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April 13, 2010

Contra Koppelman: How "Red States" reduce abortion

Michael linked, the other day, to my friend Andy Koppelman's provocatively titled post, "How the Religious Right Promotes Abortion."  (Obviously, Andy does not use the word "promote" to suggest that abortion-increases are intended by the "religious right."  He claims, instead, that "its most stalwart proponents have succeeded in implementing and maintaining policies that keep the abortion rate high.")

Like the claim that was swirling around in the blog-ether in the run-up to the health-care vote -- i.e., that the experiences of other countries show that universal health-care coverage reduces abortions -- Andy's claims did not ring true to me and, it turns out, are incomplete, as Michael New explains at Public Discourse.  That they are inaccurate, no doubt, as a disappointment to those who -- whether or not they care about abortion rates -- enjoy the frisson that accompanies epater-ing les "religious right"-ers,  (I would not include Andy in this category, since he has always struck me as a fair-minded and charitable scholar-citizen.)  Or, maybe not, since -- in my experience, anyway -- there are some "just so" claims (e.g., publicly funded contraception, not legal regulation of abortion, most effectively reduces abortion) that travel through our conversations and for which evidence is convenient but hardly necessary.

Here is New's conclusion: 

Andrew Koppelman is the latest in a long line of pro-choice commentators to try to make the case that the best strategy for lowering the abortion rate is not, greater legal protection for unborn children, but rather, more funding for contraception and comprehensive sex education. Unfortunately, the available research and data do not support his arguments. There is no solid evidence that greater federal funding for contraceptives lowers abortion rates. Furthermore, contrary to the claims of Koppelman there exists evidence that well designed abstinence education programs are able to reduce teen sexual activity.

However, the best way to empirically test Koppelman’s claims are to simply analyze abortion data from the state level. If Koppelman’s claims are correct, then sexually permissive, contraceptive friendly blue states should have the lowest abortion rates. However, that is not the case. Data from both the Centers for Disease Control and the Alan Guttmacher clearly indicate that abortion rates are significantly lower in red states than in blue states. Furthermore, the states where Republican Presidential nominees receive the most support have far lower abortion rates than those states where Democratic Presidential nominees perform the best. Simply put, state level data offer no support for Koppelman’s argument.

Overall, it should come as no surprise to pro-lifers that sexual restraint and greater legal protection for the unborn has been and will continue to be the best strategy for lowering abortion rates. The pro-life movement would do well to stay the course. . . .

Posted by Rick Garnett on April 13, 2010 at 09:29 AM in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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Koppelman's argument not only relies on the premise that New's piece undercuts, but his argument also relies, as a commenter on Koppelman's points out, on being open to abortion as a backup plan if contraception fails. So he's asking prolifers to embrace deliberate reliance on abortion, against the whole moral idea underlying the prolife stance, in the hopes of netting fewer abortions.

I am not aware of any reading of Catholic theory, or others' pro-life theories, that would allow that, so it seems more than strained for Koppelman to expect that as realistic, even in some theoretical sense.

Posted by: not buying | Apr 13, 2010 5:29:38 PM

The article quoted makes one major fallacious argument. New says that there is evidence that abstinence-only education leads to lower rates of sexual activity and implies that this means that abstinence-only decreases abortion rates. However, the logical step is not supported: the increase in unprotected sexual activity could very well outweigh the overall decrease in sexual activity.

New's rudimentary statistical analysis is also unconvincing because it fails to control for other relevant variables, thus falling into a correlation/causation trap.

Finally, "not buying" mischaracterizes Koppelman's argument. He does not say that the red states should adopt abortion as a backup policy, he says that they should increase funding for contraceptives and start employing comprehensive sexual education. I would challenge "not buying" to quote the portion of Koppelman's article that says the red states should accept abortion, because I sure missed it.

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Apr 14, 2010 1:20:19 AM

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