Bernardo M. Villegas
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Why Contraception Leads To Abortion

          Some well meaning individuals support the RH Bill because they contend that a more widespread availability of contraceptives will reduce illegal abortions in the Philippines.  They sincerely bewail the thousand of illegal abortions being performed yearly in the Philippines and they are of the opinion that making pills, condoms and other contraceptive devices more freely available, especially to the poor, will actually reduce these illegal abortions.

          Such an opinion is based on pure speculation that is not based on empirical science.  On the other hand, there is abundant research in countries where contraceptive devices are freely available in vending machines or the corner drug store demonstrating that abortions tend to increase with the widespread use of contraception.  I have lived in two countries where contraception has been practised for decades--the United States and Spain--where hundreds of thousands of babies are being aborted every year.  Even prescinding from the medical fact that some so-called contraceptives (e.g. the "morning after pill" and the IUD) do not prevent fertilization but kill the human life before implantation, the RH Bill should not be passed because it will encourage the widespread use of artificial contraceptives, which in turn will increase abortions.

          Some of our economists who favor the RH Bill are still too enamored with the sterile tool of econometrics. They subject economic data to purely mathematical and statistical analysis without having recourse to the behavioral sciences that can capture more completely the very complex reality that the human being is.  It is no surprise that a good number of "economists" who have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in the last decade or so come from other social sciences or make full use of the findings of such disciplines as social psychology, sociology, philosophy, anthropology, etc.  One such Nobel laureate is George Arthur Akerlof of the University of California (Berkeley).   In 2001, Akerlof shared the Nobel Prize in Economics with Michael Spence and Joseph Stiglitz.

          From the psycho-sociological studies of Akerlof, we find strong empirical evidence that the widespread use of contraception has increased the rates of divorce, abortion, single motherhood and psychologically disturbed children--which are not only social ills but can lead to significant increases in public spending to address the consequent social problems.  Akerlof described a phenomenon that he labeled "reproductive technology shock."   He demonstrated through empirical studies in the U.S. that new technologies that had helped to spawn the late 20th Century sexual revolution--modern contraceptive devices and legal abortion--had not only failed to suppress the incidence of out-of-wedlock child bearing but also had actively worked to increase it.

          How can we explain the "reproductive technology shock" from the viewpoint of behavioral science?  For women who had not been using contraceptives, these technologies had transformed the old paradigm of socio-sexual assumptions, expectations, and behaviors in ways that were especially disadvantageous.  For example, the availability of legal abortion now allowed men to view their offsprings as the deliberate product of female choice rather than the chance product of sexual intercourse.  Thus it encouraged biological fathers to reject not only any supposed obligation to marry the mother but also the very idea of paternal obligation.  Behavioral changes like these are what are completely ignored by those advocating the RH Bill.  They only focus on the short-run problem of reducing illegal abortions or the number of mothers dying at child birth.

          Even their assumptions about the short-term benefits of making contraceptives available to the poor can be questioned for lack of empirical evidence.  I have seen no studies showing that those who procure illegal abortions would have not become pregnant if they had access to contraceptives.  As demonstrated in numerous studies in other countries, those who are frequent users of contraceptives are the ones most prone to having abortions.  The explanation given here is that contraceptive users tend to take more risks in instant gratification, either with the same partner or multiple partners.  The social norm of avoiding pre-marital sex is more easily discarded when contraceptives are widely available.  This transformation of behavior is explained by Akerlof's theory about "social identity."  He and co-author Rachel Kranton argued that individuals do not have preferences only over different goods and services.  They also adhere to social norms for how different people should behave.  The widespread use of contraceptives and the introduction of legal abortion in the United States changed the social norms which kept abortions at a low level in the past.  I am against the RH Bill because I take very seriously the findings of behavioral sciences.  The proponents of the RH Bill show an abysmal ignorance of these findings.

          Another assumption being made by those who   favor the RH Bill is that maternal mortality would decline with greater access of the poor to contraceptives.  Once again, I find no empirical backing of this heroic assumption.  I still have to be presented studies which prove that mothers who die while giving birth did not want to be pregnant and would have avoided pregnancy if they had been given access to artificial contraceptives.  Obviously, none of these mothers could have been interviewed after death.  It is very possible that these unfortunate women wanted very much to be mothers.  The solution, therefore, is not to increase access to contraceptives but to do everything possible to put up more maternity clinics and to make midwives available even in the most remote regions of the country.  It is beyond me why there is an obsession to reduce maternal mortality by preventing women to be mothers.

          Advocates of the RH Bill will reply to these objections by saying that some local surveys show that there are many mothers among poor households who have had unwanted pregnancies.  With all due respect to these   survey companies and the groups financing such surveys, I find both the methods and contents of these surveys highly questionable from the scientific point of view.  The questions are formulated to elicit the desired answers, very much like polls predicting the results of elections that are financed by the candidates themselves.  These surveys on family planning are frequently funded by international organizations (especially from the U.S.) that have a distinct bias in favor of birth control.  More objective studies by economists abroad (like Lant Princhett of Harvard University) have scientifically demonstrated that mothers have the number of children that they desire.  The concept of "unwanted pregnancy" is highly suspect except in extreme cases of rape and incest.

          Finally, to the objection that all the scientific studies I have cited only permit a rational person to talk about probabilities, i.e. contraception "may" increase the rate of abortion, I answer that all legislation is about probability.  Speed limits are imposed because driving beyond these limits "may" lead to accidents.  Monopolies are prohibited because monopolists "may" use their power to abuse consumers.  Cigarette manufacturers are obliged to put a warning on their labels because cigarette smoking "may" be dangerous to your health.  For an analogous reason, any rational person will object to a law promoting the use  of artificial contraceptives among the masses because contraception may increase the rate of abortion , marriage breakups,  single motherhood, and psychologically troubled teenagers and all the consequent economic and social costs to Philippine society.  For comments, my email address is bvillegas@uap.edu.ph.