PRI Review

President's Page: Contraception Reduces Abortion. Not.

Developing countries are no longer dirt poor, and birthrates are everywhere in decline, yet these striking new economic and demographic realities seem to have gone unnoticed by many in Washington. Congress continues to blindly appropriate over $400 million a year for “population stabilization” programs that make zero demographic sense. (They never did, hut that’s an argument for another time.) And USAID — where a new generation would like to concentrate resources on combating real problems, such as the HIV/AIDS and malaria pandemics — has little choice but to bow to this anachronistic “line item,” annually shipping dozens of container-loads of useless contraceptives to aging, even dying, countries.

These programs continue to have their defenders — name a federal spending program that doesn’t — but they have recently shifted ground. They now tell us that the massive distribution of contraceptives improves what they call the “reproductive health” of women. The more women they can contracept in a population, they argue, the fewer will die in childbirth and the fewer the number of abortions.

Reducing Abortion?

The claim that contraception reduces abortion seems to make a certain superficial sense. And, if it were true, it would put pro-lifers in a jaw-clenching double bind. For it would pit our opposition to contraception, which is itself often abortifacient, against our opposition to the taking of innocent unborn human life.

This claim echoes down the halls of Congress each and every time that we at PRI propose cuts in population control spending. “If we reduce access to contraceptives,” anti-life lobbyists whisper in the ears of congressmen, “abortion will increase. You don’t want that, do you?” And some congressmen go wobbly.

But does contraception really reduce the number of abortions?

The answer is a resounding no. If anything, it raises the abortion rate, as in a Latin American country we are currently investigating. Here, a reproductive health program poured tens of millions of your tax dollars into programs designed to raise the contraception rate and lower the abortion rate. It succeeded at first (in part by denying that contraceptives cause early-term abortions). But it failed — predictably — at the second: The abortion rate actually rose.

This has certainly been true in our own country, The Pill-pushers promised to improve our sex lives by “freeing” us from “unwanted” pregnancies and abortions. Yet the number of “unwanted” pregnancies, out-of-wedlock births, and abortions climbed for decades. Only abstinence and smaller cohorts of young women (their numbers gutted by abortion) have brought the number down in recent years.

More Abortion

Despite its current claims to the contrary, the abortion industry was never in doubt that more contraception would lead to more, not fewer, abortions. In 1973, abortionist Dr. Malcolm Potts, past medical director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said that “As people turn to contraception, there will be a rise, not a fall, in the abortion rate.”1 Dr. Judith Bury of the Brook Advisory Center chimed in a few years later that “There is overwhelming evidence that, contrary to what you might expect, the provision of contraception leads to an increase in the abortion rate.”2

The reason for this is twofold: First, contraceptives fail a certain percentage of the time. A 5% failure rate means that 5% of the couples using a certain method will be pregnant at the end of the year.

Second, the use of contraceptives gives a false sense of security that leads to risky sexual behavior. The result is more “unplanned” pregnancies and hence more abortions.

The Fundamental Problem

This makes sense to almost everyone except the population control lobby. Their fundamental problem (aside from wanting the money) is that, as card-carrying members of the Left, they think of human nature as infinitely malleable. (Think here of the New Socialist Man that Chairman Mao was said to be creating in the crucible of revolution.) They are convinced that, if they could only destroy the last vestige of traditional morality, and inject everyone with a long-term contraceptive, then everyone could behave like heedless beasts when it comes to sex. Their perfectly contracepted, perfectly childless, perfectly sterile paradise would be a loveless Hell, of course, as a moment’s reflection will reveal.

In a world of pressing health needs, Congress needs to eliminate line-item funding for “population stabilization” programs. We can debate whether these programs actually “worked” or not, but in a world of dying peoples the urgent need is for more babies, not fewer. It is time to give the director of USAID the discretion to put these funds to good use — into primary health care programs, for example, or into abstinence/marital fidelity programs to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, or into stopping the Avian flu epidemic. The world would be a better place. And the number of abortions really would go down.


1 Cited in Dr. Richard Wetzel, Sexual Wisdom (Proctor Publications, Ann Arbor: 1998), p. 90.

2 “Sex Education for Bureaucrats,” Scotsman, 29 June 1.

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