Monday, September 24, 2012

Teen Pregnancy, Sex-ed, and Smug Liberal Deception

As Ross Douthat has pointed out on Twitter, this piece by Amanda Marcotte is smugly and sloppily wrong. She flagrantly conflates teen pregnancy rates with teen birth rates, leading to a factual error in the title of her piece which subsequently mars her whole argument.

Douthat cites Guttmacher statistics from 2005 which show that the teen pregnancy rates of Mississippi and New York are effectively the same at 85/1000 and 77/1000, respectively. Marcotte cites statistics about the discrepancy in birth rates between the states as evidence in favor of her argument for liberal sex education. But if the supposed superiority of New York's sex education ethic with regard to birth control, condom use, and other preventative measures explained the discrepancy, then that would manifest itself as a difference in pregnancy rates. Yet there is no difference.

Clearly the missing variable between pregnancy and birth is the abortion rate. New York boasts the highest abortion rate in the country at 41/1000, while Mississippi's is 11/1000. Hence the discrepancy between teen birth rates and pregnancy rates. So it turns out what Amanda Marcotte is actually advocating is for "better" abortion education, not sex education.

The pregnancy rates being the same undermines her entire argument about liberal sex education being efficacious. The only resultant difference -- at least as measured by comparing these two particular states -- is in decisions that are made after sex. If you're the monstrous, pro-baby-killing sort, you might argue that New York teens make "better" decisions after sex and subsequent pregnancy; you can't argue that they do so beforehand. They don't.

Liberal sex education doesn't prevent teen pregnancy; it prevents teen pregnancies from becoming births. At most. Of course, the fact that more abortions reduce the number of live births isn't exactly revelatory information. Additionally, the divergent cultural values of the regions are a better candidate for the root cause of the differences in abortion rates, and these would largely remain even in the face of changes in sex education programs. The differences in the types of sex education are themselves epiphenomena of these more fundamental cultural differences. They are effects, not causes. Correlation is not causation.

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