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What If Contraception Could Decimate The Abortion Rate?

In Ross Douthat’s weekend NY Times column, he mediates in the long-running argument  liberals and conservatives have waged over sex, abortion, and contraception. Liberals argue that widespread access to contraception is the surest way to reduce unwanted pregnancies, he writes, whereas conservatives believe “it’s more important to promote chastity, monogamy and fidelity than to  worry about whether there’s a prophylactic in every bedroom drawer or  bathroom cabinet.”
Both narratives are contradicted by the facts, he argues. For example, socially conservative regions feature higher rates of teenage parenthood and unwed pregnancy than the nation as a whole.
He goes on:

Liberals love to cite these numbers as proof that social conservatism is a flop. But the liberal narrative has glaring problems as well. To  begin with, a lack of contraceptive access simply doesn’t seem to be a  significant factor in unplanned pregnancy in the United States. When the Alan Guttmacher Institute surveyed more than 10,000 women who had procured abortions in 2000 and 2001, it found that only 12 percent cited problems  obtaining birth control as a reason for their pregnancies. A recent  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of teenage mothers found similar results: Only 13 percent of the teens reported having had trouble getting contraception.

Is the takeaway really that lack of contraceptive access isn’t a significant factor in unplanned pregnancy? If roughly 1 in 10 unplanned pregnancies is caused by lack of access to birth control, that seems very significant! If I approached Douthat, having devised a way to reduce the American abortion rate by just 5 percent without coercion or significant expense, I suspect he’d be very enthusiastic, and think I accomplished something important. The issue here is that he’s unpersuaded these teens would’ve avoided pregnancy even if they’d been given access to birth control.
As he writes:

…if liberal social policies really led  inexorably to fewer unplanned pregnancies and thus fewer abortions, you  would expect “blue” regions of the country to have lower teen pregnancy  rates and fewer abortions per capita than demographically similar “red”  regions. But that isn’t what the data show. Instead, abortion rates are  frequently higher in more liberal states, where access is often largely  unrestricted, than in more conservative states, which are more likely to have parental consent laws, waiting periods, and so on. “Safe, legal  and rare” is a nice slogan, but liberal policies don’t always seem to  deliver the “rare” part.

But the “liberal social policies” he conflates can be teased apart. What if contraceptive access reduces unplanned pregnancies in some jurisdictions, even as women who do get pregnant in those same places have abortions at higher rates due to unrestricted access or the fact that abortion is less stigmatized? As if in anticipation of that very counterargument, he goes on to write:

What’s more, another Guttmacher Institute study suggests that liberal  states don’t necessarily do better than conservative ones at preventing  teenagers from getting pregnant in the first place. Instead, the lower  teenage birth rates in many blue states are mostly just a consequence of (again) their higher abortion rates. Liberal California, for instance,  has a higher teen pregnancy rate than socially conservative Alabama; the Californian teenage birth rate is only lower because the Californian  abortion rate is more than twice as high.

But California’s higher teenage pregnancy rate is substantially driven by Hispanic immigrants whose religious and cultural background is relatively antagonistic to contraceptives. And if we’re citing numbers generated by the Guttmacher Institute, surely the ones that followare relevant to this subject:

– Publicly funded family planning services help women to avoid pregnancies they do not want and to plan pregnancies they do. In 2008, these services helped women in California avoid 317,900 unintended pregnancies, which would likely have resulted in about 141,300 unintended births and 132,700 abortions.
– Contraceptive services provided at Title X-supported centers in California helped prevent 200,200 unintended pregnancies, which would likely have resulted in about 89,000 unintended births and 83,600 abortions.

If you think that abortion is the killing of an innocent human, surely you should regard a contraceptive policy thought to result in tens of thousands of fewer abortions per year as a significant achievement, unless you think that the policy is causing lots of other abortions to occur. The Guttmacher Institute has published analysis that reaches precisely the opposite conclusion.
And increasing the availability and effectiveness of contraception seems like a more achievable task than reducing abortions by re-establishing bygone norms of chastity, monogamy and fidelity (none of which, by the way, are incompatible with widespread access to effective birth control).


By: Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, February 21, 2012

February 22, 2012 Posted by | Abortion, Birth Control | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Red State America”: Moochers Against Welfare

First, Atlas shrugged. Then he scratched his head in puzzlement.

Modern Republicans are very, very conservative; you might even (if you were Mitt Romney) say, severely conservative. Political scientists who use Congressional votes to measure such things find that the current G.O.P. majority is the most conservative since 1879, which is as far back as their estimates go.

And what these severe conservatives hate, above all, is reliance on government programs. Rick Santorum declares that President Obama is getting America hooked on “the narcotic of dependency.” Mr. Romney warns that government programs “foster passivity and sloth.” Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, requires that staffers read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” in which heroic capitalists struggle against the “moochers” trying to steal their totally deserved wealth, a struggle the heroes win by withdrawing their productive effort and giving interminable speeches.

Many readers of The Times were, therefore, surprised to learn, from an excellent article published last weekend, that the regions of America most hooked on Mr. Santorum’s narcotic — the regions in which government programs account for the largest share of personal income — are precisely the regions electing those severe conservatives. Wasn’t Red America supposed to be the land of traditional values, where people don’t eat Thai food and don’t rely on handouts?

The article made its case with maps showing the distribution of dependency, but you get the same story from a more formal comparison. Aaron Carroll of Indiana University tells us that in 2010, residents of the 10 states Gallup ranks as “most conservative” received 21.2 percent of their income in government transfers, while the number for the 10 most liberal states was only 17.1 percent.

Now, there’s no mystery about red-state reliance on government programs. These states are relatively poor, which means both that people have fewer sources of income other than safety-net programs and that more of them qualify for “means-tested” programs such as Medicaid.

By the way, the same logic explains why there has been a jump in dependency since 2008. Contrary to what Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney suggest, Mr. Obama has not radically expanded the safety net. Rather, the dire state of the economy has reduced incomes and made more people eligible for benefits, especially unemployment benefits. Basically, the safety net is the same, but more people are falling into it.

But why do regions that rely on the safety net elect politicians who want to tear it down? I’ve seen three main explanations.

First, there is Thomas Frank’s thesis in his book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”: working-class Americans are induced to vote against their own interests by the G.O.P.’s exploitation of social issues. And it’s true that, for example, Americans who regularly attend church are much more likely to vote Republican, at any given level of income, than those who don’t.

Still, as Columbia University’s Andrew Gelman points out, the really striking red-blue voting divide is among the affluent: High-income residents of red states are overwhelmingly Republican; high-income residents of blue states only mildly more Republican than their poorer neighbors. Like Mr. Frank, Mr. Gelman invokes social issues, but in the opposite direction. Affluent voters in the Northeast tend to be social liberals who would benefit from tax cuts but are repelled by things like the G.O.P.’s war on contraception.

Finally, Cornell University’s Suzanne Mettler points out that many beneficiaries of government programs seem confused about their own place in the system. She tells us that 44 percent of Social Security recipients, 43 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits, and 40 percent of those on Medicare say that they “have not used a government program.”

Presumably, then, voters imagine that pledges to slash government spending mean cutting programs for the idle poor, not things they themselves count on. And this is a confusion politicians deliberately encourage. For example, when Mr. Romney responded to the new Obama budget, he condemned Mr. Obama for not taking on entitlement spending — and, in the very next breath, attacked him for cutting Medicare.

The truth, of course, is that the vast bulk of entitlement spending goes to the elderly, the disabled, and working families, so any significant cuts would have to fall largely on people who believe that they don’t use any government program.

The message I take from all this is that pundits who describe America as a fundamentally conservative country are wrong. Yes, voters sent some severe conservatives to Washington. But those voters would be both shocked and angry if such politicians actually imposed their small-government agenda.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 16, 2012

February 19, 2012 Posted by | States, Welfare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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