Bernardo M. Villegas
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Rebalancing Strategy
published: Mar 31, 2017



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Avoiding the Reproductive Technology Shock

           Whether he likes it or not, Nobel laureate George Akerlof provided a lot of ammunition against the RH Bill. His scientific evidence about the evils of artificial contraception (and abortion) is more damning because he is in favor of both artificial contraception and abortion in the U.S. setting.  I find the disclaimer he issued to Tony Ahn in a Rappler's report entitled "Nobel Prize winner contradicts CBCP" weak and unconvincing.  Akerlof was reacting to an alleged statement of the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) that "Contraceptives bring about the downgrading of marriage, more extramarital sex, more fatherless children, more single mothers," which statement cited studies of Akerlof for scientific support.  (For accuracy, the CBCP website contained a paper written by Dr. Raul Nidoy, Director for Formation of Parents for Education Foundation, that was entitled "Science Facts about RH Bill.")   Akerlof insisted in his reply to the CBCP statement that "Contraceptives and abortion,  . . . make family life richer and more rewarding because they reduce the number of unwanted children, which is bad for the family, and also bad for the children as well."

          To understand the mind of Akerlof, who is now the Koshland Professor of Economics at the University of Berkeley and a 2001 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, let us quote from an article he wrote for the Brookings Institute in the Fall of 1996.  In trying to explain the increase in out-of-wedlock births in the U.S. since 1970, he formulated the following theory:  "In the late 1960s and very early 1970s (well before Roe Vs. Wade in January 1973) many major states, including New York and California, liberalized their abortion laws.  At about the same time it became easier for unmarried people to get contraceptives.  In July 1970 the Massachusetts law prohibiting the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried people was declared unconstitutional.  We have found that this sudden increase in the availability of both abortion and contraception --we call it a reproductive technology shock--is deeply implicated in the increase in out-of-wedlock births.  Although many observers expected liberalized abortion and contraception to lead to fewer out-of-wedlock births, the opposite happened--because of the erosion in the custom of shotgun marriages."

          As a good economist, he mustered sufficient data to support his hypothesis:  "in 1970, there were about 400,000 out-of-wedlock births out of 3.7 million total births.  In 1990, there were 1.2 million out-of-wedlock births out of 4 million total.  From the late 1960s to the late 1980s, the number of births per unmarried woman roughly doubled for whites, but fell by 5 to 10 percent for blacks. The fraction of unmarried women rose about 30 percent for whites, about 40 percent for blacks....If the increased abortions and use of contraceptives caused the rise in out-of-wedlock births, the increase would have to have been very large relative to the number of those births and to the number of married women. And as table 1 shows, that was indeed the case.  The use of birth control pills at first intercourse by unmarried women jumped from 6 percent to 15 percent in just a few years, a change that suggests that a much larger fraction of all sexually active unmarried women began using the pill.  The number of abortions to unmarried women grew from 100,000 a year in the late 1960s...to more than 1.2 million in the early 1980s."

          These findings should motivate any Filipino interested in the good of our society to move heaven and earth to prevent the reproductive technology shock from corrupting the morals of Filipino women through the widespread distribution of artificial contraceptives, which is an objective of the RH Bill.  With so much use of pro-choice language among the supporters of the RH Bill and the constant emphasis on the need to explain contraception to   very young girls, it is hard to believe that the RH Bill proponents are proposing the distribution of condoms and pills only to married women.  It is against the morals and customs of the majority of Filipinos that unmarried women engage in pre-marital sex, no matter how liberated they may think they are.  The last thing we need is a change in our morals and customs so that unmarried women would find it the most natural thing to have sex before marriage.  Preserving chastity before marriage is still considered desirable by the major religious faiths of the Philippines.  What I find objectionable in the reasoning of Dr. Akerlof is his being completely indifferent to the corruption of the morals of American women who engage in sex before marriage.  Given his amoral attitude to the use of sex, we can understand why he concludes that "contraceptives and abortion...make family life richer and more rewarding because they reduce the number of unwanted children."  His argument can be summarized as follows:  given that there is already so much immorality among unmarried women wanting to have sex before and outside of marriage, we should make contraceptives (and abortion in the U.S.)   accessible to them so that they would not have unwanted pregnancies.

          What Akerlof's data unwittingly revealed is that the widespread use of contraceptives from the 1960s to the 1980s did not reduce the number of abortions, contrary to the arguments of those favoring the RH Bill that they want to distribute contraceptives especially to the poor and to young girls in order to reduce the number of illegal abortions.  As Akerlof's data show very clearly the number of abortions to unmarried women grew from roughly 100,000 a year in the late 1960s to  more than 1.2 million a year in the early 1980s.  This is incontrovertible evidence that contraceptives do not reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.  On the contrary, considering human behavior, the widespread availability of contraceptives encourages more promiscuity and instant gratification so that the number of unwanted pregnancies actually rise, which then lead to a larger number of abortions.  I do not buy the argument that this will not happen in the Philippines because "we are different from the Americans."   Human nature (for Christians fallen human nature) is the same everywhere.  Change the cultural environment and make contraceptives freely available, especially to the adolescents with raging hormones, and the inevitable result is a copulation explosion, as has happened in other countries. No, Dr. Akerlof, Filipinos are no different from Americans.  If subjected to the same morally corrupt environment (which we Christians call structures of sin) their libidos will act in a similar fashion.  So thanks, for coining the phrase "reproductive technology shock."  We will reject the RH Bill because we want to avoid in the first place being "shocked."  For comments, my email is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.