Pro-choice presidential candidates are missing a huge opportunity to win over an unlikely voting bloc: pro-life voters. The debate over reproductive rights has for decades existed in the abstract; it's been a back and forth volley over "values" that's heavy on emotion and light on fact. But the facts reveal surprising truths and that ought to be hammered home by pro-choice candidates.
The data show that the pro-choice movement is doing a better job at what the American public views as "pro-life" goals i.e. reducing the number of abortions, preventing late term abortion, than the pro-life movement. "Pro-life" presidential candidates may campaign on the "immorality" of abortion but the policies they support seem to lead to lots more of them.
Isn't it time to turn the tables on these full-time finger waggers? Pro-choice candidates should hold pro-life groups and leaders accountable for their failure to find solutions to the high rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion. Pro-choice candidates have an opportunity to change the debate. It's not about abortion; it's about preventing abortion. And the pro-choice movement alone is finding effective ways to reduce abortion rates.
This is the unacknowledged fact that should be acknowledged before the election: its pro-choice policies that result in dramatic declines in the need for abortion. That's a truth both pro-choice and pro-life voters would be interested to know.
The pro-choice movement alone champions wider access to birth control, and birth control is the only proven way to reduce unintended pregnancy and abortion. Candidates shouldn't get sucked into the silly debate about whether the pill is an abortifacient, by the way, even the pro-life movement's most respected physicians agree there's no scientific evidence that it is. They should ask why the pro-life candidates haven't championed campaigns to reduce unwanted pregnancies. The electorate should be reminded that it's the pro-choice movement that has fought for health insurance coverage for contraception and for bringing new and more effective contraceptives to market. (Emergency contraception, for instance). Also, let's not forget that the birth control pill itself is available to Americans entirely because of the efforts of the pro-choice movement.) Check out any NARAL affiliate's agenda and you'll see that most pro-choice work is devoted to increasing access to prevention. Up until Bush ordered it removed, the Centers for Disease Control's website had a "Programs that Work" area for sex education programs that quantitative data showed resulted in reductions in the teen pregnancy and STD rates. (original CDC web page here). Every program was comprehensive sex-ed; the kind promoted by the pro-choice movement, not one was abstinence-only.
Remind the voter that only 11% of sexually active women don't use contraception and from this 11% comes 50% of the nation's abortions. Ninety-one percent of the American public strongly favors contraception because of this very reason. Very few voters are aware, however, that not one pro-life organization in the United States supports contraception. Or that instead, pro-life groups have been spearheading campaigns to prevent Americans from accessing birth control.
The right to life movement may have sanctimony on its side but, so far, sanctimony has proven ineffective at preventing abortion. Study after study suggests the right to life approach is actually the root of the problem: leading to more abortions and later ones too. And when these facts surface, pro-choice candidates may discover an attentive pro-life electorate.
A good question to pose to pro-life candidates is: Do you support couples having access to safe and effective birth control options, including emergency contraception? Other questions that easily out opponents of contraception continues on birthcontrolwatch.org and can be devastating bombs to lob during, say, a televised debate. New polling data available at Moving Forward on Important Life Decisions suggest that pro-choice candidates who take the gloves off will discover a much larger cheering section. When the discussion is about prevention, contraception and results, the pro-choice side wins big. No less than 80% of self-described pro-life voters strongly support contraception too.
Not only would it be refreshing to see a pro-choice candidate go on the offensive, it would be wise. Scanning the globe we discover the countries where abortion is most rare have the strongest pro-choice policies. The countries with the strongest pro-life policies are the ones with the highest abortion rates, often twice our national average. These are the nations that have implemented what our pro-life movement strives to: banning abortion, making contraception hard to come by, and preaching abstinence-only to teens.
The pro-life paradox appears everywhere its policies are in place. School districts in the conservative South are almost five times more likely than in the liberal Northeast to teach abstinence-only. Southern states also have the highest rate of new HIV/AIDS infections, the highest rate of STDs, as well as the highest rate of teen births. Whereas new cases of AIDS decreased or remained constant in the Northeast, Midwest, and West, the South alone experienced an increase.
Results should matter. The electorate, bamboozled and misled by this administration on so many issues for so long, is hungry for fact, proof, and truth. A wise pro-choice candidate will not skulk and apologize for agreeing with the majority of the American public on reproductive rights. A wise candidate will reveal to the American public that the pro-choice approach is effective, safe and working wherever it's been tried.