Monday, June 22, 2009

Is More Contraception for Teens the Only Way to Reduce Abortions?

Steve Waldman of Beliefnet argues that pro-lifers should drop their opposition to the distibution of contraception for the sake of reducing the number of abortions.

He is an advocate of Obama's abortion "reduction" strategy. The word "reduction" is in scare quotes because the Democratic Party Platform and Melody Barnes, the presidential appointee in charge of this file, both say clearly that what they want to do is reduce the "need for" abortion, not necessarily the numbers of abortions per se. So there is considerable confusion about whether Obama really wants to reduce the number of abortions or if the goal is to confuse pro-life supporters into thinking that his higher taxes, higher welfare entitlements and free contraception for the masses strategies are actually going to reduce the number of abortions. People like Waldman would like us pro-lifers to support Obama's abortion "reduction" strategy. Let's listen to his argument. His words are in italics and my comments are in [bold in square brackets]. I'll have a few summary comments at the end:

"My “common ground” fantasy involves a pro-life leader standing up and declaring, “We will be open to looking at family planning efforts, including contraception, to reduce the number of abortions.” [Here Waldman is asking the Roman Catholics to support what they consider to be one evil in order to (maybe) reduce another.] This would be followed by a pro-choicer saying, “We accept that society would be better if there were fewer abortions.” [Now we see why he calls this a fantasy!] Let’s unpack why these sentences don’t normally get spoken, and why it’s important that they are.

If you dropped in from another planet and were asked who would be the strongest advocates for birth control, you might well say, “the people who care most about eliminating abortion.” Yet the opposite is the case. Why? [Well why not? After all, those who oppose contraception totally (the Roman Catholics) and those who oppose contraception for unmarried people (the Evangelicals) think that the more contraception you have the more you dissociate sex from reproduction and the more incentive you give people to have sex without commitment. Since sex always leads to pregnancies in a certain percentage of cases even with contraception, the more sex the more abortions will be "needed."]

The pro-life movement, like any movement, is a coalition. The Catholic Church is hugely important player in the pro-life coalition and, for reasons largely unrelated to abortion, they oppose birth control. Conservative evangelicals often oppose family planning for different reasons, a fear that it will lead to promiscuity and a de-sacralization of sex. [He may not be minimizing their reasons, (see below), but he is trying to get them to give up their convictions on contraception.]

I’m not minimizing their reasons – the Church’s teachings on sex are thought-provoking, and as the parent of teenagers, I find much merit in the Christian argument about the dangers of casual sex. But they are not fundamentally about abortion. So pro-lifers need to decide which of their beliefs is more important: their concern for the unborn or their concerns about the nature of premarital sex. [This is like saying: do you want to have police protection or fire protection; we can't afford both.]

Some pro-lifers try to avoid this trade off by asserting that family planning wouldn’t be effective in reducing the number of abortions -- because contraception would encourage sex, which leads to more unintended pregnancies and therefore abortions. But this is a practical, not a philosophical view. [I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. RC and Evangelical opposition to contraception is more than pragmatic.] So a truly single-minded pro-lifer, who places reducing the number of abortions above other coalition or philosophical considerations – would say, well this may work or it may not work, but there are so many babies’ lives at stakes, it’s certainly worth trying. [Why is it worth trying if there is no evidence it will work and much evidence that it won't?]

In other words, what we need are pro-life leaders who are MORE single-issue oriented, more focused on abortion, and able to disentangle their views on abortion from their beliefs about sex or contraception. [Disentangle makes it sounds like we are confused. I think someone sounds confused here, but it is not RC's and Evangelicals.]

As for pro-choicers, they’ve been all over the map on whether they want fewer abortions. Pro-choice groups cheered when Bill Clinton came up with the “safe, legal and rare” formulation to defend Roe v. Wade.

But more recently they’ve resisted the idea of “abortion reduction.” Melody Barnes, the domestic policy director, was quoted as saying those seeking common ground should avoid using that language and focus instead on reducing the “need” for abortion. In an earlier interview, Barnes said, “"Our goal is to reduce the need for abortions. . . . If people have better access to contraception, that's a way of addressing the issue at its root, rather than do a tally of abortions." [It is hard to take her seriously when she is so obviously so ideologically rigid on the pro-choice principle. Remember, pro-lifers are not the only rigid ones in this debate.]

Pro-life writers justifiably have called them out on the inconsistency. Why do you want abortion to be “rare” if there’s never anything wrong with them? How do you propose to make them rare without reducing their numbers? [Right.]

There’s also the small matter that these pro-choicers are out of step with what Obama and Biden have promised. During the campaign, Obama said that dealing with unintended pregnancies is “the best answer for reducing abortions.” After his election, at Notre Dame, he said, “let's work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions.” Joe Biden was even bolder: “What we're going to be spending our time doing is making sure that we reduce considerably the amount of abortions.” [There is a lot of confusion here; the question is whether or not it is deliberate strategy.]

Why are some pro-choicers resisting the abortion reduction language? In part, they feel it is “stigmatizes” women, implying that abortion is immoral. A few responses.

First, having the right to choose does not mean you get to be insulated from the debate about whether your choice is moral in every case. Let’s posit that there are some women out there making immoral decisions on abortion – say, getting a late term abortion because they don’t like the gender. A pro-choicer can look at that case and still argue simultaneously that a) her choice is immoral b) she should have the right to make it and c) society should try to convince her not to. [This assumes that private killing should be a matter of personal choice, which is what the whole debate is about. I would argue that killing the innocent should never be legal.]

Second, wanting to reduce the aggregate number of abortions says nothing about the morality of any individual’s decision. It says that as a whole, society would be better off if there were fewer of them – in part because of the reasons that pro-choice activists have been highlighting: it’s crazy that a woman’s choice of whether to have an abortion should be dictated heavily by finances; it’s disturbing that so many teens have babies; it’s strange that so many families who want to adopt must go overseas at a time when almost a million women terminate their pregnancies. Those are all good pro-choice-friendly reasons why it’s morally preferable as a society that there be fewer abortions. [Well, if you believe this why be pro-choice?]

Third, there’s a fear that if you accept abortion reduction language, it will lead to efforts to restrict abortions through laws. But Obama has already dealt with that by declaring that outside the purview of the common ground discussions.

It’s hard for pro-choicers to take pro-life “common grounders” seriously if they won’t budget on birth control; it’s equally hard for pro-lifers to take pro-choice common grounders seriously if they won’t accept the basic premise of the exercise. So who will be the brave souls to break that conceptual logjam? [Pro-choice people are afraid of compromising on the basic principle because once they do, they are afraid that the logic will be unstoppable.]

Final Comments:
I think that this line of argument is unhelpful and a little bit dishonest. It is dishonest because it asks pro-lifers to choose between two evils when there is no reason to think that such a choice is necessary. It is a seductive attempt to get pro-lifers to start thinking of their anti-contraceptive mentality stance as the problem, when it is actually part of the solution.

If we could reduce the amount of contraception education in public schools we could at least raise the average age of first sexual encounters and thus reduce the number of teen pregnancies, which Waldman agrees is a good goal. If we reduced the emphasis on contraception we could spend time teaching girls how to say no without necessarily losing their boyfriend. We could also show girls and women that the authority structures of society stand behind them and empower them to say no to unwanted sexual activity. The problem is peer pressure for both boys and girls and contraception simpy reinforces peer pressure. Ultimately more contraception leads to more abortion. So the best way to reduce abortions is to reduce contraception, not increase it.

I therefore call on Steve Waldman and the Obama administration to support the reduction of contraception distribution in public schools and to teens especially as a common ground abortion reduction strategy.

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