Contraception can be a controversial topic, but freshman Katherine Wilkins and senior Elyse Hutcheson sought to foster discussion in their talk, “A conversation about contraception: Why the pro-life movement should promote contraceptive use and education,” held Tuesday evening by Hillsdale College Democrats.
Wilkins cited the Netherlands as an example of a country with a sex education program that helped to lower the country’s abortion rates and to foster healthy attitudes toward relationships. The Dutch system, which begins in preschool and continues through high school, consists of a week of age-appropriate lessons each year.
“The Dutch credit this low abortion rate to their sex education programs,” Wilkins said. “It’s called comprehensive sexuality education. The Dutch system includes lessons in dating, how to break up with someone, what to do when you have a crush, how to tell someone you’re uncomfortable, boundaries, and things like what to do if you’re questioning your sexuality.”
She contrasted the Dutch system to abstinence-only-until-marriage systems of sex education, which she said have been linked to higher abortion rates in states with sex-ed programs where discussion of abstinence is mandatory but discussion of contraceptives is not.
“Abstinence is 100 percent effective, but not everyone is doing that,” Wilkins said. “We need to teach the people who are doing something different than abstinence. Abstinence is still taught, but it’s not the only form of contraceptive that kids should learn about.”
She said the Netherlands average around 7.5 – 8.5 abortions per 1,000 pregnancies, a rate much lower than the US average of 14 – 16 and the world average of 34. Wilkins said studies have shown that Dutch teenagers are more likely to use contraception than American teens.
Wilkins acknowledged that abortion is a multifaceted issue, but said improving sex education in America will help reduce the country’s rate of abortions.
“It’s not a perfect answer, but better education has been shown to reduce the number of abortions,” Wilkins said. “Pro-life or pro-choice, we can agree that abortion should be unwanted and unnecessary rather than unsafe and unaffordable.”
Junior Kathryn Duhadway said it was interesting to learn about the Dutch system of comprehensive education and consider other perspectives on contraception.
“It was nice to hear some details about the way their system works,” she said. “I think pro-life people don’t really talk about contraception a whole lot, and there are reasons for that, but some of the things Elyse said I genuinely had never thought about before, so it was good to hear those as well.”
Hutcheson focused on addressing objections to different forms of contraception she has encountered in the pro-life movement and how the promotion of contraceptives can help reduce abortion rates.
“There are so many wonderful pro-life individuals here who care a lot about that cause, but I’ve never once encountered someone who has said, ‘Maybe we should make condoms more available or educate children about how to have safe sex,’” Hutcheson said. “You see people sending baby socks to congress, but no one’s sending the message that maybe using contraceptive methods may reduce the number of pregnancies that end in abortions.”
She argued that organizations should take a more proactive, intentional approach to promoting contraception as a means to reduce abortions.
“Between 2011 – 2014 abortions declined pretty drastically,” Hutcheson said. “That’s something that should really be celebrated if you’re trying to end abortion, and from what I’ve seen, part of that is from people utilizing more available and less expensive contraceptives.”
She said even if individuals oppose hormonal birth control because it prevents a fertilized egg from further development or because of cancer risks, organizations can still promote other means of contraception such as condoms.
Ultimately, Hutcheson said contraceptives ought to be acknowledged for their role in lowering the abortion rate.
“One way to do that is contraceptives,” Hutcheson said. “Educating people on how to use contraceptives correctly might lead to a decrease in unplanned pregnancies, and more sex education might lead to better responsibility in people who do find themselves with an unplanned pregnancy who believe they are capable of taking care of the child they have.”