Over on The American Scene , Ross Douthat reflects on conflicting studies about the effectiveness of promoting abstinence or artificial contraception in reducing teen pregnancies. He correctly notes the dishonesty of including morning-after pills and related abortifacients in the category of contraceptives. He concludes with this:
If I were designing a public high school sex-ed program, it would probably have a greater emphasis on abstinence than my Blue-State education offered, but it would talk more about condoms and the pill than some of my fellow-travelers on the Christian Right would like. (If “abstain, be faithful, use a condom” is good for Uganda, why not for America?) Whatever the balance, though, I’m skeptical that it would make any great difference, if applied to public policy, in a country where everyone over the age of five already knows what a condom is and what you do with it. As with so many things in America, it’s not school but what happens at home—whether it’s Mormon parents in Utah (45th in teen pregnancy) teaching their children to wait for marriage, or Bobo parents in Vermont (49th) teaching their children to always practice safe sex—that matters most.
The key words there are “if applied to public policy.” If the sole concern is reducing teen pregnancies as a matter of public policy, there is arguably—I don’t say certainly—a toss-up between the effectiveness of abstinence or contraception.** Although one does note that abstinence is always effective in preventing pregnancy. But, of course, abstinence is typically urged for another and more important reason. The reason is frankly moral. Abstinent, as in sexually pure, is the right thing for unmarried young people to be. Abstinence, as in self-control, is a virtue, while contraception is a precaution against consequences when virtue is abandoned.
I hope Mr. Douthat would agree. If so, it would have a strong bearing on a design for a sex-ed program, if indeed a sex-ed program is needed to teach children what he says they already know. Also in a public school there should be no easy resignation to the notion that virtue is no part of education or is irrelevant to the public good.
** It is arguable at least if one follows the American data on teen pregnancies. As Fr. Thomas Williams points out over on NRO , however, the statistical case for the much greater effectiveness of abstinence with respect to HIV and related pathologies seems to be overwhelming in Africa.
Karl Rove spoke at the American Enterprise Institute last Monday. He said that many years ago, before he attained his current prominence, he read with great benefit the literature produced by AEI.
Some of the volumes were devoted to obscure topics like trucking dereg and a particular favorite of mine, the Argentine election. But I still have my copy of the essay by Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak called “To Empower People.” I found “The Moral Basis of Democratic Capitalism” by Irving Kristol, Paul K. Johnson and Michael to be extremely powerful. I was excited—and that may be a strange word—by Michael’s book “Democracy and Mediating Structures.” I still have my copy and occasionally dip into it.
Well, not quite. My co-author in writing To Empower People is Peter L. Berger. And, if Mr. Rove has occasion to dip into it again, he will discover that “The Role of Mediating Structures in Public Policy” is the subtitle of that little book. But Michael Novak was in the audience at AEI, and it was only just that Mr. Rove should pay tribute to his many contributions, even if the co-authorship of “To Empower People” is not one of them.
Michael Novak will not be surprised by this item. A year or so ago he met with President Bush, after which he called me to say that he had good news and bad news. “The good news is that the president said one of his favorite books is ‘To Empower People.’ The bad news is that he thinks I wrote it.”
This also gives me occasion to report that Peter Berger, whose heart surgery I mentioned the other week, is recovering very nicely. Deo gratias. And thank you for your prayers.