Abortion, Contraception and the States

To Reihan's objections (and those of some readers), I should say that I didn't mean to oversimplify the state-by-state picture on abortion, which is inevitably rather complex. (For instance, it's no doubt true that some of the extremely low abortion rate in Utah and Idaho is explained away by the extremely high abortion rate next door in Nevada, and obviously different dynamics are at work in states with low abortion rates and high out-of-wedlock birth rates, like Louisiana and Mississippi, and states with low abortion rates and lower-than-average out-of-wedlock birth rates, like Utah or Iowa.) All I'm saying is that it's hard to find support for the following propositions, which Will Saletan regularly advances - that a concerted governmental push to expand the use of birth control is the best way to dramatically reduce the number of abortions, and that the intransigence of religious conservatives on this question is keeping the abortion rate artificially inflated. At the very least, the picture is a whole lot murkier than that - and if you really want to prioritize abortion reduction, I think there's considerably more evidence to support a supply-side approach (i.e., making them harder to get) than the demand-side approach that Saletan and others champion.

I should add that I don't expect or want American social policy to reflect the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception, I don't have a problem with our public health services providing access to birth control (if the money in question isn't filtered through Planned Parenthood, that is), and I agree with Reihan that social conservatives shouldn't reject programs like the one in question out of hand. But I also think that an awful lot of the policies liberals like to champion in this area - expanded public-school sex ed programs chief among them - don't deliver anything remotely like the benefits they promise. And I'm extremely wary of defining "common ground" on abortion in terms that essentially require the pro-life movement to give up the store in the legal debate, in exchange for at best marginal returns where the abortion rate is concerned.