Birth Control and the Prevention of Abortion

Wherever you stand on the abortion debate, the idea that access to contraception does not reduce the number of abortions ought to seem, to say the least, counter-intuitive, yet that’s what Kirsten Powers ends up arguing in this Daily Beast piece. Here’s an extract:

A January 2011 fact sheet by the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute listed all the reasons that women who have had an abortion give for their unexpected pregnancy, and not one of them is lack of access to contraception. In fact, 54 percent of women who had abortions had used a contraceptive method, if incorrectly, in the month they got pregnant. For the 46 percent who had not used contraception, 33 percent had perceived themselves to be at low risk for pregnancy; 32 percent had had concerns about contraceptive methods; 26 percent had had unexpected sex, and 1 percent had been forced to have sex. Not one fraction of 1 percent said they got pregnant because they lacked access to contraception. Some described having unexpected sex, but all that can be said about them is that they are irresponsible, not that they felt they lacked access to contraception.

Writing over at Big Think, Lindsay Beyerstein queries the “not one fraction of one percent” number (the original 2001 study gives a figure of 12 percent) and then stresses a bigger problem on using this data in the way that Ms. Powers is doing:

If you only look at women seeking abortions, you’re only going to see cases in which contraception failed, or wasn’t used. If you want to measure the power of prevention, you have to look at the millions of sexually active people who use birth control and don’t get pregnant.

Indeed you do.

If you want a rough analogy to this, take a look at the anti-Second Amendment crowd. In attacking the menace that guns supposedly pose to their owners, they tend to stress what happens after the gun is fired, a point when matters have by definition already turned very dangerous. The numerous occasions when the weapon has worked as a successful deterrent without ever being fired tend not to be mentioned…inconvenient truths and all that.

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3 Responses to Birth Control and the Prevention of Abortion

  1. AMcguinn says:

    Analogous to the arguments made about the deterrent effect of criminal justice systems, looking only at the behaviour of those who were not deterred.

  2. Mark says:

    You expected some argument from a Fox News robobunny to make sense? The flaw is so obviously overwhelming…but she couldn’t see it. The bigger question–don’t they have editors over there?

  3. mike says:

    Her argument sort of makes sense if it’s intended as a rebuttal to the suggestion that more “access” to contraception will reduce abortions. According to the results of the study, lack of “access” to contraception is not causing any abortions. Of course, self-report data is generally worthless.

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