The pro-life case for contraception.

Science, technology, and life.
Sept. 30 2006 8:07 AM

Where the Rubber Meets Roe

The pro-life case for contraception.

(Continued from Page 1)

Third, they protest that federal family-planning money supports Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions. In fact, however, only 14 percent of this money goes to Planned Parenthood, and fewer than 9 percent of Planned Parenthood clients go there for abortions. So, even if Planned Parenthood diverted family-planning funds to abortion—which would be illegal—we're talking about a tiny fraction of the money.

Above all, the critics insist that contraception will backfire. As the Youngstown Diocese puts it, "Promotion of contraception leads to more extra-marital sexual intercourse, which leads to more unwanted pregnancies, which leads to more abortions."

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There's a thread of logic to this argument. It's facile to assert, as some liberals do, that contraceptives don't cause sex any more than umbrellas cause rain. The belief that you're protected does make it easier to say yes. But denying that contraceptives reduce your risk of pregnancy is as crazy as denying that an umbrella reduces your risk of getting wet.

Does the increased risk from more sex outweigh the decreased risk from more protection? Do the math. On average, contraception lowers your odds of pregnancy by a factor of seven. If you're capable of having seven times as much sex, congratulations. The rest of us will get pregnant less often, not more.

And that's what the data show. Ryan's bill targets women with family incomes below 200 percent of the poverty rate, since they have higher rates of unintended pregnancy and more difficulty finding or affording contraception. Among these women, the percentage using contraception declined from 1995 to 2002. As predicted by contraception opponents, the rate of sexual activity also declined, though only slightly. Even better, from a pro-life standpoint, when these women got pregnant unintentionally, the percentage who chose abortion fell.

Less contraception, less sex, more women choosing life. So, the abortion rate among these women went down, right?

Wrong. It went up. The decline in contraception overwhelmed the decline in sexual activity, resulting in a higher rate of unintended pregnancy. And the increase in unintended pregnancy overwhelmed the increase in women choosing life, resulting in more abortions. From a pro-life standpoint, trading contraception for abstinence and a "culture of life" was a net loss.

That's why Ryan insists on birth control. He's tired of pious slogans and symbolic bills crafted to save more congressional seats than babies. He's had enough of the debate between life and choice. He wants a new abortion debate. "You're either for reducing the number, or you're not," he says. He's made his decision. Now make yours.

A version of this article also appears in the Outlook section of the Sunday Washington Post.

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