Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Safe, Legal, Rare Illusion - The New York Times Shows the Lie Behind Abortion and Contraception

Very few media outlets have promoted abortion as consistently and vigorously as the New York Times.  So when I read this editorial, written by Ross Douthat, who has many times in the past promoted abortion, I could have been knocked over by a feather.  There must be an awful lot of prayers being said on behalf of the pro life cause to produce an editorial like this one in the New York Times.  This article seems to be at least partly the result of the ongoing conflict between the Bishops and the Obama administration.  I wonder what Mr. Douthat would think if he actually took the time to read Humanae Vitae?  Much of what he writes here was written by Pope Paul VI.  Artificial contraception leads directly to abortion.


The ‘Safe, Legal, Rare’ Illusion

AMID the sound and fury of the latest culture-war battles — first over breast cancer dollars and Planned Parenthood, and then over the White House’s attempt to require that religious employers cover contraception and potential abortifacients — it’s easy to forget that there is at least some common ground in American politics on sex, pregnancy, marriage and abortion.

Even the most pro-choice politicians, for instance, usually emphasize that they want to reduce the need for abortion, and make the practice rare as well as safe and legal. Even the fiercest conservative critics of the White House’s contraception mandate — yes, Rick Santorum included — agree that artificial birth control should be legal and available. [I always find it ironic that those who promote abortion as a good thing still say they want it to be done only in rare circumstances.]  And both Democrats and Republicans generally agree that the country would be better off with fewer pregnant teenagers, fewer unwanted children, fewer absent fathers, fewer out-of-wedlock births.

Where cultural liberals and social conservatives differ is on the means that will achieve these ends. The liberal vision tends to emphasize access to contraception as the surest path to stable families, wanted children and low abortion rates. The more direct control that women have over when and whether sex makes babies, liberals argue, the less likely they’ll be to get pregnant at the wrong time and with the wrong partner — and the less likely they’ll be to even consider having an abortion. (Slate’s Will Saletan has memorably termed this “the pro-life case for Planned Parenthood.”)

The conservative narrative, by contrast, argues that 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. To the extent that contraceptive use has a significant role in the conservative vision (and obviously there’s some Catholic-Protestant disagreement), it’s in the context of already stable, already committed relationships. Monogamy, not chemicals or latex, is the main line of defense against unwanted pregnancies.

The problem with the conservative story is that it doesn’t map particularly well onto contemporary mores and life patterns [I congratulate Mr. Douthat for his honesty in this statement]. A successful chastity-centric culture seems to depend on a level of social cohesion, religious intensity and shared values that exists only in small pockets of the country. Mormon Utah, for instance, largely lives up to the conservative ideal, with some of America’s lowest rates of teenage pregnancies, out-of-wedlock births and abortions. But many other socially conservative regions (particularly in the South) feature higher rates of unwed and teenage parenthood than in the country as a whole.

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.

At the same time, 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.

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.

These are realities liberals should keep in mind when tempted to rail against conservatives for rejecting the intuitive-seeming promise of “more condoms, fewer abortions.” What’s intuitive isn’t always true, and if social conservatives haven’t figured out how to make all good things go together in post-sexual-revolution America, neither have social liberals.

At the very least, American conservatives are hardly crazy to reject a model for sex, marriage and family that seems to depend heavily on higher-than-average abortion rates. They’ve seen that future in places like liberal, cosmopolitan New York, where two in five pregnancies end in abortion. And it isn’t a pretty sight. [Can you believe this was printed in the New York Times?!]


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Dave Armstrong believes that Ross Douthat has been going down a not-so-good path as of late. Check out the following link/URL:

    1. Excellent article - I think it is all summed up in this sentence: “The devil’s victory today is that he has Catholics inside the Church doing the work traditionally reserved for non-Catholic critics (i.e., they are “useful idiots”).” Thanks so much for sharing it, I have become increasingly alarmed by Douthat’s writings. Of course, people like Father Z love him. We really need to pray for these people. They are headed down a very dangerous path.

    2. As I write this, I am listening to "The World Over with Raymond Arroyo" on EWTN. One of Mr. Arroyo's guests on tonight's edition is none other than Ross Douthat.

    3. Thank you for pointing that out. It sadly confirms my opinion of EWTN that they are over the top, going with the rad trads and in rebellion against the Magesterium of the Church. This is particularly sad for me because EWTN was instrumental in my return to the Church. I'll take a look at this and may do a post. Thanks again.

    4. I watched the segment with Ross Douthat. It is interesting that he is very critical of the pope but tries to mitigate it by saying, well, I could be wrong, and we have to be careful of becoming the older brother in the prodigal son parable, but this pope is a danger to the faith. They don't seem to understand anything at all of how lost the world is, how deeply entrenched sin is in the world, and that people need to be pulled from the fire before we can even begin to teach them right from wrong. I think I feel a post coming on. Thanks.

    5. Catholic in Brooklyn, has Ross Douthat publicly bashed BISHOPS in recent years?


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