The Public Policy

Unintentionally Illogical

Since when do "unintended" pregnancies represent a health crisis?

By 8.3.05

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RALEIGH -- As we wait for the official hearings over the worthiness of Judge John Roberts for the Supreme Court, and woman Democrats in the Senate demand a vow from him to uphold the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision if appointed, it's a good time to examine some rhetoric and reasoning of abortion rights advocates.

If you read enough of their literature you will find that so-called "family planning" organizations, which back full abortion protections, believe that high numbers of "unintended" pregnancies represent a health crisis.

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which studies abortion, reproductive, and sexual health statistics, roughly 50 percent of all pregnancies in the United States are unintentional. Forty-seven percent of those "accidents" end in abortion, and the institute sees a cause-and-effect.

"The relatively high rate of unintended pregnancy in the United States has received increasing attention as the immediate cause of both abortion and unplanned birth," Stanley K. Henshaw, a former senior fellow at Guttmacher, wrote a few years ago.

This is common alarmist rhetoric among pro-choice advocates. But does it make sense?

Take my wife and me, for example. We have four children that neither of us intended, which represented 100 percent of our pregnancies. By Guttmacher's reasoning, we were lucky that those pregnancies didn't cause abortions instead of children, and we were also fortunate that we had eight months each (or so) to plan for the births. I guess we really bucked the odds.

My wife's pregnancies were caused by our intentional sex, yet somehow we knew the possible consequences of our actions, despite our lack of planning. Maybe we were the lucky ones. But are we in the minority? Do most people have their sexual encounters without understanding that it can cause reproduction?

"Family planners" seem to think so, and they believe it's causing a crisis of accidental conceptions that's got to be stemmed.

"Unintended pregnancy is an issue that affects public health, our economy, and our society, because one way or another, we are all affected by its impact," said Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, Michigan's surgeon general, about a month ago. "Working together, we can ensure that every pregnancy is an intended pregnancy."

Further developing their illogic, family planners and public health officials conclude that while it's impossible to stop sexual activity, it's possible to "make every child born in America a planned, wanted child," as former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders famously said. Sexual intercourse can't be stopped, but any resultant pregnancies can. That's why kids in school need to be given contraceptives and be educated about them. The family planning mission must be to make all sex conception-proof, with no slip-ups that turn into undesired fetuses.

The abortion option has to remain as the last line of defense in order for this philosophy to survive, to rescue inadvertently conceiving couples from their predicaments. Abortion simultaneously protects sexual freedom and relieves personal responsibility. The "every child a planned, wanted child" ideology can't be sustained without it as a fallback, at the minimum.

The family planners' way to promote their ideology is through "sexual health" education. This emphasizes the discussion of birth control, of which both abortion and abstinence are included on a veritable menu of options. Identify your craving, choose your partner, pick your protection.

But in reality, the necessary educational message is quite simple: If you know that sex produces babies, then you are informed, and you will be responsible for a pregnancy.

The way to end the "unwanted pregnancy" burden on society is for government to stop rewarding -- or at least trying to fix -- the poor decisions that lead to those conceptions. Political leaders should say, "We're not going to bail you out of your sexual behavior by paying for contraception, by paying for your abortion, by subsidizing your unwanted child, or by putting you on welfare. You and your family will be responsible for the results of your choices." Isn't this principle supposed to be working for welfare reform?

Instead, government sends the message that if you and your partner end up with a conception you don't want, taxpayers and lawmakers will bail you out -- either with money or with a pregnancy termination, or both.

For that, abortion advocates want a guarantee from John Roberts.

Paul Chesser is an associate editor for the John Locke Foundation. Contact him at pchesser@carolinajournal.com.

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About the Author

Paul Chesser publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, a news aggregator for North Carolina, and is a contributor of articles, research and investigative reports for both national and state-level free-market think tanks.