Page last updated at 05:27 Asia/Manila, Tuesday, 05 February 2013 PH
Those who expect the number of illegal abortions in the Philippines to decrease if contraceptives are disseminated more freely among the masses may be in for a surprise. One only has to consider how freely contraceptives are available in the United States, especially after the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Why is it that there are more than a million abortions yearly in that country? The same thing can be said of many European countries where condoms, pills and other artificial contraceptives have been accessible to the mass consumers for decades. There are still hundreds of thousands of abortions in these countries. Although conflicting evidences are presented by social scientists in the West, there is enough reason to seriously question the heroic assumption that providing free contraceptives to the poor would reduce the number of illegal abortions which are estimated to be about half a million annually in the Philippines.
In the first place, one cannot assume that these illegal abortions are predominantly among poor people. There is enough anecdotical information that many of these illegal abortions result from sexual encounters among teenagers coming from the middle class or well-to-do families who could have easily afforded condoms or pills but were moved by the passion of the moment to take the risk of pregnancy. It is also possible that the pregnancies could have resulted from casual encounters among sexually permissive individuals or those in the sex trade who become careless in some instances. There are, of course, pregnancies that result from nonconsensual sex, which by definition would not involve the use of contraceptives. If the majority of unwanted pregnancies result from these causes, there is a great probability that distributing free contraceptives to poor, married couples would not reduce the number of illegal abortions. Social and religious values are still deeply rooted among poor married women who find killing babies in their wombs naturally repulsive. It is unfair to blame illegal abortions on them.
Empirical evidences abound in the countries where contraceptives are widely distributed that an aggressive push for contraception has always preceded the increase in abortion. In his book, Donald DeMarco (1999) cited figures from studies conducted in Europe that showed how among couples who had the habit of contracepting (England); or right after contraception was fully legalized (Sweden); or where contraception "was almost unrestricted" (Switzerland), abortions were much higher. These studies present compelling evidence that "increased contraception does not reduce the incidence of abortion..but instead tends to establish a contraceptive mentality, which, in turn leads to more abortion." Rhonheimer and Murphy (2010) further argue that a more serious consequence of the contraceptive mentality that arises from the use of contraception is how abortion "intentionally, can become..just one more means of contraception." This happens when one who is in favor of abortion out of a contraceptive mentality would not be in the least be disposed to discuss whether an embryo or a fetus is a human being; he would simply dispute this--despite all evidence to the contrary--or would consider it irrelevant and ignore the issue.
The authoritative gynecology textbook Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinoly and Infertility (Fritz and Speroff, 2010) affirms the direct relationship between contraception and abortion: "However, the need for abortion services will persist because contraceptive failures account for about half of the 1.2 million annual induced abortions in the U.S." The most convincing scientific evidence supporting the direct relationship between widespread contraceptive practice and abortion is found in the studies of Nobel prize winner George Akerlof (1996, 1998). The conclusions of Akerlof are more damning to supporters of the RH Bill because this famous professor, who combines the study of economics and psychology, is staunchly in favor of both contraception and abortion. As an honest scientist, however, he did not hesitate to show the direct correlation of the "contraceptive shock" that started in the decade of the 1960s in the U.S. when the pill and other artificial contraceptive devices became widely used with increases in premarital and extramarital sex, fatherless children, single mothers, and abortion in general. Other social ills that resulted from this contraceptive shock were a decline of marriage, more psychologically troubled adolescents, more crimes, and more social pathology.
Akerlof has recently protested that his findings do not apply to countries like the Philippines because of a vast difference in culture and social conditions. With all due respect to the Nobel laureate, let me point out that the culture related to sexual morality in the United States before the "contraceptive shock" was no different from that now prevailing in the Philippines. In a Brief History of Birth Control that appeared in Time Magazine (2010), it was reported that in the late nineteenth century, the U.S. Congress passed an anti-obscenity law that deemed birth control information obscene and outlawed its dissemination. At that time, the U.S. was the only Western nation to criminalize contraception. Then in 1916, Margaret Sanger opened America's first family planning clinic. It was shut down within ten days. A preacher of racial purity, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League, which later became the Planned Parenthood of America. It was only in 1930 that Anglican bishops approved limited use of birth control. Before that, all the Christian religions were unanimously agreed that artificial contraception was inherently evil. In 1938, the Judiciary lifted the federal obscenity ban on birth control but contraception remained illegal in most states. It was only in 1965 that in the Griswold Vs. Connecticut case, the Supreme Court struck down state laws prohibiting contraception for married couples. In 1970, concerns about the pill's safety and side effect prompted senate hearings. Dr. Akerlof, therefore, has no reason to say that the U.S. social and moral circumstances differed substantially from what are not prevailing in the Philippines. It is reasonable to assume that a "contraceptive shock" introduced to in the Philippines through the RH Bill will most probably have the same social effects as it had in the U.S. after the decade of the 1960s. Widespread use of contraceptives among the masses can actually lead to an increase in abortion as well as other societal ills. The trouble with some of my fellow economists in the Philippines is that they give short shrift to the findings of the behavioral sciences. They are so enamored with their quantitative models that they are prone to easily resuscitate the much discredited Malthusian theory of population and development which posited a geometric increase in population and an arithmetic increase in food supply. For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.