Field of Science

Religious schools result in more abortions, but absence of religion lowers abortion rate

A new analysis of data from the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health has revealed no relationship between how religious a woman is and whether her first pregnancy ends in an abortion.

But the study did find that women who went to private religious schools were more likely to have had an abortion.

The effect of schools was really dramatic. A woman who had gone to a religious school was 5 times more likely to have had an extra-marital abortion than a woman who went to a state school.

On the face of it this is a pretty strange result. The researcher, sociologist Amy Adamczyk at City University of New York, thinks it may be down to social pressures against extramarital births:

"Religious school attendance is not necessarily indicative of conservative religious beliefs because students attend these schools for a variety of reasons," Adamczyk said. "These schools tend to generate high levels of commitment and strong social ties among their students and families, so abortion rates could be higher due to the potential for increased feelings of shame related to an extramarital birth." (Press release)
There's another possibility, of course. It might be that students who go to religious schools have restricted access to contraception. This would fit with an earlier study which found that teenagers who make virginity pledges are no more likely to abstain from sex, but are less likely to use contraceptives. It also fits with evidence that more religious countries have higher abortion rates.

So what else lowered the abortion rate? Well, the press release and a lot of the media reports picked up on the fact that Protestants were less likely than Catholics and women of other faiths to have an abortion.

But what they don't mention is the fact that having no religion was just as effective at reducing abortions!

Here are the data: Conservative Protestants were 48% less likely to have their first pregnancy end in abortion. The reduction in women with no religion was 43%. Those two numbers are statistically indistinguishable.

Now, this is not because women with 'no religion' were better educated, or from wealthier homes, or had higher college aspirations, or any of the extenuating circumstances that might otherwise account for the effect. All these were taken into account in the analysis.

Nope, it's freedom from religion, pure and simple, that led to fewer abortions.

_______________________________________________________________________________________
ResearchBlogging.orgAmy Adamczyk (2009). Understanding the Effects of Personal and School Religiosity on the Decision to Abort a Premarital Pregnancy Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 50 (2), 180-195

Creative Commons LicenseThis work by Tom Rees is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

5 comments:

  1. What a fascinating study.

    Two things.

    In that final analysis did they control for religious school attendance? It seems like conservative Protestant women would be more likely to go to religious school (and then not use contraceptives and face the social pressure of an extramarital pregnancy).

    Also if women who were conservative Protestants or not religious had the same likelihood of having an abortion then the conclusion could read as you stated: "Nope, it's freedom from religion, pure and simple, that led to fewer abortions."

    But with the same probability it could also read "Nope, it's strict (and likely authoritative) religion, pure and simple, that led to fewer abortions."

    Just some thoughts, but I want to emphasize that you found a great study. As before, I apologize for my highly restrictive/private blogger account.

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  2. Personally, I think it's because they can get forgiven for nigh anything (save blaspheming the holy ghost).

    Why keep the baby if Jesus will forgive you for having an abortion?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Some people take their problem children out of public school and put them into private thinking that the school will discipline them, or there won't be bad influences. Since private schools are only available to those who can afford them, this is a special population, about 10% of students. People with no religion also are a special population. People who are logical and rational make better choices generally. It seems reasonable they would make better decisions in this area as well. If people with no religion make up a larger share of the rational young ladies, then it is not surprising they have fewer abortions.

    I would also be interested to see a study of school performance and abortion/pregnancy.

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  4. ??? - the numbers I quoted didn't control for religious school attendence. But Adamcyzk does provide those, and they're basically the same (45% for Protestants, 40% for no religion).

    It seems likely that both factors are operating. Strictly controlled and highly salient religion (i.e. conservative protestants) do show reduced abortion, and the paper goes into some detail in this analysis. The effect of conservative protestantism is greater for older women, and is also exerted indirectly (so having conservative schoolmates increases the effect).

    Adamcyzk hypothesises: Compared to other American religious groups, conservative Protestant ideology tends to prioritize motherhood relative to academic achievement (Darnell and Sherkat 1997; Lehrer 1999). Women who belong to a faith that places such
    a high value on motherhood may perceive the cost of having a child while unmarried as lower
    than women of other faiths.

    ReplyDelete
  5. If this guy mentioned what exactly about religion was making religious students more likely to have an abortion, I would take this more seriously. Unless it is:
    "These schools tend to generate high levels of commitment and strong social ties among their students and families, so abortion rates could be higher due to the potential for increased feelings of shame related to an extramarital birth.”
    So then the only rational thing to do would be to encourage people not to have strong social ties among students and families…..wait, that’s stupid.
    "It might be that students who go to religious schools have restricted access to contraception."
    That could definitely be a concern, but seems to be a preventable one. So if we put effort into giving contraceptives, we don’t have to jump to getting rid of an entire faith for one bad factor instead of fixing it.

    ReplyDelete

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