Obama has 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 they ought to be
hammered home by Obama. The data show that the pro-choice approach is
more effective at achieving what the American public views as
"pro-life" goals — i.e. reducing the number of abortions, preventing late
term abortion — than the so-called "pro-life" approach.
McCain may campaign on the "immorality" of abortion but the policies
he supports seem to lead to lots more of them. Isn’t it time to turn
the tables? Obama should hold McCain and and other anti-choice leaders
accountable for their failure to find solutions to the high rates of
unintended pregnancy and abortion. He has the opportunity to change the
debate. It’s not about abortion; it’s about preventing unwanted
And it is the pro-choice movement that is finding effective ways to
do that. This is the unacknowledged fact that should be broadcast loud
and clear during this election campaign. Here’s the message: It’s
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, and pro-choice politicians, alone champion
wider access to birth control, and birth control is the only proven way
to reduce unintended pregnancy and abortion. Obama shouldn’t get sucked
into the silly debate about whether the Pill is an abortifacient since
even the anti-abortion movement’s most respected physicians agree
there’s no scientific evidence that it is. He should ask why McCain
hasn’t championed campaigns to reduce unwanted pregnancies. The
electorate should be reminded that it’s the pro-choice movement and
pro-choice elected officials that have fought for health insurance
coverage for contraception as well as to bring 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 teem pregnancy
and STD rates. Every program was comprehensive sex-ed, the kind
promoted by the pro-choice movement. Not one was abstinence-only, the
program that preaches that teens simply shouldn’t have sex, which
"pro-life" forces favor. Obama supports the comprehensive sex-ed
programs that have been proven to work, McCain supports
no-sex-until-marriage programs which have been proven to fail.
Obama could 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. No less than 80% of self-described pro-life voters strongly
support contraception. Few know that McCain has a long legislative
resume devoted to voting against access to contraception and prevention.
McCain and the right to life movement may have sanctimony on their
side but, so far, sanctimony has proven ineffective in preventing
abortion. Study after study suggests the right to life approach, which
McCain has helped execute for decades, is actually the root of the
problem: leading to more abortions and later ones too.
Obama should pose this question to McCain: Do you support couples
having access to safe and effective birth control options, including
emergency contraception? When questioned about his position last year
McCain told a reporter: "I have to find out what my position was. Brian
(a campaign staffer), would you find out what my position is on
contraception…I’m sure I support the president’s policies on it." (No
president has led more attacks on the right to use contraception than
Bush has.) Birthcontrolwatch.org, a group that alerts the public to
attacks on the right to contraception, offers more questions Obama
could ask McCain–many would be devastating bombs to lob during, say, a
Not only would it be refreshing to see Obama 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 the
Bush administration on so many issues for so long, is hungry for fact,
proof, and truth. Obama should not skulk and apologize for agreeing
with the majority of the American public on reproductive rights.
Allowing Americans to make their own important life decisions is a core
conservative ideal. Not only is McCain mucking around with Americans’
most important decisions, he’s imposed policies that result in outcomes
that, even by his own measures, should be considered disastrous.
If Obama takes the gloves off he will discover a much larger
cheering section. When the discussion is about prevention,
contraception and results, the pro-choice candidate wins big. Obama
should reveal to the American public that the pro-choice approach, his
approach, is effective, safe and working wherever it’s been tried.
This article was originally published at The Huffington Post.