Better Contraception Will Improve Lives

I am reading Think Like A Freak, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner of Freakonomics fame. They challenge preconceptions and accepted wisdom about the world, offering compelling arguments to show that what I think I know may not be so. I love their work because, as Carl Sagan wrote, “Better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy.” Besides, reality always wins.

The book reiterates their earlier conclusion about crime and abortion in America. Crime rates have been dropping steadily in the US since the early 1990s, and while more police and longer prison sentences account for some of the drop, Levitt and Dubner conclude that legalization of abortion (in the early 1970s) was the major factor. Over a million fewer unwanted children are born each year, children who would have likely been raised in difficult circumstances, notably poverty, that increase the chance they’d become criminals.

This is a jarring theory for Americans to ponder, since abortion and certain forms of contraception remain emotionally charged topics, hotly debated and far from settled legally. If we adopt policies that increase the number of unwanted children, we must decide if society (that is, taxpayers) owes them something extra, either morally or through enlightened self-interest.

The agonizing debate puts too much energy into the divisive symptom and not enough into unifying prevention. We need contraceptive methods that are easier to use and more effective “in the field” where real people live.

Now there is another step, hopefully, towards better contraceptives.

It’s worth a lengthy quote:

“A remote-controlled contraceptive computer chip which would be implanted under the skin has been developed with the backing of Bill Gates. The chip, which would last for 16 years, would release levonorgestral daily, a hormone which is used to prevent pregnancy.

However with the new implant, a woman could choose when to deactivate or reactivate the chip using a wireless control. It is designed to be implanted under the skin of the buttocks, upper arm, or abdomen. The implant provides a long-term solution to birth control and would mean no more trips to the clinic or a procedure to remove the implant… The creators believe it will be more convenient and if it passes safety tests, it could be on the market as early as 2018. They said it would be ‘competitively priced’.”

Note that levonorgestral prevents ovulation, so it avoids the divisive argument over when fertilization occurs and when the fertilized egg deserves legal protection. For those who feel the threat of pregnancy is needed to inhibit pre-marital sex (a weak argument to my mind, but important to others), the threat of sexually transmitted diseases can still be invoked.

Sixteen years is long enough to get through the impulsive adolescent/early adult years. A young woman would only have to get to a doctor or clinic once; she’d only have to make that mature and responsible choice once, only have to overcome obstacles to travel or access once. We already make a big deal out of turning thirty; I envision “chick check your chip” party favors for the Big-Three-Oh.

Of course, this will raise other issues; for example, should a woman who is found (through proper legal channels) to be an unfit mother be required or coerced into accepting the chip? The question makes me shudder when I recall early 20th century eugenics. And there will be individuals who make poor choices. Nothing is perfect, but on balance, I think this chip could be a huge advance for individual women and for society. As a taxpayer, I’d be happy to finance a contraceptive chip for anyone who wants one for free. Every baby should have a bright future.



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