On Utah and Babies

TracingWoodgrains - [original thread]

From the Atlantic: The Dishonesty of the Abortion Debate - Why we need to face the best arguments from the other side

i would have a lot more sympathy for abortion if the stereotype about it being mostly scared teenagers who didn’t know any better was true (still true?)

instead it’s mostly twenty-something adults whose thought process goes: forgot my condom? damn. forgot my birth control? damn. oh well!

And I would in turn be more sympathetic to your view if people who were against abortion were strongly for teaching sex education in schools and making birth control cheap and widely available. But as far as I can tell, they are almost always not. So it seems we're at an impasse.

Before I respond in more detail, two clarifying questions: first, what effect do you hope to achieve by emphasizing teaching sex ed in schools and making birth control cheap and widely available? Second, if conservative policies were shown to be effective at reaching that goal, would you become more sympathetic to conservative views?

The idea there is to make it so pregnancies are more likely to be intentional and desired, instead of accidental and life-altering in a negative way.

Makes sense. Thanks.

It's tricky to assign a single view to all of conservatism, the same way it's tricky to assign a single view to everyone left of center. The one I'm most familiar with, and also my focal point in terms of conservative policy that does what it intends, is Utah. The view there as far as sex education is "abstinence-first, but teach STD prevention and such as well," and the view on birth control is "Well, yeah, absolutely. Nothing wrong with it. But sex before marriage is bad, to be clear."

Before diving into specifics, it's useful to look at a list of abortion rate by states, coded by red/blue to provide a baseline. Generally speaking, states with conservative policies have lower abortion rates than states without. Note as well that this is rates for residents of those states, not for abortions performed in those states--using the same data source, South Dakota goes from a rate of 2.8 per 1000 when looking at abortions performed in the state to one of 4.2 per 1000 when looking at abortions for legal residents of the state, wherever they were performed--so the explanation that these rates are low because women go elsewhere for abortions is likely incomplete.

Now, to dive into specifics, I'll focus in on Utah. Your goal is not to reduce absolute abortion rates, but to make it so pregnancies are more likely to be intentional and desired, instead of accidental and life-altering in a negative way. So, if abortion rate goes down but unwanted birth rates go up, it would reflect a policy failure. Unfortunately there's no specific, simple measure for "unwanted births", but there are a couple of solid proxies. Teen birth rate and unmarried birthrate are the two clearest proxies I'm aware of. Utah has the second-highest birthrate of states overall behind only South Dakota. Despite that, its teen birthrate is 17th lowest, at 15.1 per 1000 teenagers. Unmarried birthrate paints a clearer picture yet: at 18.5% of kids born to unmarried mothers, it has the lowest unmarried birthrate in the country by far, and less than half the national average.

What about other measures, like foster care? At 3 per 1000, Utah has the third-lowest rate of kids in foster care of any state. In terms of adoption, Utah does have the third-highest rate of adoptions per 1000 live births, at 9.1 (a little over twice the national average). Adoptions are about seventy times less likely than abortions in the United States, though, per the same source, so it's unlikely to be a relatively large chunk. There, too, Utah has by far the highest rates in the nation both for adoptions per 1000 abortions (141.0, compared to 13.7 for the national average) and for adoptions per 1000 unmarried births (48.9, compared to a national average of 9.6).

Pulling this all together, you get a pretty robust argument that Utah has the healthiest environment in the country in terms of wanted versus unwanted births. Despite high birthrates, they have some of the lowest abortion rates and unmarried birthrates around and very few children in foster care. The conclusion I personally draw from this is that, given both their goal of reducing abortion and your shared goal of reducing the rate of unwanted pregnancies, they are succeeding more with their current conservative culture and policies than they would by adopting positions more typical of the country or of blue states as a whole. This is a good indicator for me of sincere goodwill both in their values and their methods.

Feel free to let me know if there are other metrics I've left out here that you would like included. I've tried to be relatively comprehensive, but may still be missing something.