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Teenage Pregnancy, It’s a Wedge Issue

Ross Douthat and Jacob Weisberg write about abortion and teenage pregnancy and family values today, from opposite sides of the spectrum. And both get it wrong.

Weisberg essentially argues that conservatives in favor of family values ought to support abortion, because  teenage mothers who carry their babies to term often have many more problems than their peers, and are a much more disruptive social force:

They tend to drop out of high school and go on the dole, and they are
prone to lives of poverty, frustration, and disorder. Only 2 percent of
them make it through college by the age of 30. The Bristol Palin option
doesn't promote family happiness, stability, or traditional structure,
either. Of women under 18 who marry, whether because of pregnancy or
not, nearly half divorce within 10 years—double the rate for those who
wait until they're 25.

Douthat doesn't challenge these pernicious after effects, but argues instead that there isn't necessarily a correlation between legal abortion and increased teen pregnancy.

Both Douthat and Weisberg obviously didn't read their NY Times today, and the Charles Blow column which has one of those great info-graphics that illustrates the real problem. Of developed nations, the United States has by far the highest rate of teenage pregnancy and abortion. Compare the US to the Netherlands, which has comparable abortion laws — their rate of teen pregnancy and abortion is more than 8 times lower than the US.

Why? Sex education. As the New York Times chart today shows, countries with low rates of teenage pregnancy have low rates of abortion.

And this is where Sarah Palin, her strict anti-abortion stance and absolute refusal to support sex education, and her pregnant teenage daughter Bristol, are all relevant. If Sarah Palin and her allies like Ross Douthat really want to decrease the rate of abortion, they must reduce the rate of teen pregnancy. As her own family situation shows, an "abstinence only" won't cut it. Teenagers do reckless, impulsive things — even in wholesome, evangelical families like the Palin's.

The countries with the lowest rates of abortion are those who have done the most to promote sex education among their teens. Anti-abortion foes — if they're truly serious about their mission — might learn something from that. And Democrats ought to be pushing to reduce abortion by 50% or more through a sex education agenda. The evidence makes it clear that that will work.

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