Last weekend, the New York Times published an op-ed piece by William Saletan on bridging the divide between liberals and conservatives on the issue of unplanned pregnancy, contraception and abortion. He argues that conservatives oppose contraception and legal abortion because of their moral concerns. Meanwhile, he says liberals support contraception and legal abortion because they see them as practical ways to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies.
In the piece, Mr. Saletan cites a 2001 study from the Guttmacher Institute that found that almost half of the women who had abortions in the study were not using contraception in the month they became pregnant. They gave the following reasons for not using contraception:
28 percent said they had thought they wouldn’t get pregnant, 26 percent said they hadn’t expected to have sex and 23 percent said they had never thought about using birth control, had never gotten around to it or had stopped using it. Ten percent said their partners had objected to it. Three percent said they had thought it would make sex less fun.
Mr. Saletan interprets this data to suggest that the abortion rate in the United States isn’t high because of lack of education about or access to contraceptives, it’s because there is a dearth of personal responsibility or recognition that sex without contraception can often lead to pregnancy. He suggests that liberals and conservatives need to stop pitting morality against practicality: conservatives need to accept that contraception is a moral, responsible way to prevent unplanned pregnancies, and liberals need to make the abortion rate an indicator of public health that the president should report during the State of the Union address, in order to make a stronger case for the need for people to take responsibility for their actions and use contraception to avoid unplanned pregnancies.