Thursday, June 29, 2006

Abortion in American Society

Last year, on my blog, I linked to an opinion piece written by Patricia Bauer in the Washington Post titled The Abortion Debate No One Wants to Have. She argued that abortion in American society is not as much about underprivileged women who can't raise a child choosing out of necessity, but about overprivileged women choosing out of convenience or preference not to have (for example) a Down's Syndrome child.

A few months back on that blog, we had a rousing discussion about abortion in America, and one of the key questions was asked by Kevin:

"Why are most abortions performed? to save the mother's life? or due to rape or incest? or to prevent the 9 months of hardship and pain before giving the baby up for adoption? Are some reasons for abortions worse than others? If so, are we doing all we can to minimize the worst?"

Through that discussion we were able to find a few statistics, from the Alan Guttmacher Institute primarily, but nothing that seemed highly reliable.

Recently, though, Melissa Kearney, an economist with the Brookings Institution, performed an analysis of information from the Guttmacher Institute and arrived at some conclusions about the majority of abortions in America. I wish I could find the actual report on the Internet somewhere, but I can't. All I have at this point is a summary of it written by Susan Reimer in the Baltimore Sun titled Defying Stereotypes on Abortion.

Most abortions (70%) are performed on women in their 20's or early 30's, not teenagers. Most abortions are performed on women who have either had a previous abortion, or already have children... not young women still figuring out that sex has consequences. Most women who have abortions have some college education. Most (75%) are not living in poverty.

What motivates these women to have abortions? This question is important because we appear to have universal consensus that abortion should be rare. How do we get to the point where abortion is rare? We have to identify the felt needs that are causing women to choose abortions, and change those situations. Depending on the nature of the need, the change may need to be in external circumstances (alleviating poverty, for instance); the change may need to be through external regulation (making abortion less convenient, if it's a choice of pure convenience); the change may need to be through aggressive marketing and education. To reduce abortions, we must identify why people are choosing abortions and find a way to change the factors affecting their choice.

Based on this research, and the previous discussions on my blog, does anyone have specific suggestions of steps that could be taken to make abortion rare in America?

Note that I am avoiding the moral question here. We discussed that some previously, but when the moral question is raised it tends to derail (or endlessly sidetrack) discussion of practical considerations, so I'm particularly interested here in discussing concrete suggestions for reducing abortion in our society.

And yes, making at least some abortions illegal is a valid suggestion... but I'd like to hear it argued from a social standpoint, not a standpoint of moral abolutes, at least for now.

Suggestions, anyone?


Friday, June 09, 2006

Broadcast Content Regulation

Yesterday, Congress passed the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, which dramatically increases penalties for indecent programming on broadcast (not cable) TV during daytime/primetime viewing hours. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Sam Brownback, flows out of the hubbub about the infamous wardrobe malfunction during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.

Senator Brownback offers an argument in favor of the act on his website. The use of the airwaves, he argues, is a public privilege which brings with it social responsibility.

In an editorial column written two days ago for, Jacob Sullum disagrees. He argues instead that use of public airwaves is no different than use of public roads, and brings no special social responsibility. Rather, the social responsibility lies in the hands of the viewers and parents of children viewers. He believes that market forces should control what content is displayed, and that viewers have the responsibility to intelligently choose what to watch or avoid.

I tend to lean toward Sullum's position, maybe because I already exert a great deal of effort and research to filter what I watch. Or, maybe it's because I have pretty strong philosophical leanings toward market forces over governmental regulation in most cases.

But, on the other hand, maybe some mix of the two approaches is in order.

I can't help but feel, though, that the way our policies are currently being implemented is rather silly. That Super Bowl halftime show is a perfect example. A fleeting glimpse of a nipple created an uproar that is still echoing two years later... but the actual content of the song, the words and message being communicated, have hardly warranted a mention in our social or political dialog.

It's almost as though we as a society are falling into a stupor, drifting into a groggy sleep of sexual saturation, losing our ability to be shocked or to turn away from anything however harmful. Then something unexpected jolts us, and we drastically over-react to soothe our latent social conscience... before drifting back into our drugged numbness. Legislation such as this, it appears to me, allows politicians to score points off those seizures of social conscience without risking their political lives by threatening the pervasive flow of sexuality that we've become addicted to.

But maybe I'm just over-reacting, to soothe my latent personal conscience. :)


Monday, June 05, 2006

Parenting Styles and Child Health

Today I came across a news article reporting on a study performed by the Boston University School of Medicine. The article was published in the June issue of the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. I can't read the article, however, without a subscription, so I'm out of luck there.

Still, the summary is quite interesting. The researchers studied 872 children for a number years, starting at birth. They categorized the children based on the type of parenting style used by the parents: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, or neglectful. The compared the weight of the children at age 6, based on the parenting style used.

According to the summary, authoritarian parents had the most overweight 6-year-olds. Permissive and neglectful parents raised similar children, overweight but not to the extreme of the disciplinarians. Authoritative parents are defined (by the Reuters summary) as "having high expectations for self control but respectful of a child's opinions and who set clear boundaries".

This isn't a greatly surprising study, I guess, but it does highlight how important parents are to the full well-being of their children, even at a very young age. Also, considering the drastic difference of results between authoritarian and authoritative parenting styles, that giving one's children respect and some degree of autonomy is a critical part of child-rearing.

I'm hoping that there will be further similar studies, possibly trying to clarify why weight gain in particular is affected so strongly, and also identifying other development traits in children that might be similarly affected.