Ms. Pratt should be commended for attempting to forge a workable resolution
to the problem of abortion in North American society. Unfortunately, many of her
specific proposals are not supported by the available scientific evidence.
Ms. Pratt's emphasis on reducing abortion by aggressively enforcing child
support is one of her proposals that can be supported by scientific evidence.
Enforcement of child support may reduce the number of abortions by giving women
the resources they need to raise children and by encouraging men to take an
active role in parenting and in preventing unwanted pregnancies. Statistics from
a number of sources have routinely shown that economics is the reason why many
women choose abortion. 1
Statistics also show that a woman is almost six times as likely to abort a
pregnancy if she is unmarried, 2
which suggests that women who have support from the father and from the rest of
their families are much less likely to abort. By giving women more economic
resources with which to raise children, more women might choose to bring
pregnancies to term. Evidence also exists indicating that men are less likely to
help create unwanted pregnancies and are more supportive of the women they
impregnate if they do not have an economic incentive to shirk their parental
responsibilities. Perhaps the best evidence for that assertion comes from an
academic study that researched whether child support enforcement policy affects
non-marital childbearing. The study found that states employing strict
enforcement of child support have up to 20 percent fewer unmarried births than
states that are lax about getting unmarried fathers to pay. 3 The study authors theorized that
forcing unmarried fathers to support their children financially might deter them
from letting a pregnancy occur, or else motivate them to marry the mother if it
did. Many U.S. states have plenty of room for improvement with regard to child
We can also hold fathers responsible for the children they produce by enforcing
fornication and adultery statutes against men who abandon their children.
Statistics show that at least eighty percent of aborted pregnancies are started
by fornication or adultery, so such a strategy might have a significant effect
on the abortion rate. Statistics also show that most women obtaining abortions
report that the father failed to fully support them in their pregnancies. 4 Cutting down on rape, incest,
prostitution, and domestic violence would also undoubtedly help.
Pratt's suggestion that affordable day care be made available is also likely to
help create a culture of life. Perhaps she could provide suggestions for
achieving that goal if it is not attained already.
Ms. Pratt's suggestion that all forms of birth control be made freely available
by the government to increase its pervasiveness is not as well supported by the
evidence. In point of fact, contraception is already pervasive. One study showed
that 98.2 percent of all women who have ever engaged in sexual intercourse have
used contraception. 5 The
principle reasons why contraception is not preventing more abortions are because
people are either carelessly disregarding contraception or because they are
using ineffective forms of contraception. Subsidizing all forms of contraception
would do little to discourage either practice.
Studies show that many, if not most, women obtaining abortions report that they
and their partners used no form of contraception at all. 6 We need to develop and advocate
forms of contraception that are more easily used as well as give people an
incentive to use them by placing restrictions on abortion. (More about these
The problem of people using ineffective forms of contraception is even more
significant and can be addressed in several ways. A good example of an
ineffective form of contraception is the popular male condom. A study by the
Alan Guttmacher Institute found that women relying on male condoms as their
method of contraception actually had an elevated chance of obtaining an abortion
compared with the population of women at risk of unintended pregnancy as a
whole. 6 That result is not
surprising, given that the true failure rate of condoms is 99 percent. That
figure may sound high, but it can be supported with reliable data. To derive
that figure, I started with the annual typical-use failure rate of condoms given
by the Alan Guttmacher Institute- 15 percent.
7 I then extrapolated that annual failure rate across the
thirty years that the typical American woman spends trying to thwart the natural
workings of her reproductive system. 8
See Note A, below.
That process may not yield very precise estimates, but it makes more sense than
basing failure rates on a single year of use.
9 The following table gives the failure rates of different
forms of contraception derived using the process just described.
What is very apparent from this table is that the long-acting methods of
contraception- implants, IUDs, and sterilization- are far more effective than
spermicides, withdrawal, periodic abstinence, condoms, and diaphragms at
preventing unintended pregnancies. Not surprisingly, the study by the Alan
Guttmacher Institute that I mentioned earlier found that women using long-acting
methods were underrepresented among women obtaining abortions. So
if we want to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions, we
should encourage the use of implants, IUDs, and sterilization while discouraging
the use of spermicides, withdrawal, condoms, and diaphragms. We can do so by
selectively subsidizing the long-acting forms of contraception, educating women
and men about the advantages of these forms of contraception, restricting
abortion, and tort reform. That last proposal needs a little explaining. One of
the biggest reasons why implants, IUDs, and sterilization have not gained wider
use is because the makers of all three have been subject to opportunistic
lawsuits. It's apparently easier to sue a doctor or an implant maker for a
failure or an occasional side effect than it is to sue a condom maker when the
device proves too unwieldy to use correctly. People living in countries with
different legal systems, like Australia, have access to better forms of
contraception- like the implant system Implanon. 10
Ms. Pratt's proposals to provide free medical and prenatal care to pregnant
women and children and to ensure paid time off from work for pregnancies need
additional study. Letting women shirk their parental responsibilities could
undermine their incentive to avoid having children they cannot support,
ultimately leading to more abortions.
An additional approach that states and provinces can use to suppress the number
of abortions is reforming adoption laws to allow birth mothers to choose
adoption as freely as they can choose abortion. Currently, pregnant girls and
women can unilaterally choose abortion but cannot unilaterally choose adoption.
The law in most, if not all, states and provinces allows the birth father to
revoke an adoption agreement after the birth. This inequity in policy in favor
of abortion and against adoption may lead some women to choose abortion when
they otherwise might have chosen adoption. Another way to reform adoption laws
is by allowing girls and women to more easily enforce adoption agreements.
Yet another way to reduce abortion is for states to stop paying for abortions.
Some states pay for large numbers of abortions. For example, Minnesota pays for
about four thousand abortions per year.
My next set of proposals is aimed at reducing the number of abortions done later
in pregnancy. States and provinces could start by collecting and reporting more
data on second- and third-trimester abortions. In addition, they could conduct
studies to determine why women wait until after the first trimester to abort and
what can be done to see that abortions occur earlier. Failure to recognize a
pregnancy appears to be a common reason why women wait until after the first
trimester, so states and provinces might promote pregnancy detection and educate
girls and women about how some forms of contraception inhibit regular
menstruation (and can therefore hide a pregnancy). 11 They can also help guide women
in making decisions about later abortions by conducting studies to determine
when fetuses first become sentient or conscious.
As I have alluded to earlier, placing restrictions on abortion can be an
effective-perhaps the only- way of addressing some of the causes of abortion.
People will have little incentive to refrain from irresponsible sexual
intercourse, use effective forms of contraception, choose adoption, or bear
children in imperfect conditions if they can shirk the consequences of not doing
so. Abortion restrictions would address the selfishness and irresponsibility
that are the true root causes of most abortions. Granted, a complete ban on
abortion is not politically feasible in most of the United States and Canada.
However, studies do show that restrictions on late-term abortions are popular in
the United States. For example, an LA Times Poll in 2000 showed that American
women favored banning second-trimester abortions by a 72 to 19 percent margin.
12 (Note: Roe v. Wade needs
to be overturned for time limits to take effect in the United States.)
So, again, I commend Angie Pratt for her attempt at forging a resolution to the
problem of abortion and for presenting some ideas that are likely to work.
However, if we really want to reduce the abortion rate, we need to use methods
that are backed by scientific research.
"A simple model of fatherhood and marriage choice implies that
stricter child support enforcement will tend to reduce nonmarital
childbearing by raising the costs of fatherhood. We investigate this
hypothesis with a sample of women from the Panel Study of Income
Dynamics, to which we add information on state child support
enforcement. We examine childbearing behavior between the ages of 15 and
44 before marriage and during periods of non-marriage following divorce
or widowhood. The estimates suggest that women living in states with
more effective child support enforcement were less likely to bear
children when unmarried. The findings suggest that policies that shift
more costs of nonmarital childbearing to men may reduce nonmarital
** These are PDF files. You may require software to read
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The appropriate method of computing the failure rate of condoms is to take
the probability of avoiding pregnancy during the
first year (0.85 according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute), multiply it by the
probability of avoiding pregnancy during the second
year (again, 0.85 according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute), and continuing
for a total of thirty years. That is the chance of avoiding pregnancy is 0.85
raised to the 30th power. This is approximately 0.008.