Babies and border fences

Richard Stith makes an interesting argument against the idea of promoting contraception to reduce the abortion rate:

The second crucial element of any truly pro-life position is that it be pro-child, not merely anti-abortion. Opposing (even hating) abortion by promoting more contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies misses the fundamental point. The deep problem is callousness toward the unborn child. To propose contraception as a means to cut down on the numbers of abortions is like proposing a border fence to reduce the number of discriminatory acts against immigrants to the US. Even if contraception and fences do cut down on the number of wrongful acts, they may at the same time heighten the hostility that leads to such acts.

Stith’s point that all pro-life efforts must be undertaken with an attitude of respect, not opposition, to the unborn child is well-taken. Some groups, especially those trying to reduce teen pregnancy, promote the attitude that having a baby is horrible and will ruin your life, so you’d better use birth control! Among its many other failures, this approach isn’t exactly likely to lead to increased respect for the life of the child.

However, I think there are a couple of problems with the border fence analogy. I use analogies all the time myself, so I’m aware that they’re never perfect, but I think the flaws here are relevant and instructive. Building a border fence to keep immigrants out is an action against existing human beings, one which deprives them of the ability to travel freely, to visit family members, and to seek employment. Contraception doesn’t deprive an existing human being of anything.

Hostile acts against immigrants generally have at their root bigotry and xenophobia (albeit often spurred by economic and social insecurity). Wanting to postpone or avoid childbearing, on the other hand, doesn’t usually stem from animus toward children. Even under the best of circumstances, childbearing is a profoundly life-altering experience. It’s legitimate to prefer not to take it on, and to take whatever non-violent steps one chooses — whether total abstinence, periodic abstinence, outercourse, or contraception — to try to actualize that preference. None of those non-violent measures is necessarily anti-child in itself; what matters is the attitude motivating them.

There’s a real risk that people will feel entitled not to have a baby because they used contraception, and will abort if a pregnancy occurs anyway. I think this is what opponents usually call “the contraceptive mentality”. I don’t see that as an argument against contraception, but as an argument for realism and responsibility in our sexual behavior. Ideally, couples who use contraception would do so knowing that they might conceive despite their plans, and prepared to support their child if that happens.

That may sound utopian, but it’s actually pretty common. About 50% of unplanned pregnancies in the U.S. end in abortion — which means about 50% don’t. That’s not nearly enough, but it should encourage us to find out more about what influences women to choose life for their unplanned children.

Contraception is a tool. Just as it takes more than a hammer to build a house, contraception access by itself won’t ensure safe, healthy sexual behavior. But it’s a tool that most pro-lifers, and most Americans, think should be available to everyone who wants it, and we’ll fight to keep it available.

Pro-life, pro-contraception

Please leave links to your blogswarm posts in the comments! I’ll update the main post with links throughout the day. Also, if you don’t have a blog, please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

* Marysia of the Nonviolent Choice Blog with We Are Pro-Life and Pro-Contraception. I especially like the last link she provides, which leads to a debate she had with a contraception opponent. The debate covers statistics on contraception and abortion rates, as well as a brief discussion of whether birth control pills really are abortifacient.

* LAMom weighs in with two posts (awesome!): Effectiveness vs. Rights, in which she argues that “Does it decrease the abortion rate?” isn’t all that matters; and A Couple of Old Contraception Posts, where she rounds up some of her previous thoughts on the subject. (By the way, Joan, I totally don’t think that’s cheating; it’s nice to have all this in one place.)

* Anthea has a quiz! (Hint: the answer is never “because we hate teh sex and teh wimmins”)

* In On Contraception, Jonathan argues that public political opposition to contraception harms the pro-life movement, and that it should be left up to private consciences. As an added bonus, he includes a beautiful picture of his new baby!

* At last, my own contribution, Babies and border fences. You can also check out the “contraception” tag to see what I’ve said here before.

If you signed up (and even if you didn’t!) and didn’t manage to get your post written today, please feel free to post it late. I’ll either link it here or do a follow-up, depending.

Many thanks to all participants! Y’all rock.

Abortion literacy

Dave Andrusko of NRLC has been asking for examples of abortion illiteracy — things many people don’t know, but should if we’re to have a meaningful public debate. As he puts it:

But how can people participate in the abortion debate without a more-than-passing acquaintance with the basics? Indeed, if people know next to nothing about abortion–what it is, its impact on the wider culture, what led us to where we are today, to name just three– how can they meaningfully participate in the public square?

My question to you is this: what precisely are those basics? Put another way, if you were able, what fundamentals would you weave into the intellectual warp and woof of our culture in order to raise the public’s literacy on abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia?

I figured that his readers would cover the more usual topics such as the facts about fetal development, so here’s what I sent in:

* I’ve run into people who believe that Roe v. Wade ruled that the right to privacy is so broad as to include the killing of a person in the case of abortion. That is not what the Supreme Court ruled. They specifically stated that if the unborn child were considered a legal person, that the right to privacy would not apply. They then decided that the unborn child is not considered a legal person with human rights.

* Most prominent “right-to-life” politicians aren’t actually running on a “right to life” platform. They’re instead running on a “pass laws against abortion” platform. On the national level, they propose to overturn Roe vs. Wade by appointing “originalist” or “strict constructionist” justices who will rule that since the right to abortion (and/or the right to privacy) is not specifically spelled out in the Constitution, that it’s up to states to decide. This would then allow states to pass laws against abortion even without declaring the unborn child a legal person with human rights. Of course, it would also allow states to keep unrestricted abortion.

No major presidential candidate in either party ran on a platform of getting the unborn child declared a legal person with human rights. [I later amended this to note that Mike Huckabee did.]

* The abortion issue is not a battle of the sexes. There is no statistically significant difference between the views of men and women on abortion.

* Most people oppose the legality of most abortions. The cases in which a majority of people believe abortion should be legal account for fewer than 10% of abortions. When they claim to have a “pro-choice majority”, abortion advocates are counting people who believe that abortion should be legal in some circumstance as “pro-choice”. When people with the same beliefs run for office, they are “anti-choice extremists”.

* About 80% of self-identified pro-lifers are pro-contraception.

* Countries in Western Europe where children receive comprehensive sex education, and where responsible use of contraception is encouraged and expected, have achieved much lower rates of abortion and teenage pregnancy than the United States.

* Pro-life is not strictly a conservative, Republican, Christian, or religious position.

He hasn’t written the follow-up column yet, so he might still be taking submissions. You can reach him at if you have any suggestions.

Pro-life, pro-contraception blogswarm May 31

Are you as tired as I am of the linking of opposition to abortion with opposition to birth control?

If so, please write a pro-life, pro-contraception blog post on May 31 and leave a link in the comments here. I will do my own post, plus a roundup of all your posts. Note: though I’d love to see some thoughtful discussion of the Pill, the post doesn’t have to be specifically about that.

Eighty percent of pro-lifers are for contraception. Eighty percent. It’s time for our voices and our arguments to be heard for a change. Please spread the word!

EDITED TO ADD: Blogswarm, not blogstorm. Which I actually knew, but I’m not getting a lot of sleep lately.

Pro Every Life, Pro Woman, Pro Reproductive Justice for All

Marysia has the manifesto online and ready for signing!

Pro Every Life, Pro Woman, Pro Reproductive Justice for All: A Manifesto

Sponsored by: Turn the Clock Forward & the Nonviolent Choice Directory

We, the undersigned, affirm that:

We are pro every life, before, during, and ever after birth.

Therefore we vigorously, straightforwardly advocate women’s right to nonviolent sexual and reproductive choice.

What is nonviolent choice? (more…)

Cleaning out bookmarks

* Discrimination against blacks linked to dehumanization, study finds. This study looked at the racist association of blacks with apes, and its consequences for people’s willingness to accept violence against them. Any anti-violence advocate could tell you that one way to get people to accept violence is to dehumanize its victim.

* It’s pretty easy to find the candidates’ stands on abortion, but glassbooth has also collected their stands on birth control and sex education.

* A New Zealand Idol contestant was kicked off the show for being pregnant. “Public life is set up with the assumption that people participating won’t have primary responsibility for childcare. This is incredibly anti-woman and extremely restrictive for women who do have children. A huge part of what I’m fighting for, as a feminist, is ending the notion of a ‘private sphere’ the idea that child-rearing is an individuals (usually a woman’s) primary responsibility, and that you have to choose between that role and any other role that you want to take.” Maia isn’t pro-life, but this is one area where feminists should be able to find common ground. (No, I haven’t actually had that bookmarked since August 2006. I’m not that far behind.)

* From another of Maia’s posts come two links to brownfemipower on the struggles of women, especially women in marginalized communities, to have their right to give birth respected.

* In that vein, Marysia (with a bit of help from me) has been working up a manifesto for an inclusive reproductive justice organization. This organization will encompass the rights of the unborn and already-born, and will advocate for all women’s rights to the full spectrum of nonviolent reproductive choices.

Virginia Governor called “very liberal, extremist” for agreeing with 80% of Virginia parents

LifeSite reports on Tim Kaine’s cancellation of state funding for abstinence-only sex education.

Victoria Cobb, executive director of the Family Foundation of Virginia, said Kaine “professes to be a moderate and a man of faith, yet he is taking this very liberal, extremist position. The governor is choosing politics and playing to his base.”

(Kaine’s position, by the way, is that “effective sex education programs must include information about contraceptives as well as abstinence.”)

The article continues:

Another survey found that eight of 10 Virginia parents want their children to be taught abstinence as part of a comprehensive sex-education program. (emphasis added)

Doesn’t really take much to be a liberal extremist these days, does it?

Catholic hospitals in CT to give rape victims emergency contraception

Catholic Hospitals to Follow Plan B Law

The hospitals will be allowed to provide Plan B without ovulation tests “since the teaching authority of the church has not definitively resolved this matter and since there is serious doubt about how Plan B pills work,” the statement reads. “To administer Plan B without an ovulation test is not an intrinsically evil act.”

It’s a huge concession for the bishops to admit that there is serious doubt about whether Plan B prevents implantation. I hardly think that this will settle the debate in the minds of people who are sure, despite recent studies, that it does. With any luck, though, people who genuinely weren’t aware of the recent research might find out about it now.

The power of the Catholic Church to bring attention to abortion-related issues really is a blessing and a curse.

Concerned TV Networks for America

Even Fox feels the need to pander to the 10% or so of the population who oppose birth control. I told you their influence was all out of proportion to their actual numbers!

Trojan recently tried to place an ad for its condoms on the four major networks. ABC and NBC accepted the ad, but Fox and CBS rejected it. Fox’s response was particularly telling:

Fox and CBS both rejected the commercial. Both had accepted Trojan’s previous campaign, which urged condom use because of the possibility that a partner might be H.I.V.-positive, perhaps unknowingly. A 2001 report about condom advertising by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that, “Some networks draw a strong line between messages about disease prevention — which may be allowed — and those about pregnancy prevention, which may be considered controversial for religious and moral reasons.”

Representatives for both Fox and CBS confirmed that they had refused the ads, but declined to comment further.

In a written response to Trojan, though, Fox said that it had rejected the spot because, “Contraceptive advertising must stress health-related uses rather than the prevention of pregnancy.”

So the networks either don’t think they’ll get flak, or they’re willing to take it, for promoting condom use to prevent disease. But not to prevent pregnancy. Hmm. What could account for the difference?

“There’s a utopian view that women ought to be able to have sex any time they want to without consequences” [emphasis added]

— Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America, explaining her groups’s opposition to legislation that would promote contraception and comprehensive sex ed

Oh yeah.

Welcome to the blogosphere!

I’m very excited to see that Marysia has started the Nonviolent Choice Blog. She will be posting on pro-life feminism, a subject which she has studied extensively.

Marysia is also developing the Nonviolent Choice Directory, with the aim of providing “wide spectrum of resources necessary to alleviate the root causes of abortion–from comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education to support for the women and children of crisis pregnancies before, during, and ever after birth, at all levels of society from the individual to the global.” This is an ambitious project, but one that is sorely needed. I encourage everyone to visit and give her feedback.

There aren’t two sides to every fact

I was bothered by an item run by LifeNews last week, titled “New Study Finds Morning After Pill Can Work as an Abortion Drug”.

First of all, that’s not quite what the study says, but I’ll let you read the abstract yourself. What really got up my nose was this line:

Abortion advocates have claimed the drug only prevents conception but the study appears to contradict that claim.

Because it’s not just abortion advocates making that claim. It’s researchers and those who have read the research and found it convincing, including some pro-lifers. Including myself.

Yes, I realize that research is sometimes tainted by ideological bias. But there’s no such thing as “pro-life science” or “pro-abortion science”. Just because abortion advocates publicize or even conduct a study doesn’t make it wrong, and doesn’t mean we have to line up and deny the findings.

Crisis pregnancy centers

Last week, Time ran an article about crisis pregnancy centers called The Grassroots Abortion War (single-page version). I went in expecting the usual hit piece about “fake abortion clinics terrorizing women”, and was surprised to find a reasonably nuanced presentation of the strengths and weaknesses of CPCs.

Of course, the usual imbalances exist. The web version of the article is 9 pages long, and not until page 7 does author Nancy Gibbs offhandedly note that, “Abortion providers, of course, have been accused of coercion as well”. The rest of the paragraph is devoted to an abortion provider identified only as “Lorrie” vouching for her own medical ethics and care for women. Nothing more is mentioned on the topic. Never does Gibbs question whether abortion providers give women accurate (or any) information on fetal development, or whether Lorrie’s ethics are typical in the industry. “They do it too!” is never an excuse, but surely crisis pregnancy centers should not be the only ones held accountable for giving accurate information to women. The overall effect is of a writer steeped in pro-choice culture examining “the other side”. (JivinJehoshaphat has more on this.) I have to hand it to her, though; it’s a pretty fair examination.

When I was in college and first getting acquainted with the pro-life movement, I was always proud to be able to point to the number of centers to which pro-lifers donated their money and time to help pregnant women. And in a lot of ways, I’m still proud. By far, most people who work at CPCs are there because not only do they want to save the lives of unborn children, but they also have compassion for the women who may choose abortion and want to alleviate the difficulties that lead them toward that choice. There are thousands of centers in the U.S. and tens of thousands of loving, compassionate people working in them. This outpouring of caring and support is especially beautiful and necessary in the midst of the often-vicious struggle over abortion.

Later, though, as I read more from both CPC detractors and supporters, I found that my initial enthusiasm could no longer be completely unqualified. The Time article pinpoints several of the reasons for my ambivalence.

They are staffed largely by volunteers. This is great in one sense — these are people who care enough to give their own time to help others. However, since the staffers aren’t professionals, it is extremely important that they be adequately trained to counsel women about the complex matters of fetal development, childbirth, and abortion. If that doesn’t happen, they can end up giving information of questionable accuracy, which helps nobody.

Most CPCs, including the large networks discussed in the article,* consider themselves Christian ministries. Obviously, this is a topic on which I have an outsider’s viewpoint. From that viewpoint, I don’t have a problem with (and in fact, quite admire) the kind of ministry that takes the “show we are Christians by our love” approach — helping the needy as they feel called by God to do, and letting that work make the case for the truth and power of their beliefs. But I don’t think it’s right that a person in need, who may not be Christian or have any desire to be, should have to be proselytized to in order to get help. Furthermore, some people can be tempted to employ less-than-ethical tactics in the service of a higher calling. Pastor Jeff Hutchinson admits that this is a problem he has wrestled with:

“I never would have said that the ends justify the means,” he says. “But I know that was in my heart–if lying helps save a baby’s life, that glorifies God.” He has read some pregnancy-center brochures that he suspects are maybe shading the truth in the name of a larger good. “This whole process has reminded me that Jesus is not a Machiavellian,” he says. “It really helps me trust the sovereignty of God. He’s in control of who lives and dies. My effort is to serve folks, and the means I use matter. I have to glorify Jesus. The results are in God’s hands.”

Hutchinson has changed his way of thinking and realized that he must be honest with the women he serves, and he says he now thinks about them more as individuals. It must have been hard to re-evaluate his approach to his mission, and I respect him for that. But I wonder how many others have yet to come to the realizations he has.

Finally, due to their religious foundations, most centers offer unmarried women no options for preventing pregnancy and STDs other than giving up sex. I realize that they sincerely believe this is the best advice they can give their clients, but I believe just as sincerely that this approach is both ineffective and unnecessarily limiting, and can’t support it.

Rather than tell conservative religious CPCs that they have to change their mission, I think this is another area in which the more moderate to liberal among us need to get better organized and offer alternatives that reflect our values and ideas. I’ve wished for years that there were a pro-life alternative to Planned Parenthood, where women could go for sexual health care and contraception as well as prenatal care and other forms of support for giving life to their children. I have some ideas for a later post on how we might make a start.

* I do wonder where Birthright was in all of this. From everything I have heard, they are non-proselytizing and are by far the group of CPCs most likely to allow GLBT, non-Christian, and other “non-traditional” volunteers.

gimme some sugar

I had a glucose tolerance test at my last prenatal appointment and, although my levels were not quite high enough to warrant a diagnosis of gestational diabetes, I was nonetheless sent to a nutrition class to learn about the proper diet for stabilizing blood sugar. One thing the nutritionist told us was that contrary to popular belief, it’s OK to have some sweets; we just need to make sure to account for them in our total carbohydrate intake, and to eat them with meals so the sugar is absorbed less quickly.

Of course, unable to leave well enough alone, I spent my spare time for the next few days doing searches on gestational diabetes. (Yes, even though I don’t technically have it. I can do some pretty obsessive worrying at times.) I came across several sites claiming that people with GD, or diabetics in general, need to completely eliminate refined sugar from their diets. A popular line of reasoning was that since nobody really needs sweets anyway, it was better to be safe than sorry and cut them out entirely. Often this was delivered in a tone that seemed to chide people for wanting something that was simply pleasant, rather than nutritionally necessary.

I’m seeing that same tone a lot in conversations about the HPV vaccine. Nobody needs sex to survive, they say. So people should just exercise self-control (where “self-control” means no sex, ever, unless they’re in a heterosexual marriage), and then they wouldn’t have to worry about all these diseases.

Fortunately, these days most nutritionists don’t recommend cutting out all sweets even in a diabetic diet. In fact, studies have found that patients whose diet plans allowed for the consumption of refined sugar within certain guidelines were more likely to comply with their diets, and thus to keep their blood sugar under control, than those who were told they had to abstain entirely. Sure, it’s not a purist approach, but it works.

If only we could apply the same lesson to sexual health. Recognize that people like sex, and work with them to find ways to incorporate it into a healthy lifestyle, rather than constantly fight and chastise them for daring to want something that brings them pleasure.

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.