Yep, posting in the wee hours of the morning on Christmas Eve. That’ll bring in the readers in droves! Well, nobody ever accused me of having good timing, and it’s taken this long to recover from the end-of-semester crunch and stop falling asleep randomly in the evenings. (I suspect that the rapid approach of the third trimester might have a little something to do with the latter, as well.)
I saw a remark the other day on JivinJehosaphat (which, although I disagree with a lot of what’s posted there, I generally find interesting) that wasn’t anything new or unusual but nonetheless tripped my trigger:
“According to mythology, having contraception widely available should dramatically lower abortion rates, right?”
Well, according to mythology, sure. According to rational people who actually advocate for contraception, having it widely available is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for preventing unplanned pregnancy and abortion. It’s one tool, not the whole toolbox, and if other tools are missing it’s not surprising that contraception doesn’t get the job done by itself.
This is a case of presenting the weakest formulation of your opponent’s argument, and then heroically defeating it. I’d call it a strawman, except that there probably are some not-very-deep thinkers out there who do believe that you can just throw contraceptives at the problem and call it a day. They’re just about as representative of thoughtful contraception advocates as people who believe that all you have to do to stop abortion is make it illegal are representative of thoughtful pro-lifers.
More generally, I’m tired of the anti-contraception voice being the only one that’s ever heard on the pro-life side.
According to a poll conducted for the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, 80% of people who identify as pro-life support access to contraception. The reporting of the poll leaves a lot to be desired, and I have e-mailed them asking them to provide the questions asked and more details about the polling methodology. But given the near-universal acceptance of contraception in U.S. society generally — and given my experience with ordinary pro-lifers — it sounds pretty plausible to me. So why are there no major pro-life organizations which take a stand in favor of contraception, and so many which are outright against it? When was the last time you even heard a prominent pro-life figure who wasn’t named Tim Ryan talking about contraception and sex ed as tools for reducing the abortion rate? Why do the 20% have such a stranglehold on the discourse?
Sure, the people who oppose artificial contraception* are more organized and outspoken than those of us pro-lifers who think it has an important place in responsible sexuality. But whose fault is that? We leave or just don’t join groups that are anti-contraception; they join or stay in groups that are for it and change them.
Witness Feminists for Life, which used to affirm a right to contraception even as they acknowledged disagreement within the membership about whether it was the best approach. Now, they simply “take no position”. Witness Democrats for Life, whose original “95-10″ plan for slashing the abortion rate as proposed by Representative Tim Ryan would have expanded access to contraception by mandating contraceptive equity in insurance coverage. Over the ensuing months, they quietly dropped any mention of contraception from 95-10, until they finally ended up entirely dropping their support for Ryan’s Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act and backing a different bill.**
Reportedly, one reason Democrats for Life withdrew its support from Ryan’s bill was that money for contraception programs would go to Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocates. Well, hey, you know what would be a great way to address that problem? Establish some pro-life, pro-contraception alternatives!
It’s really not good enough to say, “we’re not opposed to contraception; we simply take no position”, either. In my opinion, given the climate of so many pro-life groups being actively anti-contraception, that is taking a position — that contraception isn’t worth defending.
Why does this happen? I’m honestly not sure. I’ve written to FFL and DFL about their abandonment of contraception, and have never gotten a response. I’d be interested in hearing others’ experiences. I suspect that they simply got more flack, in terms of people complaining and threatening to withhold donations, for supporting contraception than they got for ending their support.
Maybe pro-contraception pro-lifers need to stay in groups like FFL, DFL and others and advocate loudly to keep them from sliding to the anti-contraception side. Maybe we should join anti-contraception and faux-neutral groups in great numbers (the great numbers we do have, after all) to try to change them from the inside. Or maybe we need our own groups. But it’s absolutely vital that we speak up. The people opposed to contraception aren’t going to look at the stats and decide, “Oh, they make up 80% of pro-lifers; maybe we should let them have a say after all.” People don’t work that way. It’s our job to work as hard to have our point of view heard as they have.
* I don’t buy the argument that fertility awareness, aka natural family planning, is anything but contraception by other means when it’s used to prevent pregnancy.
** Mind you, DFL’s preferred bill, the Pregnant Women Support Act, is helpful as far as it goes. But if anyone at DFL thinks that they can reduce abortion by 95% in 10 years by focusing entirely on support after conception and ignoring prevention before conception, they’re kidding themselves.