Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Religious Women Less Likely To Get Abortions - Not For The Reason You Think

I first met Amy at a Social Change workshop at the University of Virginia a couple of years ago.  It's good to see her work getting some good attention:

A study in Social Science Quarterly says that religious women are less likely to have abortions than secular women - not because they're more pro-life, but because they're less likely to get pregnant before marriage.

“Religious influences on attitudes are much more powerful than religious influences on behavior,” the authors note. “While religion is the main reason for differences in abortion attitudes, religion is a relatively minor reason for differences in abortion behavior.”

Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, researchers led by Amy Adamczyk, PhD, of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Jacob Felson of William Paterson University measured sexual behavior and out-of-wedlock pregnancy to religious and denominational affiliation. The study used multiple religion measures with longitudinal data to examine the influence of religion on abortion behavior.

Researchers found that religious women were less likely to obtain an abortion than secular women, in part because they are less likely to become pregnant before marriage. Among those who become pregnant before marriage, religious women are more likely than secular women to take the traditional religious path and marry the father of the child, rather than get an abortion.

Because religious women lead a sexually conservative lifestyle, they are less likely to find themselves pregnant and without a potential marriage partner, when abortion may be a particularly appealing option. Also, religious women are more likely to get married if they become pregnant.

In my limited understanding of Amy's work, religious women tend to be more pro-life than the general population leading to a decreased incentive to have an abortion, but they also feel more shame at having an out of wedlock pregnancy leading to an increased incentive to have an abortion.  These two factors essentially cancel each other out, leading to the appearance of little religious impact on abortion rates once a woman becomes pregnant.  The largest religious effect is in the pregnancy rates, rather than in likelihood of abortion.

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