Want To Cut Down On Abortions? Make Them Illegal By Jane Galt

Now is the time of year when William Saletan tells us that we should stop arguing about abortion and just keep women from getting pregnant in the first place.

Well, thank you, Dr. Insight. Hey guys–let’s stop arguing about the death penalty, and make it so no one ever commits heinous murders!

The insistence that the abortion problem can be remedied with better education would seem to me willfully obtuse, if it weren’t obvious that the more ardently pro-choice members of our society need, in a deep down way, to believe that abortion is a necessary response to an unforeseeable misfortune, rather than a form of birth control for the lazy and imprudent.

Which sounds more perjorative than I mean it to. I mean, I’m lazy and imprudent in all sorts of ways–just ask my student loan officer. But even a cursory thought about abortion leads one to the conclusion that inadequate sex education is simply not likely to be a major contributor to the number of abortions in this country.

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People who get abortions can be divided into three categories: those who were using birth control perfectly, but had an unforeseeable accident; those who were using birth control imperfectly (“imperfect” use apparently, in many of the statistics collected, includes “oops, we’re out of condoms!”), and those who weren’t using birth control. The largest group is apparently group number three.

Now, to a certain sort of social analyst, this seems to indicate that these people desperately need education and cheaper birth control. But it seems to me that, outside of a few religious communities where abortion is not likely to be a common practice, there are very, very few people in America, even young ones, who do not know that having unprotected sex gets you pregnant. Whether they have hip, now, “Do what ever you want, but do it safely” sex ed, or mean, puritannical “Good girls don’t have sex” abstinence-based education, they are being told exactly what sort of thing can get you pregnant–and in abstinence-based programmes, having the bejeesus scared out of them with scenarios that are possible, but wildly unlikely. If there is a teenager in America who doesn’t know that doing that can result in a baby nine months later, then they are being home-schooled by incredibly uptight religious parents, and any resulting pregnancies are Mom’s responsibility, not ours.

Even in the depths of the bible belt, teenage boys know what condoms are, and teenage girls have heard of the pill–if not on television, then in the girl’s bathroom. Now, one might argue that without good sex ed, teenagers will not be adequately informed about the relative benefits of condoms or the pill. But roughly half the people getting abortions were not using birth control at all. What is better sex ed going to tell them that they don’t already know?

Nor do I think that sex ed is likely to remedy what is (I assume) the other major source of unwanted-and-terminated pregnancies: people using their birth control incorrectly. I had (she said modestly) pretty much the finest sex education money can buy. It started in fifth grade and went every year until I was a junior in high school. Yet apparently none of my classmates could remember things like “no, you are not protected for a few months after you stop taking the pill”. My classmates avoided pregnancy (to the extent they did) not because they had fabulous sex education, but because they were anxious enough about their futures to use protection each and every time. As far as I have been able to tell from a cursory examination of the literature, abstinence-based education is almost completely ineffective at reducing teen pregnancies, a failure mitigated only by the fact that birth-control based education is also almost completely ineffective at reducing teen pregnancies. Sex education simply is not telling teenagers very many crucial facts that they don’t already know.

Better education might prevent some condom failures, if the same kids who forgot the dates of the Civil war three days into summer vacation actually recalled their sex-ed lectures at the moment of truth. But the other common failure–failure to take the pill every day, at the same time–is amply warned against by one’s gynecologist. Over and over and over again. Especially if you get your pills at Planned Parenthood, as so many of our uneducated teens do. Still one of the most common ways to get knocked up.

As for the people who get pregnant despite having taken every reasonable precaution–that tiny minority so beloved of Hollywood scriptwriters–education isn’t going to help them at all, is it?

Mr Saletan seems to be ignoring a very basic question, implied by his own statement that half of all terminated pregnancies occur in women who weren’t using any protection: why are so many people engaging in behaviour that they have been repeatedly told will lead to an unwanted pregnancy? Especially when there are cheap and effective prophylactics at the nearest drugstore? Answer: because it’s not very costly to do so.

Abortions are relatively cheap, and relatively painless (or at least, they sound that way if you haven’t had one–I don’t actually know if they’re painful or not), and America’s youth, like youth everywhere, are not very good at correctly estimating the future disutility of current actions. This is why smoking continues to be popular. And the back seat of a car is a terrible place to by trying to do an expected value calculation in your head.

Not that I’m advocating making abortion illegal; I’m not. As I’ve said before, I’m reluctantly pro-choice. But “safe, legal and rare” is like “good, fast, and cheap” — you have to pick two, because it’s not possible to have all three at one time. At least not until we get that perfect birth control that doesn’t have to be remembered, doesn’t have to be prescribed, doesn’t have to be applied, and never lets its user down. And by then we won’t have to worry about getting pregnant anyway, because the Trump will have sounded and we’ll all be on our way to meet Jesus at the pearly gates.

This content was used with ther permission of Asymmetrical Information.

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