Monthly Archives: December 2006

Speaking of speaking up

There are reasons that people tend to have a knee-jerk association of “pro-life” with “right wing”. One is certainly that abortion supporters promote this stereotype in an effort to both fire up their base and marginalize their opponents.

But another is that the right wing wants it that way. Certain elements of the right, particularly the Christian right, see the pro-life movement as their property and work hard to keep it that way. The near-total suppression of support for contraception among pro-life groups (see below) is one manifestation of this. The annual March for Life in Washington, DC is another.

The March is the largest single anti-abortion event of the year, and is therefore an important public face of the pro-life movement. Yet it isn’t representative of pro-lifers in America, and doesn’t try to be. March organizer Nellie Gray is avowedly anti-feminism. She doesn’t “do outreach” to minorities. For several years she threatened members of the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians with arrest if they dared march with their banner. In 2002, she followed through on that threat. She has also tried to discourage participation by Feminists for Life, and by a group of non-stereotypical pro-lifers who gathered to march in 1997 to show the diversity of the pro-life movement.

Now, Kristen Day of Democrats for Life of America reports that Nellie Gray called her this morning and told her that DFL was not to bring its banners to next month’s March.

Some have argued that Gray has a right to ask that people not promote their own particular groups at what is supposed to be an event focused on the pro-life cause. That might be a fair point, except that the March is in fact filled with people displaying signs and banners proclaiming marchers’ religious and political affiliations. It’s just that most of those are conservative and Christian, and therefore apparently meet with Gray’s approval.

Please contact the March for Life and ask them to allow all signs promoting a peaceful pro-life message, no matter their ideological affiliation. If you are planning to attend the March, please consider standing with DFL and other groups that the people who consider themselves the owners of the pro-life movement are trying to push out. Democrats for Life will be meeting at the Hotel Washington at 15th and Pennsylvania at 11:30 am to walk over to the March as a group. PLAGAL is planning to meet them at the hotel and walk over with them; this might be a good place for other supporters to gather.

Pro-life, pro-contraception

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.

How we got to this place

I have a mildly terrifying amount of schoolwork due on the 18th, and thus naturally have been taking my mind off of it by reading the comments over at Making Light. In the “Why I Blog” thread, a commentor complained that his non-standard package of views on guns, free trade, stem cell research, war, etc. means that for all practical purposes he doesn’t exist in our political discourse. (As an atheist who opposes war and abortion and is for single-payer health care and gay rights, I can relate.) Teresa responded by pointing to her own views on guns. One paragraph in particular jumped out at me:

Then there’s the NRA. You know, those guys are no help at all. If I were a conniving right-wing strategist, I’d funnel lots of money to the NRA because their spokesmen are always coming off like such dangerous loonies. I’ve never known one single non-gun-using person who was persuaded by listening to the NRA that there’s such a thing as sane, reasonable gun ownership and use. Instead, they stampede in the opposite direction, which causes sane, reasonable gun owners to stampede rightward, and next thing you know there’s a culture war going on between people who otherwise would be sympathetically inclined.

Substitute “Radical Religious Right” for “NRA” and “abortion opponents” for “gun owners/users”, and a more concise summation of the sad state of “pro-life” politics could hardly be sought.

Thanks, I feel much better now

The Air Carrier Security Committee of the Air Line Pilots Association investigated the case of the six imams who were kicked off of a US Airways flight a couple of weeks ago after other passengers became nervous about having them on board. I’m sure you’ll be as relieved as I was to learn that they’ve concluded that there was no discrimination involved:

“The decisions made by all the parties were made as a result of the behavior of the passengers and not as a result of their ethnicity,” the report concluded.

The suspicious behavior cited in the report included “changing seats, stating anti-war, anti U.S.-Iraq involvement, negative comments concerning the president of the United States.”

Good news, everyone! The imams’ treatment had nothing to do with religion or ethnicity! Anyone could get kicked off a plane for suspicious behavior like criticizing the war!

Amnesty reminder

Amnesty International USA members: remember today is the last day to fill out AIUSA’s survey about their proposal to abandon their current neutrality on abortion. It is vitally important for people who value the human rights of both unborn children and their mothers to communicate their views to AIUSA.

I noticed the other day that AIUSA finally issued a public statement, a mere eleven days before the deadline for member input (and including no mention of the member survey). The statement claims that “The organization’s policies are determined by AI members worldwide through a democratic process.” This comes after months of apparently trying to stifle any notice or debate among members on the proposed policy change — even going so far as to tell callers to the national office that no change of policy on abortion was being considered! That’s the kind of “democratic process” I expect from the Bush administration, not Amnesty International.