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Study - Effect of Abortion Legalization on Sexual Behavior: Evidence from Sexually Transmitted Diseases
by Jonathan Klick, George Mason University School of Law
Thomas Stratmann, Department of Economics, George Mason University

The authors used CDC data on syphilis and gonorrhea epidemiology as an estimate of sexual behavior. The more sexual activity, the more syhpilis and gonorrhea.

We find that gonorrhea and syphilis incidences are significantly and positively correlated with abortion legalization. Further, we find a divergence in STD rates among early legalizing states and late legalizing states starting in 1970 and a subsequent convergence after the Roe v. Wade decision, indicating that the estimated correlation between STD rates and abortion legalization is a causal relationship. According to our estimates, abortion legalization might account for as much as one fourth of the average disease incidence, suggesting that sexual behavior is very responsive to changes in incentives.

Translated from Nerdese to common English: How many cases of gonorrhea and syphilis happen is directly related to abortion's legalization. States that legalized abortion before Roe v. Wade saw an increase in STDs before Roe. Other states' STD incidences rose after Roe to where they were similar to the states that had legalized abortion earlier. The authors estimate that roughly 1/4 of cases of syphillis and gonorrhea were linked to the changes in sexual behavior brought about by legalizing abortion. The more available abortion is, the more cases of STDs. People change their sexual behavior based on what they think they're risking. When they are confident that an untinded pregnancy can be readily aborted, they engage in more risky sexual behavior, resulting in more STDs.

The authors note that the total "cost" (not merely financial, but emotional, social, etc.) of sexual activity falls significantly with the availability of legal abortion. The cost of an unplanned pregnancy is reduced from the lifetime committment of child-rearing to the cost of an abortion. But, the authors note, even for women who would reject abortion, "the cost of rejecting sexual activities rises when abortion is legalized." The authors cite a study by Akerlof, Yellen, and Katz, published in 1996. "Thus these women may increase their sexual activities because the cost of rejecting sexual activities rises, but not because the cost of an unplanned pregnancy falls.

The authors examined the rates of both syphillis and gonorrhea, because syphillis is more linked to homosexual activity than gonorrhea. Looking at both diseases will show if there was just an increase in all sexual activity, or if there was just an increase in heterosexual activity. The availability of abortion is irrelevant to homosexual couples and thus would be expected to have less of an impact on syphillis than on gonorrhea.

The authors also compared the STD rate changes among males versus females. The authors also jade adjustments for income level, proportion of states' population between ages 15 and 34 (the peak STD years), race, alcohol consumption, and other variables known to have an impact on STD rates.

Prior to Roe v. Wade, some states had already legalized abortion. The California Supreme Court legalized abortion there in 1969. The legislatures of Alaska, Hawaii, New York, and Washington legalized abortion in 1970. Though other states loosened their abortion laws to allow for risks to the mother's life, the authors focused on those states that legalized elective abortions, since they were more clear-cut in their impact of the cost of sexual activity for ordinary couples.

The authors found rapid changes in STD rates relative to the availability of legal abortion. The increase in risky sexual behavior was therefore rapid, not gradual. The estimated cost of treating the additional cases of syphilis and gonorrhea is about $300 million per year. If the availability of abortion also increases the incidence of other STDs, the additional cost for treating these excess STDs may top $4 billion per year.

There's also the increased costs in suffering and deaths. STDs in women can cause pregnancy complications, ectopic pregnancy (a killer), sterility, blindness, and in some cases, death. Chlymidia makes a woman 5 times more likely to contract HIV/AIDS is exposed, with the attendant misery and mortality.Of course, the increase in pregnancy complications would then be used by abortion proponents to argue that pregnancy is risky and that what is needed is more access to abortion, which would then drive the STD rate up even further. Thus there are more STDs, more pregnancy complications, and more cries for greater abortion availability.

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 STD Information
• Chlamydial Infections
• Complications of Gonorrhea
• HIV/AIDS
• Complications of STDs and Pregnancy
• Human papillomavirus infection and cervical cancer
• HPV Strain Linked to Increased Mortality from Cervical Cancer
• Syphilis
• Chlamydia
• Gonorrhea
• Effect of Abortion Legalization on Sexual Behavior: Evidence from Sexually Transmitted Diseases (pdf)
• Do STDs or STIs Cause any Health Risks to Women and Not to Men?
• What are the Consequences of Sexually Transmitted Diseases?
• Sexually Transmitted Diseases During Pregnancy