• Abortion, contraception, and cognitive dissonance

    One thing that never fails to amuse-enrage-confuse-amaze me is human behavior. I’ve now studied it for almost half of my life and still am dumbfounded by people’s actions all the time. Take, for example, this study (seriously, go read it right quick):

    <a href="http://vitals.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/10/04/14224132-free-birth-control-cuts-abortion-rate-dramatically-study-finds “>http://vitals.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/10/04/14224132-free-birth-control-cuts-abortion-rate-dramatically-study-finds
    Great information, right? Abortion rates lowered by up to 75%, even with the added cost of providing free birth control, would be enormously beneficial in cost savings compared to unplanned pregnancies. The study gives a figure of every $1 spent would save $4 in the long run. The most benefit was in the lowest age group, with drops of close to 85% in the number of teen pregnancies. So, we can lower abortions, cut teen pregnancy, and save money. Who could be against this? After all, it’s not as if anyone is pro-abortion (meaning, no one is running around saying “Abort ’em all! I love me some abortions!”), as the pro-choice camp only wants people to have the option to decide whether terminating a pregnancy is right for them as an individual. And the pro-life people should be thrilled with decreasing abortion rates from almost 20 per 1000 women to around 5 per 1000 women. Again I ask, who could be against this?

    Lots of folks, it turns out. Or, at least potentially lots of folks.

    Often, the same groups who are vehemently anti-abortion are equally anti-contraception. The Catholic Church springs to mind immediately, but they are far from the only ones with this belief. A lack of proper sex education (which includes information on contraceptive use) in most states in the US is due to protests by religious fundamentalists, as they think abstinence is the only thing that should be taught to our children. This is despite loads of studies that have found that they don’t work in delaying first intercourse, rates of sexually transmitted infections, or teen pregnancy. In fact, we have good evidence that abstinence-only programs may actually increase the risk of teen pregnancy and STI rates.

    So, what you end up with is that the same people who should be elated at a study that shows how to cut abortion rates immensely will likely not support large scale implementation, because it is at odds with another belief they hold. This is what we psychologists refer to as cognitive dissonance – holding two incompatible beliefs (in this case: contraceptives are bad but their use could greatly decrease abortions, which we are also strongly against). People often work to try and reduce this to make themselves feel better (e.g., I smoke, but smoking is bad…well, I am young and will quit soon, so I’ll be fine).

    I will be very interested to see if and how much notice this study and the potential ramifications receive by politicians in the run up to the presidential elections. I am also curious if and how groups like the Catholic Church and evangelical Christians try and reduce their cognitive dissonance on this issue (the Vatican, of course, is great at finding ways around this – condom use and AIDS in Africa springs to mind).

    Category: PoliticsScience


    Article by: Caleb Lack

    Caleb Lack is the author of "Great Plains Skeptic" on SIN, as well as a clinical psychologist, professor, and researcher. His website contains many more exciting details, visit it at www.caleblack.com