Every effort to reduce the demand for abortion is a worthy one, so long as it produces some results. Lately, pro-life activism has embraced five strategies in particular: prayer and fasting, passing restrictions on the practice of abortion (bans on certain procedures and parental consent requirements, for example), manning protests at abortion clinics, staffing crisis pregnancy centers, and finally abstinence education efforts.
These efforts have had much success in making more people pro-life (a majority of Americans now say they are pro-life), and together have reduced the number of abortions in this country.
We could do more, though—and we have to do more, so long as the abortion rate is anything greater than zero. Bringing the abortion rate down from 1.5 million to 1.1 or 1.2 million is an absolutely significant achievement. At the same time, however, it is difficult not to get the feeling that we are operating at the margins of what we as a movement truly could achieve.
We must cast our nets into deeper waters. If the pro-life movement seeks to cut the demand for abortion in half, three quarters, or more, it must work together to drastically reduce our culture’s resort to contraception. The facts bear this out. Yet, we should acknowledge that it poses some difficulty.
The hardship lies in the fact that most pro-lifers are either Catholic or Protestant Christians, and Protestant denominations gradually liberalized their stance on birth control in the 20th Century. My sense is that the pro-choice crowd sees contraception as a wedge issue, and so whenever they talk of common ground on the goal of reducing the demand for abortion, the only means they mention is to increase funding for contraceptives. This puts the issue back in pro-lifers’ court where they know that there will be no consensus on supporting such measures.
In reality, there isn’t much of a wedge there, and this is ironically largely a result of efforts from the pro-choice side. The push to make Plan B available over-the-counter, and later to force hospitals and pharmacists to dispense it, focused our movement’s attention on the moments of life before implantation, as did the embryonic stem cell debate. Not very far off from these debates is the question of whether the contraceptive pill operates occasionally by preventing the implantation of a newly conceived human being. The answer appears to be yes, and this has clearly had an effect on how Protestant pro-life activists view contraception.
Even given that movement toward consensus on contraception, there is progress our movement can make without full uniformity on the fundamental issue of whether it is moral for individual couples to contracept. We can use the mountains of information at our fingertips and form a consensus around the fact that resort to contraceptives as a matter of public policy is an epic disaster. If it were at all successful, we would not have more than a million abortions per year. From this truth should flow the following policy positions: all funds for contraceptives, in all forms, and at all levels of the government, should be eliminated, and resort to artificial contraceptives should be dramatically reduced.
The times are such that we could have this discussion in a particularly compelling way:
- Population control entities admit that the abortion rate tends to rise when contraceptives are introduced into a population. This was the case in the United States. Analysis of statistics on the use of birth control suggests that contraceptive failure (as opposed to non-use) accounts for nearly the entire demand for abortion.
- The financial crisis has made public funds for contraceptives look increasingly foolish. “Why should I pay for someone else’s condoms?” has a logic to it that today transcends philosophical and political leanings better than it has in decades. Contraceptive funding was eliminated from the 2009 stimulus package, and this past winter Republicans introduced efforts to eliminate Title X funding alongside their better-publicized efforts to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.
- The compliment to this logic is, “Why should I pay for my own condoms, when free natural methods are available?”
- The case for serious concern that the birth control pill causes cancer, including breast cancer, grows stronger. Slate.com, no friend of social conservatism, recently published an article examining the evidence and acknowledging that it is troubling. The article opines that the latest development from the Population Research Council is a “breast-cancer-free pill.” The World Health Organization lists estrogen-progestogen contraceptive pills as a “known human carcinogen.”
- For every dollar that goes to Title X—and one must assume every other government subsidy of abortion—an abortionist makes twenty cents. From the Title X program alone, this amounts to more than $80,000 a year per abortionist. The testimony of Planned Parenthood insiders— Abby Johnson and others—has revealed that recipients of funds for contraceptives that also perform abortions have no interest in preventing their most profitable service. Instead, they desire to use it as a loss leader to build relationships and to expand their pool of potential clients (those for whom the methods fail, which is in the millions each year). Both of these facts are underrepresented in the discussion regarding these issues.
- More so it seems than at any time since World War II, people are making significant efforts and paying premiums in order to live natural lifestyles, especially natural foods. This clashes with the whole idea of ingesting synthetic hormones, or using latex, spermicidal jellies, and the like. Many for whom the moral arguments regarding contraceptives are unpersuasive might find themselves compelled after considering the “natural” argument, especially when free, natural alternatives to contraceptives are available.
Again, none of this goes to the question of whether a married couple can morally use contraception. It goes to contraception as a public policy or as a prudential choice among other options. When the statistics correlating contraceptive use and abortion are such as they are, the pro-life movement cannot afford to fail to act together to reduce our culture’s resort to contraception. This is our movement’s next great challenge, but the facts are such that we could make the argument well, should we choose to make it.
Scott Lloyd is an attorney for LegalWorks Apostolate in Front Royal, Virginia. Formerly an attorney for the US Department of Health and Human Services, his areas of work include health law and policy, conscience rights, family law, and communications law.