Condoms and Plan B Could Save America
Though largely ignored during the 2016 presidential election (with the notable exception of Carly Fiorina's factually deficient monologue during a Republican primary debate) the issue of abortion continues to captivate and motivate powerful interest groups across the nation. The Left has begun rallying around Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, both of which received a massive surge in donations following the election of President Trump. Defending Roe v. Wade has been a top priority for Democratic politicians for decades, and women's health issues have garnered so much popular support that they have been a major part of every major Democratic candidate's platform for decades. On the pro-life side, the annual March for Life draws hundreds of thousands of marchers every year, pro-life candidates draw emotional responses from passionate one-issue vote, and though states have lost some court challenges, a consistent trend of abortion-restricting legislation has become obvious in various Republican legislatures across the country.
As one might expect in any major issue, the realities surrounding abortion are far removed from the competing narratives from both sides of the debate. There is no rampant uptick inspired by a morally relativistic left. In fact, abortion rates are down significantly from the 90s. Religious affiliation does little to stop abortions as well: according to the Guttmacher institute and the CDC, more than 60% of women who get abortions claim religious affiliation. And probably most surprising, most women who have abortions have had at least one child before. The real hype around abortion exists on the fringe of the argument, not the facts; Republicans love to point out people on the left asserting that abortion should be used as a form of birth control, and the Left goes crazy over the occasional Right-wing candidate who says that abortion must be outlawed even when the life of the mother is at stake. But the hype is not the real issue here. Young people are having sex and children out of wedlock at far higher rates than in previous decades. This trend, in combination with the fact that nearly half of pregnancies in the US are unplanned, has made clear a concerning correlations between unplanned pregnancy, excessive public expenditures, and overwhelmingly negative socioeconomic and health-related outcomes.
Lets start by looking at unplanned pregnancy from a purely financial perspective. According to a Brookings Institution study in 2011, "unintended pregnancy imposes substantial costs on society." How much? you ask. In total, unplanned pregnancies are responsible for over $12.1 billion in annual taxpayer expenditures. That is 4 billion more than the yearly EPA budget. These expenditures are reflected in four different categories: abortion, fetal losses, births, and infant medical care. Publicly funded abortions cost the American taxpayer $103 million a year fetal losses cost $215 million, live births accounts for $6 billion, and infant medical care takes up $5.8 billion. The Brookings Institution estimates that preventing unplanned pregnancies in the US every year could save the government over $6 billion dollars, cutting public expenditures on their subsidization in half. This is money the American government and the taxpayers would love to have back, especially if it is being spent on behalf of an avoidable and treatable ailment.
But the problem of unplanned pregnancy goes far beyond the US treasury.
"Unintended pregnancy is also associated with an array of negative outcomes for the women and children involved. For example, relative to women who become pregnant intentionally, women who experience unintended pregnancies have a higher incidence of mental-health problems, have less stable romantic relationships, experience higher rates of physical abuse, and are more likely to have abortions or to delay the initiation of prenatal care. Children whose conception was unintentional are also at greater risk than children who were conceived intentionally of experiencing negative physical- and mental-health outcomes and are more likely to drop out of high school and to engage in delinquent behavior during their teenage years." - The Brookings Institution
A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information posited similar findings. According to the NCBI there is a "strong, consistent, and persistent" correlation between unplanned pregnancy and poor economic, social, and health outcomes for both the mother and the child. Mothers who carry out unplanned pregnancies "acquire less work experience, have lower wages and earnings, and are substantially more likely to live in poverty." Unplanned pregnancies are also far more likely to result in a single-parent household, usually without the father present. "Compared with children from the same social class background who grow up with both biological parents, children raised by only one parent, usually the mother, are more likely to drop out of high school, less likely to attend college, and less likely to graduate from college if they ever attend." Children who drop out of high school are more likely to engage in criminal activity, and also more likely to have children before adulthood or experience an unplanned pregnancy out of wedlock. The vicious cycle continues, putting more and more children in difficult situations that are hard to escape, creating undesirable outcomes for them and our society as a whole. To put it simply, unplanned pregnancy is causing a lot of problems for us, and although rates have fell slightly for the first time in decades last year, making significant progress in eliminating them could have positive outcomes for our country in financial and socioeconomic spheres.
Historically, the best methods of preventing unplanned pregnancy are providing teenagers with sexual education and making contraceptives available to them. After all, it is states like Texas who have abstinence-only sex education policies that have the highest rates of teen pregnancy. Telling kids to delay sexual activity until marriage (a case to which over $176 million was dedicated between 2006 and 2007) simply doesn't work, according to a study performed by Katharin Singer and David Hall of the Plos institute. The study, published in 2011, finds that while "abstinence-only education does not reduce and likely increases teen pregnancy rates [...] Comprehensive sex and/or STD education [is] correlated with the lowest teen pregnancy rates across states." Now it is fine for such educational programs to encourage abstinence, but not telling teenagers about the dangers of unplanned pregnancy and STDs and withholding the tools they need to combat them is a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, those states most dedicated to preventing legal access to abortions, happen to be the same states with arcane sexual education programs. And as you might guess, "teens in states that prescribe more abstinence education are actually more likely to become pregnant."
In my mind, the solution here is obvious and simple. Abortion is not a good thing, and nearly everyone who is familiar with what it entails would agree. Whether you recognize an unborn fetus as a life or not you must admit that it is a troubling grey area, and any sensible person who supports a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy (within a certain period) like I do must recognize that avoiding the pregnancy in the first place is always the better option. That should be our focus just as much as ensuring the right to an abortion. For anti-choice advocates who cannot stomach the idea of abortion, the current legal precedent of the Supreme Court offers you only one legal and concrete option (aside from protest and lobbying, that is): preventing unplanned pregnancies that lead to abortions in the first place. I can guarantee the pro-lifers this: if you eliminate nearly every unplanned pregnancy in the US next year, the number of abortions will drop tremendously, not to mention eliminating the risk of all the damaging side-effects of unplanned pregnancy on mothers who chose to have the child and the child itself. Suddenly, both sides have the same goal. If we really wanted to save money, save unborn children and mothers who do not wish to or cannot bear them, we should be teaching every kid in American about the extensive range of birth control options available to them and ensuring easy access to those options. Teenagers and adults have sex, and sometimes (often?) that sex is accompanied by poor decision-making. It is time to do away with our arcane culture surrounding sexual education and contraception, and I can all but guarantee that doing so will be better for the country.