The Myth of Moral Decline, pt. 7: Teen Pregnancy Rate Edition

Teen pregnancy rates in the US are historically low. Now even the ultra-rightwing is taking notice, writing that “[t]he sharp decline in the teen pregnancy rate during the 20 years has been an important, but unheralded, public policy success story.”

Keep that in mind the next time someone* tells you that Pope Paul VI was prophetic in writing about the consequences of contraception in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. Paul VI wrote:

Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.

Got it? The logic goes like this: access to contraception reduces the negative consequences for sinful sex, which makes it easier for weak-willed young people to break the moral law, so widespread contraception will lead to a land full of immoral teenaged sex monsters.

Well, as reports, here is what actually happened as birth control became more accessible and effective:

The Washington Post even cited a researcher from the pro-contraception Guttmacher Institute who agreed that reductions in teen sexual activity were playing a role in the decline. Indeed, a recent Guttmacher study found that starting with the 1978 birth cohort, the median age for first sexual intercourse began to gradually and consistently increase — approaching 18 years of age for those born in 1991.


Receiving less attention is the fact that the teen abortion rate also continues to decline. In fact, since the early 1990s, the teen abortion rate has declined faster than the teen pregnancy rate. This indicates that a higher percentage of pregnant teens are choosing to carry their child to term.

Again, got it? More contraception, less teen sex, fewer abortions. Birth control doesn’t lead to widespread immorality. Pope Paul VI was wrong. That’s good news. Time to recognize it, Catholic Right.

*By someone I mean basically anyone on the Catholic Right. I can’t think of a single rightwing Catholic source I read that hasn’t posted some variation of this argument. Here’s catholicvote.orghere’s Joe Heschmeyer at Shameless Popery; here’s Leila Miller at Little Catholic Bubble. Budziszewski and Mary Eberstadt call Paul VI’s predictions “vindicated”; Elizabeth Scalia and Stephen Mosher call them “prophetic.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s