A Critique of the Culture of the Life, Part 3

So let’s talk about Mississippi.

By “culture of life” standards, Mississippi is to be doing everything right; abstinence-only sex education, only one abortion clinic that’s under constant attack, and a conspicuous lack of access to contraception. Mississippi is consistently ranked as the most religious state in the union (http://www.gallup.com/poll/167267/mississippi-religious-vermont-least-religious-state.aspx), and while conservotrads Catholics would bemoan the fact that the de facto religion of Mississippi is Southern Baptism, they would still approve of its anti-contraception/anti-abortion public policies.

The problem is that by all measures of human development and flourishing, Mississippi is a mess, regularly topping the lists for obesity, child poverty, diabetes rates, racism, and other undesirable superlatives. Mississippi does a particularly poor job of preventing teen pregnancy and the subsequent ills that result from it, as these statistics from the US Department of Health and Human Services show:


The most telling statistics indicate that teenagers in Mississippi are not only having sex earlier, they’re having it more often, with more partners, and producing more babies when compared to American teenagers as a whole. Regardless of where one falls on the political or religious spectrum, I don’t see how one can look at this data and not feel like Mississippi has just failed on the “life issues” front.

Some of the people in Mississippi realize that having so many teen pregnancies really isn’t a good thing, whether from a public health perspective or from an economic one, and are trying to change the way sex ed is taught in schools, but are running into resistance from the usual religious quarters:


The reason why I bring up the example of Mississippi is because this state appears to be a “culture of life” by Catholic standards, at least in the sense of finding contraception and abortion to be distasteful, but is uniquely averse to building up healthy communities by investing in its human capital. In previous posts, I mentioned how Catholic Social Teachings against contraception are inhibiting development in Latin America, but I thought it would be helpful to use Mississippi as an example of what happens when these ideas are implemented as public policy in the United States. While Mississippi is an extreme example, it’s well worth remembering that the United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world, so it’s not like the problem can be confined to the South:


It seems to me that conservatives, who continually express a concern with the ways in which our tax money is spent, ought to be leading the charge to eliminate wasteful abstinence-only sex-ed that don’t work. But because of the odd convergence of religious conservatism and libertarianism, what we see instead is an eagerness to close Planned Parenthood and deny healthcare in general to large swaths of the population.

As the LA Times article notes, a major roadblock in the fight against teen pregnancy is the fact that teen moms are celebrated, rather than condemned by many Mississippi communities:

Regardless of what schools teach, there is still a powerful culture in Mississippi that celebrates teen pregnancy, said Ashley McKay, the head of Tunica Teens in Action, a nonprofit group that works with Delta-area teenagers. Teenage girls have photo shoots of their pregnant bodies, and 15- and 16-year-olds have competing baby showers. Until that culture changes, McKay said, lessons about sex in school can’t make much of a difference.

This is what I don’t understand. You have these very religious communities that claim that the merest mention of a condom will send everyone to hell, but at the same time, they consider a pregnant sixteen year old to be something to show off. Some people might call this a “culture of life” because these girls aren’t encouraged to have abortions, but I just call it a “culture of encouraging teen pregnancy and poverty.” As the case of Mississippi shows, removing abortion and contraception from society doesn’t encourage “respect for life” so much as it encourages high rates of social dysfunction.