I know that because I am well acquainted with the unwanted, unloved, abused, deformed, and mentally ill. Healthy, beautiful, sweet tempered babies are in demand. Let those who condemn abortion take responsibility and care for and support an unwanted child (preferably an angry adolescent) Then I will listen with more sympathy to their views.

    • Samuel, some adopt, others foster, and some do attend to their disabled kids, like Sarah Palin and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) Still, your logic does not persuade. Your meme, carried to its logical conclusion, suggests that “unwanted” children, especially angry adolescents, would have been better off dead. I have trouble with this premise.

      • Most do nothing besides finger-wagging and pretending that their holier than though stance is more important than personal privacy.

        Worse still you have employers which want to restrict family planning options but show complete indifference, or worse create undue hardships, for families with children. If your company is going to encourage workers to have and care for children, they can do things like offer daycare services, flex time, paid family leave, reasonable hours for workers with children… But that means treating employees as something other than fungible goods with a short expiration date.

  6. samuel Johnston

    I agree. Life is horribly unfair. We all suffer, but the suffering is unequal. Socrates
    said that God must be just, because if he was not, then he is a mere demon. I do not pretend to be wise or correct, but I must deal with what I see and understand, limited though it is. I do not see justice, nor even mercy. What I see concurs with what Darwin describes. We are on our own. We must make choices with insufficient knowledge. We must live with unexpected results.
    Living in the Bible belt as I do, I do not often encounter natives who are atheists. A while back I met a lady who was quite upfront about it. I asker he why. She explained that she worked in our large Children’s hospital, and what she saw on a daily basis made her angry. My sentiments exactly. If there is a God (very unlikely), then I do not like or respect him.
    Now about “better off dead”. I value life. It is opportunity, it is fragile, and it is rare in the universe.
    Unfortunately, any successful species must over reproduce. Man certainly does. Shall we have 100 billion people trying to live on earth’s resources? I throw the ball back to you. What’s the plan?

    • Samuel, To clarify, I am big on condom use, both to avoid pregnancy, and to avoid STD’s. My father would agree with you. When he lost a son, he asked, “What kind of a God would do this to him, and to me?” I am 54, a secular Jew with no children, and a vasectomy, so my parenting instincts are not exactly electrified. That said, I cannot accept, on scientific terms, that when a Hollywood starlet flaunts her “baby bump” for the tabloids it is just “her body”. There are two bodies involved. One needn’t be a theologian to recognize this. Regarding your living in the so-called Bible Belt, keep in mind that might doesn’t make right. Those who attempt to bully you into believing what they believe are often insecure and seek others to validate their points of view. You are entitled to your opinion and your belief system regardless of your geographical location.

  7. samuel Johnston

    “One needn’t be a theologian to recognize this.”
    It appears we are mostly in agreement. Callous and irresponsible behavior is the last thing I wish to reinforce. Lest my use of “natives” offends, I am not only an Alabama “native” but received my formal education in Alabama public schools.
    I am just an restless, ornery soul, and would be a maverick in any society.
    I support social order, the law, et cetera, out of pragmatism and my love for individual freedom. Gang rule, mob rule, and anarchy are the worst situation, however, the next worst in authoritarianism. I often point out to the Bible thumpers that there is no model in their book for a democracy. It is all about authority, and the Church has intensified this error.
    Back to the better off dead topic: Life and death decisions are, and must be made all the time. As a lawyer, I am very aware that the question of – Who Decides?- is the one that matters most. In the usual case of early term abortion, I think it is better left to the family. A late term abortion is a very different matter. There, the society should have a say. Where is the line you say? There is never a clear line on such matters. We judge, and we can only hope we judge wisely.

  8. Unwanted pregnancy is generally one of the most common reasons people use contraception. When two adults are in a consenting and monogamous relationship and have both been given the all clear at the STD clinic, they will often decide not to use condoms but will require some form of protection against conception. Many forms of female contraception are free of charge on the NHS and available to all ages. Basic health checks will apply, however with many options now it is a lot easier to find a suitable format.

    • When two adults are in a consenting and monogamous relationship and have both been given the all clear at the STD clinic, they will often decide not to have sex very often anymore, if ever.

  9. Condoms are one of the most common forms of contraception and are popular because they do protect against both unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Condoms are usually available free of charge from your local family planning or GUM clinic.

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