Falling down on the job

I’ve been writing up a list of ideas about abortion reduction to send to the Obama transition team, and unfortunately there are a few holes in my list.

I want to write “Work with pro-life, pro-contraception groups to maximize support for your prevention policies,” but I can’t. There essentially aren’t any.

I want to write “There are people who agree with your agenda for reproductive justice in every way except that we view abortion as violence against a human being. Talk to them; they have ideas that people in your circle might not think of,” — it’s true, but who can I point to?

This came to mind again when I read all the hand-flapping about Planned Parenthood of Indiana offering gift certificates.

The network of 35 clinics across the state announced it is offering holiday vouchers for basic health care services “or the recipient’s choice of birth control method.”

The organization decided to offer the vouchers because so many people are uninsured or are putting off health care because of prohibitive costs, said Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana. Nearly 800,000 Indiana residents don’t have health insurance, she said.

A few thoughts:

  • They’re not “gift certificates for abortions”, the way that many abortion opponents are breathlessly characterizing them. If you look at PP’s page, they’re not being marketed that way at all. They’re clearly meant for basic health care services and contraception. I actually agree with the PP spokesperson who says that although the vouchers can be used for abortions, she doesn’t think anyone would give them for that purpose. Whatever people’s political views might be, there aren’t a lot of people out there who celebrate abortion and would think of it as a fine holiday gift.
  • That said, someone will take a voucher that was given to them in the hope that they’d get necessary preventive health care, and use it to get an abortion. There’s no point telling ourselves otherwise.
  • All the blog posts I’ve seen about this (from “Planned Parenthood is selling gift certificates for abortions!” to “those Planned Parenthood-haters don’t want women to get health care!”) seem to be missing the bigger picture: that there are women for whom this might be the only way they can get a mammogram or a Pap smear. If I’m going to get outraged about something, I think it’ll be that, thanks.

I cordially invite pro-lifers who are outraged about this story to band together and start up their own clinics that provide reproductive health care and contraception, but not abortion. We have utterly, utterly fallen down on the job here.

14 thoughts on “Falling down on the job

  1. I hear you — I’m about as far from being an entrepreneur as it’s possible to get. But there *are* such people, and if people can open pharmacies that don’t sell condoms, someone should be able to do this.

    The wheels in my head are turning, though … if funding were found, would you or anyone you know have the administrative ability to run such a clinic?

  2. The Nonviolent Choice Directory is something you can point to with the Obama administration folks as a prolife, pro contraception, pro contraceptive sex ed effort…and we sell nonprescription contraceptives and safer sex items through the website.

    I think one of the biggest difficulties for pro every life, pro nonviolent choice and reproductive justice activists, at least in the US, is this: funders want to fund groups that either oppose abortion or uphold it as a right across all circumstances.

    We have to think up ways around this…

  3. Here is my note to the Women’s Issues section of change.gov:

    I am editor of the Nonviolent Choice Directory at http://www.nonviolentchoice.info and nonviolentchoice.blogspot.com. Nonviolent Choice is a global directory of abortion-reducing resources that regularly posts action alerts to alleviate the root causes of abortion.

    It grew out of a promise made in a book I co-edited, ProLife Feminism Yesterday and Today, Second Expanded Edition, with peace psychologist Rachel MacNair and women’s and ethnic studies professor Kinda Naranjo-Huebl.

    Nonviolent Choice expresses and acts upon a vision I would describe as pro every life, before, during and ever after birth; pro nonviolent (voluntary, nonabortion) sexual and reproductive choice; and pro reproductive justice for all at all stages of human life, from conception onwards. Women should not have to take the lives of their own unborn children in order to keep their own lives afloat.

    Obviously, as editor of the site, the issue of reducing abortion through relief of its root causes is a paramount one for me, as it is for many Americans, whether we identify as prolife, as I do, or prochoice, as Barack Obama does. And this urgent work needs to be done not only within our own borders, but globally.

    I would like to do whatever I can to help the Obama administration carry out its hopes for such common-ground measures for reducing abortion as:

    –Not only restoring but expanding the long-withheld US contributions to UNFPA.
    –Promoting fully informed use of contraceptives as well as abstinence within the context of nonviolent, egalitarian relationships.
    –Preventing and healing violence against women.
    –Promoting male responsibility in the areas of sex, family planning, pregnancy, and parenting.
    –Comprehensive, generously funded maternal, child, and family health and welfare services and policies.
    –Better options in adoption, foster care, and guardianship.
    –Universal comprehensive sex education.
    –LGBT rights.

    UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, has just begun the “I Believe in Zero” campaign to stop the 25,000 unnecessary deaths of already-born children from preventable causes that still happen every day, despite the existence of practical solutions.

    What if the Obama adminstration applied such an approach to reducing abortion? We know how to reduce abortion, We just need the political will and resources as a nation to do it. And I for one stand ready to help the new administration in whatever capacity I can. Thank you.

  4. You wrote:
    I want to write “Work with pro-life, pro-contraception groups to maximize support for your prevention policies,” but I can’t. There essentially aren’t any.

    That’s because conservative pro-lifers recognize that contraception only leads to more abortion, not less. It seems counter-intuitive, but that’s what our experience is showing. Promotion contraception only leads to more people having sex without wanting children. When the contraception fails — and every contraceptive technique has a failure rate — then abortion is the logical option. Promoting contraception leads to abortion.

    I want to write “There are people who agree with your agenda for reproductive justice in every way except that we view abortion as violence against a human being. Talk to them; they have ideas that people in your circle might not think of,” — it’s true, but who can I point to?

    Again, the details of your plan for “reproductive justice” rely heavily on contraception, with a side-order of LGBTQ rights. Conservatives realize that our pursuit of sexual hedonism has led to our current abortion epidemic, and that more hedonism will lead to more abortion.

    I think that your heart is in the right place, but you’re trying to build something on a foundation of shifting sand. It won’t work. That said, with the results of the 2008 election, you’ll have at least two years (and probably eight or more) in which to explore the pro-life liberal strategy. Conservatives will need some time to regroup and rebuild. So now is the time to find out if pro-life liberalism will work.

    I pray that we will all be willing to look at the results with an open mind. As I said, the last thirty-odd years seem to indicate that your plans are doomed to fail … but history isn’t always right.

  5. What you characterize as the position held by “conservatives” is in fact held by a very small minority of pro-lifers — even a minority of conservatives. Why does that minority control virtually every pro-life group? Why have they been able to cow groups like FFL and DFL into backing off of their support for contraception? Why have the rest of us let that happen? On the other side of the coin, why have we let pro-contraception and women’s health advocacy become dominated by abortion advocates?

    I was about to type up a long response to the “contraceptive mentality” argument, but I realized I covered it already here: http://www.turntheclockforward.org/2008/05/babies-and-border-fences/

    I strongly object to your characterization of contraception and LGBT rights as “sexual hedonism”. Do you really believe that the only possibilities are “sex only within heterosexual marriage and without contraception (except for NFP)” on the one hand, and “the only thing that matters is whether I get off” on the other? I can’t believe that you really do.

    Freedom gives people the opportunity to make unwise and selfish choices, but it also gives them the opportunity to make wise, healthy, loving, and fulfilling choices. Recognizing that one size does not, in fact, fit all doesn’t have to mean that anything goes.

    It’s very important for pro-contraception pro-lifers to become more visible and active, so that we can make the case for a realistic, responsible vision of sexuality in which people are free to choose whatever nonviolent form of birth control they want, but they do so with their eyes open and with their hearts prepared to fulfill their obligations to any children who might result. Who else can make that case? Not anti-contraception pro-lifers, obviously. Not abortion advocacy groups, who don’t agree that parents *have* obligations to children before birth. Right now, 50% of women who become pregnant unexpectedly *don’t* abort — they provide for their children even though they don’t have to. What could that figure be if our culture adopted a sexual ethic that combined freedom with responsibility to ourselves and others, including our unborn children? Right now, that ethic is virtually unheard of in the public discourse, which is why I’m absolutely boggled by your apparent belief that my ideas have held sway for the last thirty-odd years.

    So now is the time to find out if pro-life liberalism will work.

    This smells like a set-up, though I don’t believe you intend it as one. The number of pro-life liberals in positions of power and influence is growing but is still very small, yet if we don’t meet some unspecified metric for success in the next two to eight years, our philosophy is a failure? Meanwhile, pro-life conservatives have held public office, spent millions and millions of dollars, and dominated virtually all pro-life groups for decades, with decidedly unsatisfactory results. What would it take for conservatism to be considered a failure?

  6. I agree with Jen–why equate contraception and LGBT rights and justice with feckless, selfish hedonism? There are responsible ways to have same-sex relationships and to use contraception–just as there are responsible ways to express heterosexuality, to be abstinent, or use NFP/FAM methods.

    There is a good insight at the heart of “traditional” sexual morality: human beings are not to be used but treated with respect. However, sexual respect can take many more forms than the “traditional” model permits.

  7. I wanted to step in and address the original post, which brings up some important points. Some time ago, I tried to be the entrepreneur that was discussed in previous posts.

    I eventually stepped down from the founding committee of a pregnancy resource clinic (staffed with licensed nurses and physicians) because I stood alone as the only person in favor of providing contraception. Everybody else wanted to forbid the provision of or even referral for contraception. They couldn’t be happy with just allowing women access to non-violent pregnancy choices; they had to step over the line and regulate women’s sexual behavior.

    To this day, I am satisfied with my decision to abandon the effort. But I truly don’t know all of the answers. Planned Parenthood’s stats show that slightly over half of all abortions are done on women who were using birth control when they got pregnant. On the other hand it’s glaringly clear that “just say no” isn’t preventing pregnancy. I’m at a loss. Now that I’ve been soured by that experience it will probably be awhile before I get re-energized to work on a “pro-life Planned Parenthood” project!

  8. Gewndolyn,
    I’m sorry to hear about that. I have heard of others who have had bad experiences like this.
    All the more reason for all of us who take a nonviolent choice stance to find one another and band together!

  9. Interesting conversation. While I support gay rights, including the right to get married, I don’t see why those rights should be part of the pro-life agenda, any more than I see why opposition to those rights should be part of it. Mainstream pro-lifers have spent the last three decades getting distracted by issues of morality and religion; the new wave of pro-lifers needs to focus on what abortion is (an act of violence) and what it does (kill human beings) and not let itself get caught up in various other “culture wars.”

    Birth control (along with sex ed) is a slightly different issue as it is more directly related to pregnancy and therefor abortion. I don’t agree that birth control promotes a pro-abortion mentality–I’ve known too many people, most of them pro-choice (at least in theory), who’ve had surprise pregnancies and never considered abortion. For that matter, I don’t really understand the logical or theological rational for supporting NFP but opposing other forms of contraception–but maybe that’s a conversation for another day. On the other hand, I think contraception access and education, though important, is a relatively small part of what it will take to change our society’s attitudes about abortion.

    I do think that the current pro-life movement is desperately in need of a new and different image. I don’t think we all need to embrace birth control or gay rights but I do think it is vitally important to allow those who do to be visible and vocal within the pro-life movement.

  10. LGBT justice is a prolife issue because when LGBT people are not free to live as themselves, some take risks with heterosexual sex and end up with unintended pregnancies and abortion.

    As far as I understand it, the opposition to contraception is based on a belief that the purpose of human sexuality is procreation and that every sexual deed must be one that is open to the possibility of procreation, or somehow you are cheating the order that God ordained and engaging in self-centered pleasure.

    But this belief has taken over and utterly tied the hands of the antiabortion movement. If people want to rely on NFP and/or abstinence, then they should be free to do so. However, by the same token, they should leave the rest of us free to practice whatever nonviolent means of pregnancy prevention we choose.

    Threatening our right to do so will only increase abortions, and at any rate no one should be able to infringe on vital rights of expression, association, and religion this way.

    The threat is real. There are people who are not content to simply let us “heathens” go our way, but are out to brand contraceptive users and LGBT people as death dealers, dangerously immoral,destructive of the social fabric and so forth–and even to enforce these condemnations through the law.

  11. While I’m sympathetic to LGBT people who feel pressured to conform to a straight lifestyle, I honestly cannot believe that they are responsible for a substantial percentage of abortions. Even if they were, they have just as much ability and obligation to be responsible for their actions as straight people (who have also been known to experiment with sex under less-than-ideal conditions), whether that means using birth control or bringing an unplanned baby to term. I would love to see more LGBT people active and visible within the pro-life movement, but making LGBT justice part of the movement seems unnecessarily divisive.

    With regard to birth control, both progressive and conservative pro-lifers have an enormous range of views on the matter. The anti-contraception people who brand us as “death dealers, dangerously immoral, destructive of the social fabric and so forth,” are, as Jen points out on a regular basis, a very small minority. Of course people should have the right to use–or not use–whatever form of medically safe, non-abortifacient birth control they like; likewise they should be able to advocate for or against those forms of contraception.

    But I question whether it’s wise for the pro-life movement to embrace either stance to the exclusion of the other. The mainstream pro-life movement has spent the past 35 years alienating people who might have been sympathetic to ending abortion but who are unable to accept all the other strictures that characterize it. Progressive pro-lifers shouldn’t make the same mistake. There ought to be room for *everyone* who understands that abortion is an act of violence, regardless of where they stand on any other issue.

  12. I agree about responsibility taking, but it’s also important to realize that many people have sex in coercive, pressured, even violent situations that impair their ability to use contraception effectively–and every birth control method, no matter how well used, does not work as intended a small part of the time.

    I think the problem of LGBT crisis pregnancies is rendered invisible because LGBT people and their problems in general are erased from the concern of this society, still. And besides, however many or few crisis pregnancies there are in this vein, each one matters. There is a powerful story about such pregnancies in the second edition of the Prolife Feminism Yesterday and Today book.

    And the LGBT-phobia of many antiabortionists surely does not convey the message, “We stand at the ready to nonjudgmentally, unconditionally offer every form of help you and your child may need, before, during, and ever after birth.” I wonder how many abortions judgmental antiabortionists have caused, in this and other situations.

    Yes, there are conservative-minded prolifers who do help pregnant women, and who do cooperate well with progressive ones. I am all for that, when and where it can happen.

    But unfortunately, that small group of antiabortionists who actively seek to take away family planning rights, and the larger group who are LGBT-phobic have so bullied the prolife movement into one particular direction that it has (so I feel, after decades of dealing with this) no room for people who disagree on these points, and especially those who believe that undermining LGBT and family planning rights aactually causes abortions.

    So there is a real need for places where we don’t have to silence and censor our full vision of justice.

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