Contraception and the abortion war

If/when Roe vs. Wade is struck down, pro-life advocates will wake up the next day with a headache. With abortion gone, they will need to find another reason to vote Republican, a party which has otherwise shunned all other good “conservative” values. They will also realise that people are still having sex, still getting pregnant, and still faced with unwanted babies. Oh, we can wish that people would act responsibly, and we can wish that people valued unborn life, but still, that ain’t the way it works (alas).

Cynthia Tucker has a good OpEd at the ACJ that addresses this issue. She turns her attention towards the pro-choice crowd. In short, Planned Parenthood could do more, a lot more, to promote the one thing that would really make abortion rare–contraception–rather than making abortion rights their only crusade:

Reproductive-rights groups have already ceded too much of the moral high ground with their seeming enthusiasm for abortion. Too many of their public relations efforts have portrayed the decision to terminate a pregnancy as if it were as inconsequential as getting a prescription for a toenail fungus. A few years ago, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America sold T-shirts on which the wearer advertised the fact that she had had an abortion. The slogans were much too glib.

Abortions should be — as Bill Clinton once said — safe, legal and rare. While the abortion rate has gradually declined over the last decade, the Alan Guttmacher Institute estimates that more than a million are still performed annually — far more than in most other Western industrialized countries, where contraceptives are used more widely. The Guttmacher Institute also estimates that nearly half of all pregnancies among American women are unintended.

Family planning advocates would find overwhelming public approval for a high-profile campaign advocating broader use of contraceptives: Ninety-four percent of Americans believe that contraceptive use is morally acceptable. It’s a crusade whose time has come.

Abortion is a complicated issue for me. One thing is for sure, though: a million abortions a year in the US is a tragedy. I wish it weren’t so. If Roe goes, contraception must become a national issue. Abstinence is one option and kudos to all those who manage it, but abstinence only education is simply head-in-the-sand craziness (and one which may be the next goal of the Religious Right). That said, I wonder why the UK has the highest rate of teen pregancy in Europe despite being a country with liberal abortion rights and where contraceptives are discussed in school. Is there more to it? How does one promote responsible sex in the real world (the one where not every one shares your religious views)?



  1. Lots of great questions here, Ronan. I’d like to focus on your comment (and Cynthia Tucker’s) about abortion – and how pro-choicers seem to be losing ground to the pro-lifers. Even though most enlightened people today don’t wish to insert themselves into the very personal decisions of others over whether to use contraception or to get an abortion – I think many of those same people (religious or not) feel a bit uncomfortable at the thought of abortion as a method of contraception.Even if we divorce the concepts of a “soul” or of a “God” from abortion, deciding to have an abortion is a grave decision. Pro- choicers need to acknowledge the gravity of the decision to have an abortion – and in doing so will empower women to face these difficult decisions head on, instead of sweeping the facts of life (i.e., that abortion is killing or preventing a life)under the rug. These facts, that the pro-lifers have seized on, resonate with an overwhelming majority – and the prochoicers need to retrench their cavalier attitude toward abortion – or risk losing more ground to the fanatics.I love this quote from Naomi Wolf, a vocal (and, some say, radical) feminist, which sums it up nicely:So, what will it be: Wanted fetuses are charming, complex, REM-dreaming little beings whose profile on the sonogram looks just like Daddy, but unwanted ones are mere “uterine material”? How can we charge that it is vile and repulsive for pro-lifers to brandish vile and repulsive images if the images are real? To insist that the truth is in poor taste is the very height of hypocrisy. Besides, if these images are often the facts of the matter, and if we then claim that it is offensive for pro-choice women to be confronted by them, then we are making the judgment that women are too inherently weak to face a truth about which they have to make a grave decision. This view of women is unworthy of feminism. Free women must be strong women, too; and strong women, presumably, do not seek to cloak their most important decisions in euphemism.Here is a link to the entire article:


  2. Great comment and great quote. I agree with Clinton on this one (re:abortion), but think that both sides of the argument could do a better job of preventing abortions in the first place:Pro-lifers need to recognise that not everyone is going to sign-up to an abstinence-only agenda.Pro-choicers need to recognise that T-shirts celebrating abortion are vile, and that they would do well to begin a visible push to promote family planning sans abortion.


  3. To begin with, it would help if we had a clearer definition of what responsible sex consists of. I have a feeling that the decision to use contraception by itself fails to qualify.


  4. To be fair, Planned Parenthood and other groups (NARAL) are solely consumed with promoting abortion rights. They are quite active in educating women about birth control, prenatal care, adoption, etc. But I do agree that abortion rights is high on their collective lists, probably because abortion is a very effective fundraising flashpoint.Also, as an aside, the Alito hearings have highlighted the difficulties of the abortion litmus test. The nominees weigh every word they say to provide very erudite and completely meaningless answers.


  5. Um, yeah. NOT solely consumed with promoting abortion rights. My natural equivocation is showing though again. LOL!


  6. John – that is a good point, and I think this is where both the prolife and prochoice movements fail miserably. There’s no balance between the attitude of “you can have sex with whomever you want, whenever you want, just use a condom” and the abstinence-only attitude of “no sex until you’re in a committed relationship (dare I say married?)” (which only Mormons seem to pay any real attention to anyway (lol)).Anyway, I’m not quite sure what the secular definition of responsible sex should be. Is it don’t have sex with someone if you’re not ready to have a child with them? Or don’t have sex with someone when you’re drunk? I think these are both good rules by the way, but the first one is a bit unrealistic (so is the second one).


  7. I think that your suggestions are actually something like real-world responsible sex. The problem is that many people enjoy irresponsible sex moreso.


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