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The Iona Blog

Why haven't birth control policies worked as was promised?

Author: Tom O'Gorman
Date: 22nd October 2011

The Witherspoon Institute in the US is opposed to new health insurance guidelines which will force almost all religious organisations who provide healthcare for their employees to fund contraceptive services, sterilisation and even aborifacients despite what the ethos of these organisations might have to say about the subject..

But Linda Greenhouse, the former Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times can't understand the opposition of the Witherspoon Institute to the use of government funds, or insurance funds of religious organisations, to fund or promote contraception:

She says: “In the year 2011, with half of all pregnancies unintended and with countless tears, both crocodile and sincere, shed over the fact that nearly half of those end in abortion, we are still, amazingly, re-fighting not only the birth control wars but the sexual revolution itself. The social revolution that brought same-sex marriage to New York seems a brushfire by comparison.”

Her point seems to be that the promotion of contraception, including abortifacients, is the only sure way to reduce unintended pregnancies and isn't this something the Catholic Church should favour?

In response, Helen Alvare writing for the Witherspoon Institute blog provides some useful statistics. These statistics strongly rebut the liberal axiom that the more widely available contraception becomes, the fewer unwanted pregnancies there will be. The opposite is generally the case.

She writes: “The data relevant to the relationship between the federal government’s birth control programs and rates of nonmarital births are straightforward: Since the federal government began its aggressive campaign to provide free or low-cost birth control to millions of Americans in 1970 (with the 'National Family Planning Program,' known as Title X of the Public Health Service Act), rates of nonmarital births have grown, not declined.

“In 1970, the number of unmarried births per 1000 women of childbearing age was 26; in 1980, it was 29; in 1990, it was 44; in 2005, 47; and in 2008, 52.5.

The Department of Health and Human Services summarized the data between 1960 and 2000 as follows: 'Nonmarital births as a percent of all births have increased among teens of all ages and across all racial and ethnic groups since 1960. … and among women of all ages.'

“Rates were 5.3pc in 1960, 11pc in 1970, 18pc in 1980, 28pc in 1990, and 33pc in 1999. Today, nonmarital births are at an all-time historic high of 41pc . These rates persist, while the availability of birth control has expanded exponentially among women of reproductive age.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control, for example, as of 2004, 89pc of sexually active women of reproductive age who are 'at risk' of becoming pregnant use contraception, and 98pc have used it in their lifetime.”

In fact, there is very little evidence to show that promoting contraception reduces the number of unplanned pregnancies. According to Professor David Paton, an economist at the University of Nottingham, government programmes aimed at cutting teenage pregnancy in the UK based around increased availability of contraception have been complete failures.

The argument that promoting contraception is a universal balm to the increasingly obvious damage caused by the sexual revolution flies in the face of the evidence.
We should also point out that in Ireland it was confidently predicted that the more widespread availability of contraception would reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies when, as elsewhere, the opposite has happened as sex became detached from marriage and even commitment.
As a society we need to realise that the best way to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies is to promote committed relationships, and most of all marriage. The vast majority of unwanted pregnancies arise from sexual relationships or encounters where there is no real commitment, or even the semblance of a commitment in many cases.

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