Realistically Curtailing Abortion

Many laws permit or even promote abortion, but to us this is a great evil,” Elder Oaks said in Saturday afternoon’s session of General Conference.  Oaks is just one of many religious leaders that call abortion evil, but are there more effective ways to curb abortions than to simply stand on a soapbox?  A recent study in St. Louis has shown a program that cuts the teen birth rate by 72%, and cuts the abortion rate by 68%.  How does it do this?  By providing free contraception.

“As a society, we want to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortion rates. This study has demonstrated that having access to no-cost contraception helps us get to that goal,” said Alina Salganicoff, director of women’s health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“It’s just an amazing improvement,” Dr. James T. Breeden, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said of the results. “I would think if you were against abortions, you would be 100 percent for contraception access.”

The project tracked more than 9,000 women in St. Louis, many of them poor or uninsured. They were given their choice of a range of contraceptive methods at no cost — from birth control pills to goof-proof options like the IUD or a matchstick-sized implant.

When price wasn’t an issue, women flocked to the most effective contraceptives — the implanted options, which typically cost hundreds of dollars up-front to insert. These women experienced far fewer unintended pregnancies as a result, reported Dr. Jeffrey Peipert of Washington University in St. Louis in a study published Thursday.

The effect on teen pregnancy was striking: There were 6.3 births per 1,000 teenagers in the study. Compare that to a national rate of 34 births per 1,000 teens in 2010.

There also were substantially lower rates of abortion, when compared with women in the metro area and nationally: 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women in the study, compared with 13.4 to 17 abortions per 1,000 women overall in the St. Louis region, Peipert calculated. That’s lower than the national rate, too, which is almost 20 abortions per 1,000 women.

In fact, if the program were expanded, one abortion could be prevented for every 79 to 137 women given a free contraceptive choice, Peipert’s team reported in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

I think it’s nice to stand on a soapbox and talk about the evils of abortion, but if we really want to stop unintended pregnancies and abortions, we’ve got to be pragmatic.  With this program, teens are avoiding pregnancy and keeping children out of poverty, a goal that Oaks seems to laud when he said

“Children are highly vulnerable.  They have little or no power to protect or provide for themselves, and little influence on so much that is vital to their well-being. Children need others to speak for them, and they need decision-makers who put their well-being ahead of selfish adult interests.”

“Children need the emotional and personal strength that comes from being raised by two parents who are united in their marriage and their goals.”

I understand the concern that providing contraception gives people a license to engage in immoral sexual activity, but it seems to me that they’re doing it anyway.  Isn’t it better for children to be raised in an environment where (1) they are wanted, (2) parents are married, and (3) they aren’t in a poverty from birth?

If we’re really serious about reducing the number of abortions, and having children raised in better homes, doesn’t it make sense to support programs that actually prevent both abortion and unwanted pregnancy?

There are some who complain that insurance companies shouldn’t be required to pay for contraception, but I find that argument short sighted.  In the long run, if we can prevent unwanted pregnancies, we will save money.  An NBC News report said

According to a 2011 study from the Guttmacher Institute, unplanned pregnancies costs the United States a conservatively estimated $11 billion per year.

“The way I look at it as a gynecologist with an interest in women’s health and public health and family planning, is that this saves money,” Peipert said. “When you provide no-cost contraception, and you remove that barrier, you finally reduce unintended pregnancy rates. It doesn’t matter what side one is on politically, that’s a good thing.”

He also discussed direct costs and how much better contraception is for women in high risk groups.

Several factors contributed to the declines, he argued. First, a large majority of the women in the study were encouraged — and chose — to use intrauterine devices, or IUDs, and hormonal implants over more commonly used birth control pills.

Because birth control pills require strict adherence, and people forget to take them, that method fails about 8 percent of the time. IUDs and implants are over 99 percent effective.

Second, program enrollees included high-risk populations like women and girls who’ve already used abortion services once — and are more likely to have a second abortion — and women and girls who are economically distressed and may not have means to obtain contraceptive products and services.

That’s important because an IUD, including the device and the physician’s service to place it in the uterus, can cost between $800 and $1,000. Since an IUD lasts at least five years, it saves money in the long run over a monthly cost of roughly $15-$25 for pills, but the up-front charge is prohibitive for many women.

James Trussell, a Princeton University professor of economics and public affairs and an expert in family planning called the results “terrific, great work, and a very important demonstration project.”

What are your thoughts?  Do you think the Church and Elder Oaks would support contraception as a means to cut both abortion and having children raised in homes in poverty without 2 parents?

12 comments on “Realistically Curtailing Abortion

  1. They don’t have the text available yet, but my recollection is that Oakes made reference to the rights of children who had not been born. Since in Mormon theology, those children actually exist in a spirit form, I suspect he was referring to all of the unborn, not just those who are aborted. So no, I don’t think he would explicitly support contraception. And that is before we even get to the premarital sex issue.

  2. I made this exact same point a couple of days ago on Facebook, citing that same study. Good to see others are noticing it.

    And I’m not sure we’re watching out for the rights of the unborn by having them conceived into a world where they’re an unwanted pregnancy. Especially when we hear constantly that children should be raised, when possible, in a two-parent home.

  3. So, advocating laws against murder or child abuse is “standing on a soapbox”. And we should curtail murder and child abuse by trying to appease those who may commit these things? Why would abortion be treated any different?

  4. Of course contraception reduces unwanted pregnancies and abortions. In a perfect world, all children would be wanted and would be raised in a loving, two-parent household. We certainly do not live in a perfect world. Contraception puts us closer to a perfect world. It is only rational to promote contraception; if it can be given free to those who can’t afford it, so much the better.

  5. K, I’m pretty sure you are familiar with Elder Oaks talk a few years ago titled “Good, Better, Best.” Standing in General Conference calling abortion evil is “good”, but actually preventing abortion and teen motherhood is “better.” How many of the 9000 teens in the St. Louis study changed their behavior as a result of Elder Oaks talk? Yet we can see how many didn’t have pregnancy or abortion because of contraception. Obviously, the study was more effective than Oaks talk.

    Are you saying that you would rather have more abortion in the name of not “trying to appease those who may commit these things”?

  6. Last Lemming, Elder Oaks referenced his time serving as a judge in Utah as seeing all the problems associated with teen pregnancy, poverty, and the ills of society. I do wonder if as a judge he would feel such contraceptive programs would be helpful. Certainly Mormons have moved away from the idea that contraception was evil, and have embraced family planning. I don’t think Mormon theology is an impediment to better family planning.

  7. Clearly it is not an impediment to better family planning as we seem to be getting better at it. But it is an impediment to a GA openly endorsing contraception.

  8. I’d be interested in hearing more about the history of the Church’s stance on contraception. My parents were extremely conservative Mormons married in the early 70s. They used contracption as desired. That combined with the fact that I’ve never heard any counsel recommending against contraception has led me to believe the Church hasn’t had a problem with “family planning” beyond the issue of abortion for at least the past 40 years.

    Second, the church obviously has a problem with sexual immorality. So the question becomes, does providing free contraception promote sexual immorality? If it does, is it better to promote sexual immorality in order to reduce abortion?

    Looking at http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/USTPtrends.pdf (and acknowledging the danger of equating Utah with Mormonism) it appears that it is certainly possible to create a culture that both promotes teenage abstinence and minimizes teenage pregnancy. The chart on page 13 shows Utah as 45 out of 50 states in teenage pregnancy rates. Interesetingly enough it shows that many Bible belt states — presumably promoters of teenage sexual abstinence — are in the top 10 with regard to teenage pregnancy.

    If Mormons can combine an emphasis on abstinence with low teen pregnancy rates, why can’t anyone else? And if it is possible is that a better route than giving out free contraceptives?

  9. I think that if pressed the Church would say something like this:

    “abortion is an outright sin – except in cases of rape, incest or the life of the mother is threatened.

    sexual relations prior to marriage is a sin. what happens in sexual relations post marriage is between the couple and God. Therefore, we advise against any form of premarital sex, with or without contraception but leave it to the married couple to decide but remind them that God has commanded us to multiply and replenish the earth.”

    something like that. I believe I have heard the church say that if a couple CAN have kids but chooses not to do so – that too is a sin. think of the commandment to Adam and Eve.

  10. As a high school teacher I find that Australian students in general have a lack of education about this subject. I don’t know wether this would be the case in America or not. what benefits them most is education. Education about the nature of the society that they live in.

    In Oz contraception is free through the Pbs. As far as I’m aware it hasn’t really impacted on the number of teens getting pregnant.

    From teens that I have taught a lot of the sex they have is about exploration. They have these feelings and society teaches that they don’t need to control them.

  11. I came across this book by Tony Campolo. Red Letter Revolution: What if Jesus Really Meant What He Said? In it he presents statistics on why 72% of Women in America have abortions. I don’t know how reliable his Stats are, but I will trust what he says until I find out otherwise.

    One liberal congressman said to me sarcastically, ‘You evangelicals, do you think that protecting life ends at birth?’

    “I knew exactly what he meant – that we see the unborn as precious, but once these kids are born, they’re on their own.
    I think I stated in the book that 72 percent of all abortions in America are economically driven. That is to say a woman who works 35 hours a week because her company doesn’t want to give her 40 hours — since they’d have to provide her with healthcare – faces terrible choices.

    “She works 35 hours a week and she’s making a minimum wage. She’s just about able to survive on that – it provides for rent and food but she gets pregnant and what does she face? She takes off for a couple of weeks to have the baby and she’ll probably lose her job.

    “It’s a fact she wants to have the baby, but who’s going to pay the hospital bill – thousands of dollars?

    “Most evangelicals voted in the last election for the political party that said ‘We want to end Obamacare before it even gets off the ground.’ That’s scary to me. If you don’t like Obamacare, what are you going to do for this woman who is pregnant?

    “Are you going to provide prenatal care, postnatal care and pay the hospital bill? Are you going to raise her minimum wage?

    “The same people who yell ‘Pro-life, pro-life, pro-life!’ are the same people in Congress who vote against raising the minimum wage. Check it out. And so here is this woman who is living below the poverty level and you are not going to raise the minimum wage even though the buying power of the minimum wage is 25 percent less than it was 20 years ago?

    “What are we doing here? We call ourselves pro-life when all we are interested in is taking care of the unborn.

    “We could cut the rate of abortions dramatically if we could provide the economic support system to sustain pregnant women, prenatal and postnatal – and if we would provide day care for the child. In short, if we are going to be pro-life and I am very pro-life, I think we have to be pro-life all the way.

  12. That’s a great quote from the book, Astral_LDS. In talking about abortion/contraception with a friend in my ward, he seemed so focused on the “immorality” of the “fornicating” people that he never considered the social aspects of an unwanted child, who probably will turn to a life of crime. I hope my clips of Freakonomics helped him understand the long-term problems of unwanted children.

    There is a craft store chain here in the U.S. called Hobby Lobby that doesn’t want to support Obamacare’s contraception mandate, and is being fined something like a million dollars a day for non-compliance due to the owners’ religious beliefs. Obviously this will be decided in the courts, and we will see if they go out of business.

    I told my sister that if Hobby Lobby doesn’t want to support contraception due to religious beliefs, then fine, they should therefore pay a tax that will go to build all the jails to house the children who turn to crime because their mothers didn’t want them…. It just seems so shortsighted to me.

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