A woman’s sexual behavior affects her chances of having an abortion. That sounds like common sense, but the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) of the Family Research Council said Wednesday we can now show it statistically in three major ways.
MARRI Director Pat Fagan and a team of researchers came to this conclusion by studying women’s responses to the federal National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) between 2006 and 2010. The paper they released Wednesday, “Demographics of Women Who Report Having an Abortion,” detailed findings that Fagan said point to the true effect of the sexual revolution—but also how to save unborn lives.
The first major behavioral finding highlighted the link between abortion and the age women start having sex. Of women in the federal survey who had ever been pregnant, fully one-third had an abortion if they had sex before age 14. A clear trend emerged with every passing year, as just 6.2 percent who were virgins at age 20 reported having an abortion. That’s reflected in overall abortion numbers related to age. Of women who report abortions—and the vast majority of women don’t have multiple abortions—nearly 80 percent had one before age 24.
“The main takeaway from this is the massive link between sex going wrong and abortion,” Fagan said. “And what is that? Early initiation of sexual intercourse, and number of sexual partners.”
And that’s the second trend: 89 percent of women who had abortions also reported having three or more sexual partners. About 60 percent reported having had cohabitation relationships with at least two men.
The other big takeaway, Fagan told me, was a link between abortion and contraception use. In fact, a full 99.2 percent of those who reported having an abortion also reported taking contraception in their lifetimes. That overlap, Fagan said, speaks to the cultural separation of sex and family even among pro-life people.
What does this all mean? Fagan pointed to a cultural battle, the turning point of which began a year before Roe v. Wade when, in Eisenstadt v. Baird, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a Massachusetts law that criminalized distributing contraceptives to unmarried women. “Deliberately, the Supreme Court took sex outside of marriage,” he said. Those two rulings “are a package deal.”
But Fagan emphasized that abortion was there even when laws forbade it. When working to reduce abortion, Fagan said during a vibrant Q&A hosted by the Family Research Council, “the sexual and the life issues go together.”
Jesus’ teaching against divorce and even lustful looks changed the world, he said. The Greco-Roman family went from dying to thriving. But today, the family breakdown “is not outside the churches,” Fagan said. The church is the key to changing the culture again, but it has to choose what it wants.
“We all have to change to be attractive enough, to be like the early Christians where the pagan Romans said, ‘See how they love one another?’” Fagan said.
In order to measure cultural change, though, you need data. Fagan hopes to have even better data in the future. Younger women in particular are known to underreport on surveys, but if a new federal survey focused on women at the end of fertility,“we can get a much better read on a lot of things about abortion,” he said.
Although Fagan’s study covered issues ranging from race to religious practice, the data’s overriding story emphasized the importance of family: “Man and woman are made to be monogamous, and they thrive when they are. And in this case, their children thrive and survive as well.”