Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Paradox of "Family Values"...?

As I mentioned in comment to Kevin's post, one thing is clear from Super Tuesday and the state of the GOP race: a clear gap has emerged between Santorum and Romney's voting demographic.  Thus far, Romney has failed to win a single southern state save Virginia, and he has won primaries with significant help from liberals and independents.  Santorum has more successfully catered to the evangelicals, "very conservatives", and Tea Partiers.

There are several issues that divide Romney from Santorum.  However, one issue that Santorum has made clear is his commitment to family values, while Romney has made improving the economy and creating jobs his priorities.

I find these distinctions very interesting.  Clearly, the conservative base is particularly divided among those who value social issues versus fiscal issues.  I have personally always been more interested in economic policies when it comes to choosing candidates, but Santorum's rhetoric and firm belief in strong "family values" has caught my interest.

The data surrounding abortion and contraception makes for an interesting topic of conversation.  Santorum argues that contraception is "a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be", which is similar to his opinion to abortion.  

Maybe Santorum is right, maybe he is not.  However, as this thought provoking article from The Economist points out, contraception and abortion could perhaps promote, rather than destroy, the family values Santorum advocates so passionately.  Some highlights of the article include:

"there is a large body of evidence that shows contraception use has helped women avoid unintended pregnancies, which in turn has led to lower abortion rates, healthier babies, stronger marriages and improved social and economic conditions for women"
-teen pregnancy rates are at a 30 year low thanks to improved contraception use
-great availability of contraception does NOT lead to increased sexual activity
- contraception provided to 1 million California women "averted about 300,000 unintended pregnancies, over 100,000 abortions, and 38,000 miscarriages"
-a study suggesting how unintended pregnancies strain parental relationships

(The article also begins by noting how the majority of women use contraception, for the author ultimately alludes to the plausibility of Obama's mandate for catholic universities, hospitals, and charities to finance insurance that covers contraception).  

Now, in my mind, the body of evidence provided by the article suggests that contraception does indeed lead to better "family values".  And if the majority of American women use some form of contraception anyway, I don't think Obama's (since retracted) policy idea is completely unmerited.  Contraception does seem to promote social welfare, though I would imagine Santorum would like to see this achieved in a different way.  

Also, the article does not cite data supporting this, but I would imagine the economic benefits associated with contraception are positive as well.  

However, an alternative argument one could make here is that even if the empirics suggest one thing, sometimes our opinions about policy are beyond the scope of data and evidence and should not rely on these indicators alone, such as the aforementioned statistics regarding contraception.  Although this is a valid point, I suggest reading the linked article above for some insight into this argument and its fallacies.  

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