Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Fun With Culture War Controversies

I don't post on abortion much (read: at all) on this blog, mainly because it's an issue that is impossible to debate rationally. I think I avoided talking about it in the wake of the Dr. Tiller killing by posting on it and then posting a funny video. I'm not sure, I don't check my archives much.

Anyway, I guess this post isn't about abortion per se, but about the debate around it, and it's inspired by this U.S. News article about the latest abortion reduction plan from the Obama White House:
Many abortion rights advocates and some Democrats who want to dial down the culture wars want the White House to package the two parts of the plan together, as a single piece of legislation. The plan would seek to reduce unwanted pregnancies by funding comprehensive sex education and contraception and to reduce the need for abortion by bolstering federal support for pregnant women. Supporters of the approach say it would force senators and members of Congress on both sides of the abortion battle to compromise their traditional positions, creating true common ground that mirrors what President Obama has called for.

But more conservative religious groups working with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships say they would be forced to oppose such a plan—even though they support the abortion reduction part—because they oppose federal dollars for contraception and comprehensive sex education. This camp, which includes such formidable organizations as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention, is pressuring the White House to decouple the two parts of the plan into separate bills. One bill would focus entirely on preventing unwanted pregnancy, while the other would focus on supporting pregnant women.

OK, I'm going to have to call bullshit on the bishops and the SBC here. You can't be pro-life and anti-contraception at the same time. You just can't. Restricting access to contraception will increase the number of abortions, whether said abortions are legal or not. That's just common sense.

Look, I'm not going to say people who oppose contraception and comprehensive sex ed don't have good reasons for doing so. The thought of young people getting it on makes a lot of folks nervous, so I understand the impulse to remove from our society things that might remind young people of sex. But such people shouldn't call themselves pro-life, because they're supporting a policy measure that will increase the number of dead fetuses.

That said (and despite my apparent anger in the preceding paragraph), I don't buy the cynical argument advanced by Amanda Marcotte that equates opposition to abortion with the desire to control female sexuality. From the religious organizations' perspective, it's the classic case of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. The Catholic bishops and the SBC want a world where no one has sex outside of marriage and no one kills a fetus. Great. But let's be clear - that first one ain't gonna happen anytime soon. The CDC reports that 85% of women have had sex outside of marriage. Guess what? Government actions can't change that.

The same report shows that 82% of women have been on the pill - roughly the same number, and if you add patch users, implants, etc. in there you probably get to 85. Now imagine that none of these women were using birth control at the time of intercourse. Can you imagine the spike in unwanted pregnancies? And the corresponding spike in the abortion rate? That's what anti-contraception legislation would lead to, and that's what legislation encouraging contraception would combat.

So it's nice to be utopian and all, but it kind of undermines the pro-life agenda. I think it's time for pro-lifers to make a choice - push utopian ideas of morality, or reduce the number of abortions? Because you can't have it both ways.

1 comment:

Matthew B. Novak said...

Yeah, there was definitely some anger in those paragraphs...

As someone who is pro-life, has long been pushing for a middle road in the abortion debate (specifically the help-pregnant-women route), and recognizes that abstinence only education is a farce (not because it is per se ineffective, but because in a world with a wide range of media typically promoting sex abstinence education effecitvely can't exist), I certainly take your point. (Wow, that was a long way to say I agree). But I think you can be both anti-abortion and anti-artificial contraception. You'll probably be forced into prioritizing between the two at some point. But I think a concerted effort at helping people realize the fulfilling nature of waiting for marriage fits perfectly with a pro-life view. So yeah, you can be both anti-abortion and anti-contraception. You just can't be anti-abortion and anti-some-sort-of-effort-to-reduce-premaritial-sex.