Abortion Reduction Revisited

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Will Saletan has a thoughtful response to my latest critique of his abortion-reduction proposals. You should read the whole thing, but here's the heart of the matter:

I don't have a brilliant program in mind. All I have is process of elimination: If most people in this country, including me, aren't willing to ban abortions (check), and if you can't stop people from having sex (check), and if contraception is the only other way to prevent pregnancy (check), and if providing access to contraception hasn't solved the problem (check), then the remaining factor is human failure to use the contraception. Target that problem. I don't care whether it's through the federal government, states, clinics, schools, churches, or Conan O'Brien. All that matters is sending a forceful message that if you're not prepared to become a parent, you must either avoid vaginal intercourse or use birth control religiously.

If sex-ed programs aren't getting this message across, come up with better sex-ed programs. Or go through churches, doctors, parents, Facebook, Webkinz--whatever. Keep trying until you find something that works.

Given his premises, this seems fair. Ultimately, I think Saletan's project founders on the difficulty of moralizing about something that you aren't willing to regulate in any significant way: Law and culture are intertwined, especially in a rights-conscious society, and if you want to teach people that they ought to use condoms because "unprotected sex can lead to the creation -- and the subsequent killing, through abortion -- of a developing human being," as Saletan's original piece put it, then you need a legal regime that treats the killing of said developing human being as something other than a constitutional right on par with freedom of speech, religion or assembly. But on this much, he and I agree: If you start with the premise that neither American abortion law nor American patterns of sexual behavior can be altered in any significant way, and you want fewer abortions nonetheless, then trying different ways to promote the use of birth control "until you find something that works" is really all you have left. 

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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