Lott on Abortion

John Lott explains the social impacts of abortion in a recent article for Fox. He argues that liberalized abortion laws resulted in the following:

A sharp increase in pre-marital sex.
A sharp rise in out-of-wedlock births.
A drop in the number of children placed for adoption.
A decline in marriages that occur after the woman is pregnant.

Lott argues, “With abortion seen as a backup, women as well as men became less careful in using contraceptives as well as more likely to have premarital sex.” However, because not all of these women had an abortion, they had babies out of wedlock. Because men see abortion as a legitimate option, they are less likely to assume a fatherhood role if their partners choose to have the baby.

Lott argues that changed abortion laws were “a key contributing factor” to these trends. I find his case persuasive. However, my sense is that other factors are more important. For example, the era was also marked by Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society,” which in essence paid women to have children out of wedlock. And did liberalized abortion lead to more extra-marital sex, or vice versa? It was also an era of women’s liberation and loosened sexual mores.

The broader point is that it’s wrong to violate individual rights even if some people behave irresponsibly. For example, we wouldn’t argue that women shouldn’t have equal rights as men to own property and such, even if such rights contribute to irresponsible extra-marital sex.

People who have extra-marital sex should choose their partners carefully and take the proper steps to avoid unwanted pregnancy. This is not difficult. Properly used birth control is highly effective. Couples who have sex should know in advance how they’re going to handle unexpected pregnancy. Couples should also bear the responsibility for children they bring into the world, rather than qualify for forced wealth transfers.

An embryo is not a person. A woman has a right to get an abortion. Any negative social consequences should be addressed in other ways, not by violating people’s rights. As Diana Hsieh writes, banning abortions “would force a woman to provide life support to any fertilized egg — even at the risk of her life and health and even if ruinous to her goals and dreams. It would make actual persons — any woman capable of bearing children, plus her husband or boyfriend — slaves to merely potential persons.”