Access to contraceptives does not prevent abortions

by Christopher Dodson | Catholic Action

Christopher Dodson

It is the “go to” argument for abortion advocates who want to evade talking about the humanity of the unborn child. It usually goes something like this: “If pro-life people really wanted to reduce abortions they would support greater access to contraceptives.”

It is a diversion ploy. The statement says nothing about abortion itself. It only says something about the position some people have about contraception policies. It is also a logical fallacy. A person’s position on one issue does not determine the correctness or wrongness of the person’s position on another issue.

Nevertheless, it sounds like a reasonable argument to many people. After all, they think, abortion means that the woman was pregnant and contraception prevents pregnancies. Preventing pregnancies, they think, prevents abortions.

Before addressing the flaws in this thinking, we should set some parameters.

First, the Catholic Church teaches that contraception is morally wrong. She also teaches that a person cannot do a moral wrong to achieve what the person believes is a greater good. The morality of contraception, however, is not the subject of this column. Very few people who assert the pro-contraception argument are going to be persuaded by Catholic teaching or moral principles.

Second, when people say that pro-lifers should support more contraception, what they really mean is that we should support government funding of contraception or forced funding of someone else’s contraception. There are no laws prohibiting the use of contraception, and it is widely available in the United States. This is about funding. Contraception proponents apparently believe that nothing short of free and immediate availability of contraception to one hundred percent of the public is enough.

The argument for more contraception as the solution to abortion is so appealing on its face that many pro-lifers do not challenge it and attempts to do so often fall-back to a weak “we can’t fund everything” argument. Here is a better argument: It does not work.

The easiest way to demonstrate the flaws in the argument is to look at the states. States that spend more tax money on contraception, impose contraceptive coverage mandates on insurers, and aggressively make contraception available in schools and public facilities have higher abortion rates than states that do not. North Dakota does not spend any state tax money for family planning, but it has one of the lowest abortion rates in the country.

The same is true at the international level. Researchers have shown that nations that devote money and laws to achieve greater access to contraception have higher abortion rates than countries that have less access to contraception.

The trend bears true on the individual level. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion research organization, most women who have abortions used contraception when they got pregnant. This fact is supported by other research finding that most women facing unexpected pregnancies used contraception at the time they became pregnant.

There exist a few studies showing otherwise, but they looked only at the use of long-lasting implanted contraceptives on a small population group. In other words, the studies did not look at the impacts of wide use of government-funded contraception.

Why does greater access to contraception not lead to fewer abortions? Researchers are not sure but they suggest several hypotheses. One is that more contraception leads to more sexual behavior and, of course, most forms of contraception have failure rates. Increasing the number of times the contraception is “used” increases the number of times it “fails,” leading to more pregnancies, not less. Those additional pregnancies, of course, were unplanned. A second hypothesis is that greater access to contraceptives eventually leads to more sexual behavior outside of marriage, including activities without contraception. Finally, there is the possibility that greater promotion and coverage of contraception by the government leads to greater public acceptance of sexual activities outside of marriage, with or without contraception.

There may come a time when greater access to free contraception might lead to an overall reduction in abortion numbers, though the evidence so far indicates that is not likely. Even if it occurred, however, it would not justify forcing others to pay for someone’s contraception and not just because doing so would make people violate their conscience.

A final problem with the pro-contraception argument is that it focuses on the wrong subject. Ultimately, the pro-life community is concerned about the pregnant woman. The lack of contraception does not cause a woman to consider an abortion. It is too late for that. The absence of a family, church, community, and even government to provide her with the means to bring the unborn child to birth is what forces her to turn against the child.

This is why we should look at the rate of abortions per pregnant women, not just the rate of abortions per fertile women. The latter can provide useful information but the causes can be confused by fertility rates and other factors. The former tells us how well we are doing to help pregnant women choose life and that tells us how well we are doing in building the culture of life.

Christopher Dodson is executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference. The NDCC acts on behalf of the Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the public about Catholic social doctrine. The conference website is ndcatholic.org.