For this they needed a study? Apparently the answer is “yes.” You’ll find news reports scattered over the media today reporting on it, but they are mostly quite similar. Researchers provided women with free contraceptives for three years. They gave women a choice of methods. The result?
women experienced far fewer unintended pregnancies than expected: there were 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women in the study, after adjusting for age and race — much fewer than the national rate of 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women and lower also than the rate in the St. Louis area of 13.4 to 17 abortions per 1,000 women.
Surely the causation here is pretty obvious–if women use contraceptives they do not get pregnant they do not need abortions.
I know for some contraceptives and abortion are moral equivilants and both intrinsically evil. (I’m thinking here of Catholic teachings but of course that is not the only moral viewpoint that equates the two.) Maybe that’s a fine theoretical stance, but it seems to me sadly out of touch with reality. As women (and men, too, I think) experience them, contraception and abortion are hardly the same. Abortion is more difficult, more dangerous and more expensive than contraception. Thus for me the implications of the study seem quite clear–we’ll all be better off if women have ready access to contraceptives. (Of course, no one is required to use contraceptives.)
Access to birth control is important to both men and women, of course, but it seems fairly obvious that it is more important to women. Without birth control men may unintentionally father children. (Yes, I’ve thought about this language. I could have said “men may unintentionally participate in conception via sex” but that seems pretty clunky. I don’t think the phrase “father a child” means much more than provide the genetic material via sex, though. It’s a striking contrast with “to mother a child,” which I think actually implies some actual social relationship with the child. But I digress.) This can have all sorts of consequences for the man involved but as a general matter, there’s no threat to the man’s health.
By contrast, without birth control women may unintentionally become pregnant. In the best of all worlds this leads them with a choice–abortion or pregnancy/labor/delivery. (In the worst, they cannot find or afford a safe abortion and so pregnancy/labor/delivery or unsafe abortion are the options.) Each of those options carries health risks–risks that women with resources can avoid by obtaining contraceptives. Why would we deny poor women the same contraceptive choices?
And then there is this argument:
Jeanne Monahan of the conservative Family Research Council suggested contraceptive use can encourage riskier sexual behavior
I suppose by “riskier sexual behavior” she means sexual intercourse, which is what leads to pregnancy. But doesn’t the high rate of unintended pregnancy for women not using birth control tell us that they are engaging in intercourse anyway? There are undoubtedly some people who don’t engage in intercourse because they don’t have access to birth control but I think there are a whole lot more people who go right on ahead in any event.