In a prior post, we expressed the need to reframe the abortion debate to include solutions to Unwanted Pregnancies and Unwanted Births. Here, we will revisit this system to see how pro-life and pro-choice groups fit into our model.
Social Responses to Abortion
As abortion becomes more prevalent, in some sense, it becomes more acceptable since social standards adapt and are often swayed by the status quo, which normalizes and reinforces the use of abortion.
However, few people would argue that abortion is an ideal form of birth control, and as prevalence increases so does general recognition of abortion as a problem . Let’s explore the ways we try to eliminate this problem, and some of the potential outcomes of various solutions.
Some may choose to engage in protests hoping to stigmatize abortion (see model above). Whether these concerns come from religious roots or observance of the careless way some people seem to treat abortions, this stigmatization of abortion decreases its acceptability, introducing a balancing effect to the number of abortions. But we believe this is a low-leverage activity that won’t change behavior drastically. The decision to seek an abortion is not a simple yes/no switch – these women already face taxing social, emotional, and moral dilemmas when making such a sensitive decision, and hearing someone else tell them they are wrong without acknowledging the complexity of the situation is neither
satisfying nor convincing.
Protesters hope that abortions will one day be illegal (see model below). But because such narrow policy does not address the source of the problem – which is that women view their pregnancies as unwanted – people will certainly react by finding loopholes and pursuing options that are not optimal to society. For example, Romania’s government implemented an abortion ban in the 1960’s that only resulted in more women seeking illegal abortions (which posed greater health risks) as well as a surge in the number of orphans. This ban did not solve a fundamental problem that women did not want these children. So while abortions went down, illegal abortions and the number of orphans skyrocketed. Some orphans were purposely given AIDS infected blood transfusions by orphanages to decrease their numbers. Everyone can agree that this abortion ban was failed policy.
Eliminating Unwanted Births
A more productive way to solve the abortion problem is to work on goals that every one can sign up for: decreasing Unwanted Pregnancies and Unwanted Births. In the last post, we showed how providing social support services to low-income families can relieve some of the apprehension that would-be mothers feel about having a new child, influencing them to view their pregnancies in a more positive light. In the 1930s, the Swedish government created policies around improving childcare with the goal of ensuring that every child was wanted. The government increased spending on education and healthcare for families with young children, offered free obstetrician care, and provided greater support to low-income families.
Eliminating Unwanted Pregnancies
We can also shift focus to Unwanted Births and two things that cause it: sex and contraceptives. Schools in the U.S. have taken on some of the responsibility of educating children about responsible sexual behavior, but Americans disagree about how this should be implemented. Religious conservatives tend to favor Abstinence-only Sex Education as opposed to Comprehensive Sex Education (which encourages abstinence but also teaches about contraception in the case that people do not abstain). The views of abstinence only supports are highlighted below in purple. This group believes that telling children to abstain from sex (by using fear and moral judgments) is enough to influence behavior. They believe that acknowledging that people have sex puts ideas into children’s minds that otherwise would not influence them.
On the contrary, Comprehensive Sex Education supporters (whose views are highlighted in orange below), believe that talking at children and scaring them about the moral and financial consequences of having sex is not going to effectively stop these kids when they grow to become older, hormonal, and curious-minded individuals. Therefore, the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancy is to encourage responsible behavior if and when someone chooses to have sex. This group believes that abstinence only sex education can lead to a detrimental outcome because the exclusion of contraception practice only withholds important information from individuals.
Something We Can All Agree On
While these two groups have different ideas about how to prevent Unwanted Pregnancies, at least they are working toward the same goal. If the goals of the left and the right are aligned, then we can have more constructive conversations about how to effectively accomplish them by running studies that can provide more insight about which type of sexual education is more effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies.
But today, because so much of the debate about abortion is centered around the ethics of the act itself, we will remain at a stalemate where two sides have different views and different goals. We can waste time protesting and debating whether abortion is right or wrong; or, we can find a different goal that every one can sign on for, and figure out ways to work together.
By Jenny and Andrew
Below is the complete model constructed across this post and part 1. We broke out the model into pieces because, as you can see, it can be overwhelming when viewing too much complexity at once and trying to think about which feedback loops are more dominant than others. The colored arrows represent policy interventions for Unwanted Pregnancies and Unwanted Births.