We hear all the time the argument that to lower the abortion rate, we need to provide greater access to contraception. This is a typical feature of the so-called “common ground” approach to reducing abortion, and we Catholics are looked at askance for failing to get on board with the agenda of expanding access to contraception as a way to reduce abortions.
There are lots of problems with that approach. One is that it is just plain false. Greater access and use of contraceptives does not reduce abortion. The facts speak for themselves.
Fact 1. Contraceptive use is already “virtually universal among women of reproductive age,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Alan Guttmacher Institute (the research arm of Planned Parenthood) reports that 89% of reproductive-age women already are using contraception and 98% have used it in their lifetime. Even among teenagers who are sexually active and wish to avoid pregnancy, only 7% don’t use contraception.
Fact 2. The typical use of contraceptives still results in pregnancy. Even among women who use contraceptives, there are still unintended pregnancies and abortions. With typical use, the risk of pregnancy over 12 months is 9% with oral contraceptives and 15% with condoms. The failure rate among teenagers is even higher. 48% of women who report an unintended pregnancy, and 54% of women seeking an abortion, were using contraceptives during the time when they became pregnant.
Fact 3. Contraceptive researchers and social scientists have concluded that increased availability of contraception fails to reduce rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion. In fact, it may have the opposite result. One British researcher has said, “It is clear that providing more family planning clinics, far from having the effect of reducing conception rates,has actually led to an increase.” American researcher Douglas Kirby concludes: “Most studies that have been conducted during the past 20 years have indicated that improving access to contraception did not significantly increase contraceptive use or decrease teen pregnancy”
Fact 4. Even the so-called “emergency contraception” doesn’t work to reduce pregnancy and abortion. Research in the U.S., Western Europe and China have all agreed that no effect on pregnancy or abortion rates was demonstrated with advance provision of “emergency contraception”.
Fact 5. The way to reduce teen pregnancy and abortion is to encourage chastity. Studies dating back into the 1990’s clearly show that the most of the reduction in teen pregnancy and abortion rates can be attributed to reduced sexual activity. This is also the most effective way to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
For more information about these statistics, see this report from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Pro-Life Secretariat.
The principal reason that contraception fails to reduce abortion is that it conveys a terrible, anti-life lesson. It teaches that a new human life is the enemy to be avoided at all costs, and certainly not welcomed. When contraceptives fail — as they inevitably do — this lesson leads logically to looking at abortion as a contraceptive of last resort.
This is bad for people, it is bad for society, and it is bad public policy. Don’t fall for it.