Wednesday, December 03, 2014

David Frum And Echidne Argue The Cause of the Drop in Abortion Rates.

David Frum (a conservative pundit) has written an opinion piece which tries to answer the question  why abortion rates in the US are falling.  Others might mutter that pregnancies are down, too, and that seems to be because of better (wider and more careful) use of contraceptives and possibly because of the recent bad economy which makes people hesitant to have children.

But Frum's theory is different!  He believes that it's not increased use of contraception which matters here, but the increased acceptance of pregnancy outside wedlock.  His piece ends with recommendations for propping up traditional marriage (here meant as marriage where the wife stays at home and the husband goes out to work to make her bacon sandwiches) in other ways.  The reason for propping up traditional marriage is that Frum is a social conservative and believes in its value.

When I read his piece I got stuck here:

Why is this happening?
Some conjecture that improved access to and use of birth control may be the reason, but there’s scant evidence for this. At any given moment nearly 40 percent of women are using no birth-control method at all. Almost half of all American pregnancies are unintended.

Actually, the evidence for that is a lot less scant than the evidence for Frum's own pet theory.  But it's that 40 percent figure that really attracted me.  Note that its implicit use in that paragraph is to make us think that 40% of fertile women are out there having unprotected sex even though a pregnancy would be undesirable.  Note also the next sentence which follows it:  We are to link the two in our thinking.

Perhaps Frum doesn't intend that reading, but that's the one that stares back at me from the screen.  So I looked up the two sets of data.  The 40% figure probably comes from the Guttmacher Institute:

• More than 99% of women aged 15–44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method.[5]
• Some 62% of all women of reproductive age are currently using a contraceptive method.[2]
• Eleven percent of women at risk of unintended pregnancy are not currently using any contraceptive method.[2]
It's the second item in that list which suggests that 38% of fertile women use no contraception.  But note that it's the third item in that list which matters for Frum's purposes:  Eleven percent of women at risk of unintended pregnancy use no contraception.  The 40% (or 38%) figure includes all women who either wish to become pregnant or who are not in a sexual relationship or who are in a sexual relationship with someone who cannot make them pregnant.

In short, Frum's data is irrelevant and doesn't support his argument, because it is not about women at risk for an unintended pregnancy.

What about the bit where nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended?  That's from Guttmacher Institute, too.   The linked piece begins with the statement Frum copied.  But later in the piece we are told this:

To sum, Frum's argument about the unimportance of contraception as the cause for lower abortion rates doesn't hold water.  Women who use contraception consistently are at a much lower risk of unintended pregnancy.

Why am I writing about this?  Because I'm slowly filling up with rage while observing how certain factoids thrive and multiply, both in journalistic pieces and on Twitter.  Something becomes more "truthsome" by being repeated.  It's important to fight that.  Hopeless, sure, but important.