IS ABORTION GOOD FOR GIRLS?

by Maggie Gallagher

This week, on the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President Obama said Roe "affirms a fundamental principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters."

Sen. Rick Santorum meanwhile sparked a controversy saying abortion is a "civil rights" issue akin to slavery that President Obama should understand.

He's right. Slavery was once considered a "private family matter" too -- a "domestic relationship" in which government had no right to interfere.

But I found it even sadder how a committed father of two daughters like President Obama could go on to say this about abortion: "And on this anniversary, I hope that we will recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights, the same freedoms, and the same opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams."

Abortion is a symbol of our aspirations for our daughters? Am I the only one who finds something grotesque in that?

I spent the anniversary of Roe v. Wade reading an important new book, "Premarital Sex in America," written by two well-regarded young sociologists, Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin and Jeremy Uecker at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

They analyzed Add Health's nationally representative data to find out how sex and abortion affect young women's mental health and life satisfaction.

Their conclusion? The data "suggest that abortion may contribute to depression in emerging adulthood, independent of sexual-behavior patterns" in young women -- and even after controlling for factors like race, family structure, parents' education and educational attainment.

An even bigger problem for our daughters' mental health is the low-commitment peer sexual culture that Roe v. Wade helped to spawn. Regnerus and Uecker find that "having more numerous sexual partners is associated with poorer emotional states in women, but not men."

Overall 16 percent of young adult women say they've been diagnosed with depression. Among those who have 10 or more lifetime partners, 32 percent say they've been diagnosed with depression. Among those who've had 10 or more partners in the past year, almost half say they've been diagnosed with depression.

If less-committed sex makes women feel bad, why do they do it?

Well, Regnerus and Uecker provocatively ask, why do a growing number of young women engage in anal sex? By age 23, 33 percent of never-married young women in the Add Health survey say they've had anal sex (white women are the most likely). When asked if they enjoy it "very much," just 15 percent of women who've tried it say yes. So why do women do it?

Regnerus and Uecker speculate that it is for the same reason so many women are engaging in repetitive experiences of low-commitment sex that make them unhappy. Because they feel they have few alternatives. Anal sex in particular is a response to our porn-saturated culture, in which young men are increasingly viewing images of anal sex with women and asking their girlfriends for it. Women have less sexual power than they did even a generation ago. When it comes to our sexual mores, young men rule the roost.

Anal sex is painful, unsanitary, unsatisfying for women, and creates unique risks for serious physical diseases (if you doubt me, go read the Wikipedia entry on the subject) because the anus is not designed for sexual intercourse, increasing the risk of torn flesh and the intermingling of bodily fluids -- blood, semen, fecal matter -- that can spread an astonishing variety of diseases. The female partner is far more at risk than the man in these encounters. This should be a feminist issue.

But women are doing it to please their boyfriends. Because we have created a sexual culture that empowers young males (even as it stunts their incentives to grow to become successful, confident and happy family men) and disempowers women.

Women's bodies are designed for connection, to connect sex, love, and yes, even babies.

But Roe v. Wade symbolizes a sexual culture that teaches young women: To succeed you have to deform your body to be like a man, to do what men like. Or else you've failed and it's your fault.

(Maggie Gallagher is the founder of the National Organization for Marriage and has been a syndicated columnist for 15 years.)