There is an awful lot of welcome news these days about the decline and fall of the sexual revolution. To be sure, it is wedged in between a fair amount of other news chronicling continuing casualties of this revolution. But it's definitely there. Abortion rates are dropping. Abortion providers are closing shop at record rates. Rates of teen sexual intercourse and pregnancy are dropping.
If you are even a moderate consumer of news, you have probably heard reports of this progress which are not very instructive. Some are even misleading. The people who brought you the sexual revolution — who are now ensconced at research institutes and “family planning” organizations nationwide — are publicly “interpreting” the most recent findings in a light which will allow them to continue to promote their same tired messages.
But the times, they are really changing. And all the interpretation and spin in the world can't mask this.
Take the decline in abortion rates, for example. Rates for the most recently measured year — 1996 — are the lowest they've been since 1975. In 1975, for every 1,000 women of childbearing age (roughly ages 15-44), there were 22 abortions. That rate increased steadily until 1990. In 1996, the rate is 23 abortions per 1,000 women. And the numbers of abortions per year in the United States have declined from their high of 1.6 million per year in the late 1980s, to 1.4 million per year in 1996. That's a full 200,000 abortions every year that aren't happening anymore!
Abortion providers, too, are on the decline. The number of abortion facilities in the United States is now at its lowest level since 1975, two years after abortion on demand was legalized. Between 1992 and 1996, there was a 14% decline in the number of facilities providing abortion in the United States. Since 1982, the total decline in the number of abortion facilities in the U.S. is a whopping 30%!
There is also good news on one of the most troublesome fronts — teen sexual activity. The Centers for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Study reports that for the first time in decades, a majority of the 16,000 teens surveyed reported that they were not sexually active. Over the 1990s, there has been an 11% decline in the number of sexually active teens.
Not surprisingly, given these figures, numbers of teen pregnancies and abortions are down, too. The 1995 teen pregnancy rate was the lowest in two decades — 101 per 1,000 girls, down from 117 in 1975. And the 1995 teen abortion rate dropped 25% from its 1990 levels.
Abortion proponents are chalking all of this up to improved use of contraception. And clamoring for more and more promotion of contraception — particularly to teen-agers, and without parental involvement — to continue the trends. But while there is no definitive accounting for these promising trends, this explanation raises more questions than it answers. It also ignores other possible explanations which comport better with common sense.
Since the early '70s and the massive campaigns to put contraception into the hands of minors — without parental consent but with parents' tax dollars — increased public spending on contraception has occurred simultaneously with increased rates of sexual activity and increased abortion rates.
In fact, leaders of major pro-abortion and pro-contraception groups have publicly acknowledged that there is such a cause and effect relationship. Today, Planned Parenthood's Alan Guttmacher Institute reports that the most likely abortion patient is in fact a woman who uses contraception. A reminder, if ever there was, of the unreliability of contraception, not proof of its effectiveness.
The more likely explanation for America's improved sexual health is that we are, collectively, wising up to the weighty implications of sex. Decades of disastrous statistics — and human fallout in the form of single motherhood, abortion, repeat abortion, welfare dependency, and poverty — are preying on our minds, and on our lives. The actual relationships between sex and babies, single parenting and poverty, poverty and abortion, and so on, are clear as day. The epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases — including the most deadly, AIDS — is frightening us. Just this month, the American Social Health Association reported that one in three Americans will have a sexually transmitted disease by the age of 24!
So young people are actually abstaining from sex more often. Abstinence programs are getting significant federal money for the first time. Churches are speaking boldly and creatively about chastity to their young people.
So we've got people's attention now. The message seems to be sinking in about where we've gone off track. There is a “gut” understanding that some sexual behaviors lead to freedom and happiness and life. And others lead literally to death, or figuratively to the death of the spirit or future dreams. The challenge now is to use this time to teach what's right in the arena of human sexuality. To move away from fear-based motivations to those more worthy of the human spirit. The Catholic Church and others have a treasure of this information. Let's get it out and share it.
Helen Alvaré is director of planning and information at the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, National Conference of Catholic Bishops.