Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Can abortion save marriage as an institution?

Ridicule has been heaped on the heads of the American Taliban for their insistence that same-sex marriage is going to "destroy the institution of marriage":
Some ancient civilizations that recognized same-sex "marriage" collapsed as a result, while some that refused to recognize it escaped that fate. However, Correlation is not causation, and there is not even a large enough data set to get a correlation. (Conservapedia)
(The second sentence is social-sciencese for "However, the previous sentence would be an unjustified inference even if the evidence existed, which it doesn't." I.e., never mind.)
Did the Nephites recognize same-sex marriage? King Mormon bids farewell to his destroyed nation from Cumorah Hill, near present-day Palmyra, New York, 385 C.E., in the celebrated rendering by Arnold Friberg. You can tell the Nephites' Jewish ancestry by the way Moroni has decorated his helmet with shofars.
Legalization of same-sex "marriage" is correlated with social dysfunctions that states and countries banning it have avoided. States and countries legalizing same-sex "marriage" have markedly different levels of quality of life from those that have banned it....
In Norway and Sweden, the adoption of same-sex marriage has led to a loss in respect for the marriage institution itself even for traditional couples. In Massachusetts, the imposition of same-sex marriage led to a decline in property values and an exodus from the state by many. Also in response to the introduction of same-sex marriage the State Department of Public Health changed marriage certificates to read "Party A" and "Party B" instead of husband and wife.
(Indeed, the quality of life in Norway is markedly different from that in Arkansas. The only actual evidence Dr. Google can find suggests gay marriage is good for the real estate market. What your marriage certificate calls you is surely not a central issue in your quality of life, though you might object to a ceremony where they asked whether you, schmuck, take this woman...?)  Let's just say that they have had some difficulty explaining what it is they fear will happen and how.

Just because it's only Chicken Little shouting that the sky is falling, however, does not mean that there is nothing worrisome going on. Marriage really is in a kind of crisis in the U.S., but it has nothing to do with same-sex marriage: it's caused by harsh abortion laws.

This may sound like a paradox. After all, pregnancy was for a very long time a key component of preserving marriage here and in much of Europe; pregnancy and the metaphorical shotgun. Wouldn't abortion—alongside the invention of effective methods of birth control that do not involve the erotically challenging procedure of putting a fellow's thing in a sous-vide bag—
This all-belly porchetta will be deep-fried after its 36-hour bath. Yum! From Serious Eats.
—wouldn't abortion, I was saying, by eliminating the most powerful reason for marriage, tend to depress its frequency?

And the answer is, not at all. Abortion was in fact for centuries the key element to making the marriage system work, particularly among the less wealthy classes—that is, among those who could not afford to keep their daughters in convents. Because the shotgun is only useful when the scalawag in question is a likely lad, one Dad doesn't mind having dinner with a few times in the year; and indeed the shotgun is hardly needed, as the young folks so often make that graceful bow to the inevitable under their own volition. But when the young woman has made a serious misjudgment about her young, or perhaps not so young, man, she and Dad both need some kind of safety valve to leave her able to marry somebody that suits the two of them better, and that is the role abortion traditionally plays.

Hormonal birth control has merely simplified the process, standing in for the shotgun in the way a quick cloture vote in the Senate stands in nowadays for the traditional ritual of the filibuster. The young woman need literally stop taking her pills only in the most recalcitrant of cases; normally, it's enough to say, "I think I'm a bit late," and the well-bred suitor knows what to do. In certain social classes this has had a huge pro-marriage effect, because it has enabled women to postpone marriage until an age when most people in my generation were already getting over their first divorce—and these late-selected partnerships are mature and secure enough to last, so that any minor reduction in the total number of marriages is more than made up for by a large reduction in the number of marital breakups. And abortion hardly even comes into question.

But only in certain classes, where the young women don't have to fight to get hold of the birth control. When Dad, himself insecure, can't deal with the idea of their making their own choices, the old system with abortion at the center is still relevant, and when they stigmatize abortion away it's a catastrophe. Unmarried motherhood is de-stigmatized in return, and alongside a welter of totally unsuitable, doomed marriages you get a plague of teen motherhood, girls who will never go to college, radiating waves of permanent poverty, and all the rest.
Okay, okay, it's not all black and white, if you will. Especially in Norway.

Thus the well-known correlations of Red State to anti-abortion state, to state that takes more Federal aid than it contributes Federal taxes, to state with higher rates of teen single motherhood, teen marriage, and divorce. Of course correlation is not causation, as they say, and to demonstrate that the lack of clean, safe abortion brings these bad things about we would require some actual research, of which little appears to have been done.

All the same this, picked up by Ed Kilgore at the Washington Monthly, is pretty suggestive: the Turnaway Study, of about a thousand women who were or were not given abortions because they were under or over their clinic's gestational limit, found after five years that
  •  Most women (86%) who carried their pregnancy to term kept their baby; 11% gave the baby up for adoption.
  • Being denied an abortion appears to have impoverished women and had a negative effect on their employment status. Researchers say that at the beginning of the study, there weren’t any economic differences between those who got an abortion and those who were denied one. However, after a year, “[W]omen denied abortion were more likely to be receiving public assistance (76% vs. 44%) and have household income below the FPL [Federal Poverty Level] (67% vs. 56%) than women who received an abortion. The proportion of women denied an abortion who were working full time was lower than among women who received an abortion (48% vs. 58%).” 
  • Anti-abortion advocates often claim that women who abort are more likely to develop drug problems. However, the study suggests that that is not the case; abortion did not increase the risk of drug use.
  • One year later, those denied an abortion were significantly more likely to have experienced domestic violence in the past six months and significantly less likely to rate their relationship with their child’s father as good or very good. At the study’s baseline, there were no differences in these areas between the two groups.
(The study hasn't yet been peer reviewed or published, but it looks methodologically very good.) You want to bet after ten years the women who had abortions will be more likely to be married?

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