Pro-Life, Pro-Contraception & Pro-Tim Ryan


As
a longtime pro contraception prolifer, I cannot stay quiet about Rep.
Tim Ryan’s expulsion as a Democrats for Life of America advisory board
member.  This brouhaha shows up some rather severe but instructive
barriers to common ground.

 

Ryan’s
version of events: Although he is strongly prolife, DFLA dismissed him
for insisting that contraception is essential to reducing abortion,
and especially for cosponsoring the "Preventing Unintended Pregnancies,
Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act.  This
bill, which is being introduced into the House today, includes provisions
for greater access to contraception and comprehensive sex education,
among other positive measures.

 

But
DFLA head Kristen Day tells a different story.  She claims that
Democrats for Life is neutral on contraception.  So what is the
problem with Tim Ryan?  His voting record has abruptly shifted
from prolife to prochoice, so much so that he has been lost to the prochoice
movement.  And he speaks ill of other prolifers.  (For more
on the story, read this
.)

 

A
number of prolifers and prochoicers take Ryan’s expulsion as QED proof
for their monolithically dim views of the “enemy.”  Either
it confirms that abortion opponents are invariably motivated by hatred
of sex and crazy, absurd, inalterable hostility to every possible single
measure that would help reduce abortion.  Or it confirms that contraception
supporters are lethally dangerous to the unborn and too morally corrupt
and traitorous to be allowed in the prolife movement.

 

Both
of these views frequently accompany an utter cynicism towards common
ground.  After all, if one is oh-so-completely “right,” then
there is no need to bother with anyone who is oh-so-completely “wrong.” 
But whether from prolifers or prochoicers, such views represent a poverty
of moral and political imagination and engagement.

 

The
Tim Ryan incident illuminates some longstanding structural problems
with the US abortion debate that arise directly from this poverty of
vision and action.  One is the stereotype–curiously shared by
many prolifers and prochoicers–that opposition to abortion necessarily
equates opposition to contraception.  Yet, as mentioned in my previous
column, eight in ten Americans who identify as prolife advocate contraception.

 

The
prolife movement as such, unfortunately, does not properly represent
its pro contraception supporters, or even those who have religious objections
to contraception but do not necessarily want to illegalize it. 
Some antiabortion organizations are actively hostile to contraception. 
Others, like DFLA, profess to be neutral on pregnancy prevention. 

 

But
that professed neutrality is all too often suspect.  I myself ended
up leaving a group that claimed neutrality on pregnancy prevention.
It bent over backwards not to offend contraception opponents. 
Yet it stubbornly discouraged and stifled anyone who sought to be vocally
pro contraception within the parameters of the group.  And anyway,
how is neutrality possible on voluntary pregnancy prevention, something
so vital and indispensible to reducing abortion?

 

Why
don’t these avowedly neutral organizations instead develop pregnancy
prevention strategies that truly represent the full range of
prolife views on prevention, including those of the pro-birth control
majority? Why don’t such groups at the very least strongly assert
women’s human right to freedom of conscience in pregnancy prevention?

 

There
is a great need for groups in which pro contraception prolifers can
openly and actively be ourselves alongside, equal to prolifers
with other views.  There is an even greater need for pro contraception
prolifers to form our own groups and projects.  This is
one big reason I help with the Nonviolent Choice Directory
, a global directory of abortion-reducing
resources, including resources on all forms of pregnancy prevention. 
This is also why my friend Jen Roth is starting All Our Lives
, which combines the insights of the
reproductive justice and consistent life ethic movements.

 

If
pro contraception prolifers can take our rightful place in abortion
discourse, dialogue and cooperative action with prochoicers will become
all the more possible.  We already agree with prochoicers about
almost every way they propose to alleviate the root causes of abortion. 
We also have a unique ability to help prochoicers understand that, yes,
really, for real, a prolife stance can be, and often is, motivated by
concern for fetal and even female life, rather than animosity towards
women and nonprocreative sex.

 

Was
Tim Ryan really expelled from DFLA because of his outspokenness in favor
of contraception?  It’s plausible.  Was he really expelled
because he changed his position on abortion?  Unlike many prolife
commentators, Jen Roth actually examined his recent voting record instead
of making vague but virulent condemnations of it. 
She concludes that the denunciation
of Ryan as “no longer prolife” is based mostly on his support for
contraception
, not for legalized abortion.

 

But
what if Ryan did change his approach to the legal status of abortion? 
Would he then be a liar to he say he remains strongly prolife? 
Not necessarily–and this brings me to another large structural problem
with the abortion debate.

 

All
too often, prolife and prochoice are rigidly and exclusively defined
in terms of whether abortion should be legal/illegal.  This framing
of the issue makes it quite clear the traitors and enemies of each cause
are.  Yet, as many on both “sides” do recognize, this framing
of abortion does not touch some of the deepest, most decisive questions
connected with it.

 

This
is not to say the matter of the law is unimportant.  But whether
and to what extent abortion is legal/illegal, women will continue to
experience unintended pregnancies and abortions on a massive scale if
they still face a dearth of other alternatives.  So people with
a large spectrum of views on abortion’s legal status dedicate themselves
to creating other alternatives.  Work in this area is essential
to the most profound, and most shared, goals of both prolife and prochoice. 

 

So
why is such work so often considered secondary, extraneous, or marginal
to each movement’s self-definition?  For example, some prolifers
who focus on providing abortion alternatives take an approach quite
parallel to the harm reduction philosophy on substance abuse. 
But because they do not call for legal bans on abortion, or because
they put their energies elsewhere than the matter of the law, other
prolifers dismiss and berate them as “not really prolife.” 
In a quite parallel manner, some prochoicers who focus on matters like
adoption, are told they are going off on tangents to the real
purpose of the prochoice movement.

 

One
of the most disturbing things about Ryan’s expulsion is that he was
faulted for criticizing the prolife movement, as if he could not find
fault with it and yet remain a part of it.  Isn’t a movement’s
ability to reflect upon and criticize itself essential to its progress? 
I think that to progress, both the prolife and prochoice movements need
to confront and move beyond their own roles in these structural problems
of the abortion debate.

 

These
problems may be difficult to surmount.  But they came into being
through human agency.  So human agency can dismantle them–and
seek for more constructive ways to deal with disagreement–and agreement–between
prochoice and prolife.  The future of both movements lies in the
direction of common ground.

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  • paul-bradford

    Mary,

     

    It is not only possible to be Pro-Life and pro-contraception. It is possible to be a Catholic Pro-Lifer and be pro-contraception.

     

    I say this, not because I have any expectations that Humanae Vitae will be overturned, but because I draw a huge distinction between moral teachings that pertain to social justice and those that do not.  

     

    A person who says, "I’m personally opposed to abortion but I don’t think I should impose my beliefs on others" doesn’t have much of a commitment to the well-being of the very young.  Her/his statement is as nonsensical as that of one who says "I’m personally opposed to discrimination but I don’t think I should impose my beliefs on others."  Abortion is a social justice issue, just as discrimination is.  It’s a concern that deals with the way human beings treat each other and the vulnerability people have to mistreatment from others.

     

    Contraception is a different matter.  The Church propagates an understanding that there is, and there must be, a connection between sexual activity and the reproductive act.  She teaches that efforts to divorce these two things are misguided.  Guess what?  It’s possible to hold those beliefs and, at the same time, be tolerant of those who disagree.  I may believe that someone is misusing medicine and technology by utilizing artificial contraception but I have neither the duty nor the right to try to stop them.  It’s the same as smoking or overeating.  I may understand that they’re health hazards, but I’m under no obligation to try and control those hazards for other people.  None of these issues are social justice concerns.

     

    Minding my own business means that I avoid getting mixed up in issues that are outside of my realm of responsibility, but it also means that I do take a stand when something effects me.  The lives and well-being of other human beings should matter to all of us.  It’s "my business" and it’s yours as well.

     

    It seems to me that we could find common ground around the belief that there ought to be a connection between reproduction and the readiness to raise a child.  Those two things shouldn’t be divorced either.  As I’ve said in other posts, every zygote should be a wanted zygote.  We could also find common ground in the idea that every form of birth control carries with it a risk for reproduction.  Particularly when one is thinking about those forms of birth control which require people to be well-informed and careful.

     

    I want people to be as well-informed and as careful as they can be.  I want unintended pregnancy to be rare.  That would be good for women, good for children, and good for the society. 

     

     

    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • marysia

    Paul, thanks again for your always thoughtful comments.

    It *is* important to recognize the vast majority of US Catholics who faithfully dissent from the official Catholic teaching on contraception, & to understand why.

    As for US Catholics who accept that teaching–they don’t necessarily disagree with family planning per se, just the *method* of accomplishing that end.

    yes, acknowledging the real beliefs of US Catholics on reproductive issues is important. and i do understand that your work is focused on your own religious community.

    But it’s also important to acknowledge that people of all faiths & none are engaged with reproductive issues, on almost every facet of them.

    There’s no neat breakdown between “orthodox” versus “cafeteria” (socalled!) Catholics, or Catholics versus non Catholics, or Christians versus non Christians, or religious versus secular.

    it’s way more complex than that. and in that complexity, spaces for common ground often open up.

    Nonviolent Choice Directory, http://www.nonviolentchoice.blogspot.com

  • crowepps

    Thank you so much for your analysis. Obama called for us to stop ‘demonizing the opposition’ – we would do well to also stop demonizing activists on our own sides by insisting that they are ‘betraying the cause’ every time we don’t agree 100%.

  • paul-bradford

    Just let me say that I have always enjoyed your posts and commentaries!

     

    it’s also important to acknowledge that people of all faiths & none are engaged with reproductive issues, on almost every facet of them. 

     

    I try hard (and you can let me know how well I’m succeeding) to engage everyone in a language we all share.  That’s why, especially when I’m posting to this ‘site, I don’t quote the Bible or papal encyclicals or the catechism.

     

    At the same time, though, I know I’ve got to represent.  Most everyone is aware of Catholic teaching on contraception and most people of "all faiths and none" have an opinion about the impact that the Church has had on the national discussion about reproductive issues.  The Church, and her teachings, would be the ‘elephant in the room’ if I didn’t make some comment about her view on contraception.

     

    Not every Catholic is involved in every effort the Church makes and I would consider it disrespectful to call someone a ‘Cafeteria Catholic’ because their path of discipleship was a little different than mine.  On the other hand, though, one would have to be in a coma not to realize that the Church, as an integrated entity, has a position on reproductive issues.

     

    My opinion is that Catholics regularly fumble chances to engage in respectful and productive conversation with those who take a different view.  I’m trying to learn everything I can about participating in reproductive health discussions in a way that presents the Church as an ‘interested party’ in conversations about vital human issues rather than as a ‘controlling parent’ or ‘disgruntled critic’ or even an ‘unruly dissenter’.  In other words, I think that we in the Church not only have to consider what we say but the way we say it.  That’s the best way to help the unborn. 

     

    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • crowepps

    I’m trying to learn everything I can about participating in reproductive health discussions in a way that presents the Church as

    I want to make it clear that I have a great deal of respect for your own personal position on this matter, Paul, and appreciate your clear articulation of your position.  Sharing the fact that you are Catholic certainly helps those reading your posts to understand where you are coming from.

     

    One thing I stumble on repetitively, however, is this kind of statement, because as I understand it, the Catholic Church has an authoritarian structure, and although you can ‘present’ your own opinions as an individual Catholic, which you’ve explained in other posts are not precisely in line with the pronouncements of The Church, you have no authority which enables you to ‘present the Church as’ anything.  I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s my understanding that the statements of the Pope and the Vatican and the Cardinals are ‘the position of The Church’ and that they are the ones who have the authority to ‘present the Church’ on this issue as well as every other issue in which The Church has an interest.

  • invalid-0

    Paul states:

    A person who says, “I’m personally opposed to abortion but I don’t think I should impose my beliefs on others” doesn’t have much of a commitment to the well-being of the very young.

    Firstly, my understanding of this statement is that the implied mechanism for the imposition of one’s beliefs on others is the criminalization of abortion. How does this differ from your position? Are you suggesting that such a person would not utilize opportunities to condemn abortion to your satisfaction?

     

    Secondly, you state “Contraception is a different matter.” How so? The RCC claims that many forms of contraception sometimes act as abortifacients. How do you reconcile this with your “commitment” statement? Do you disagree with the RCC’s definition of when “life” begins?

  • paul-bradford

    The RCC claims that many forms of contraception sometimes act as abortifacients. 

     

    I don’t think this is so much a claim of the RCC as it is an observation made by scientists.  

     

    I was actually thinking about the many forms of contraception that do not act as abortifacients and, in fact, work by preventing conception.  Those forms truly are contraceptive. 

     

    The person who interferes with the natural functioning of her/his reproductive system in order to have sex without conceiving a child is doing something that the Church opposes, but I don’t see much sense in Catholics behaving as if they were as opposed to contraception as they are to abortion.  The goal ought to be to increase a respect for life.  As long as we still haven’t convinced people of the need to preserve the lives of the unborn I think it’s downright silly to make an issue of birth control methods that prevent conception. 

     

    I’m not supportive of schemes that seek to limit access to the abortion procedure.  My reasoning is that efforts to protect the very young have to be feasible, appropriate and effective.  "Condemning abortion", as you describe it, is appropriate to the extent that it is an appeal to mothers to act in the best interests of their children.  Evidence is that this condemnation is, indeed, effective.  

     

    The percentage of pregnancies that ended in abortion has decreased from 30.3% in 1981 to 22.6% in 2005.  When you consider the situation with unmarried women, the drop has been from 65.1% to 39.5%.  Something is going on.  I sincerely doubt that the paltry efforts to block access have actually made an impact on this stat.  My view is that it makes no sense to try to get in between a determined woman and her access to abortion.

     

    Why do I think the percentage is declining?  It’s declining because women are choosing life for their children — and their choice is being influenced by the advocacy of Pro-Lifers who keep bringing up the fact that their children have as much right to live as they do.

       

    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • crowepps

    I don’t think this is so much a claim of the RCC as it is an observation made by scientists.

    There has never been a scientific observation supporting this claim.  The claim instead arises from those who demand proof that it’s NOT possible that it COULD possible happen, and the fact that no scientist is ever willing to say something is totally impossible.

     The percentage of pregnancies that ended in abortion has decreased from 30.3% in 1981 to 22.6% in 2005.  When you consider the situation with unmarried women, the drop has been from 65.1% to 39.5%.  Something is going on.  

    I’ll agree with you that something is going on, and it would certainly be nice to know what it is so that we could build on that success but did you realize that from 1981 to 2005 the actual birth rate went DOWN?  Apparently this change didn’t have anything to do with a consistent rate of pregnancies and women choosing not to have abortions (which would have made the birthrate go up) but instead with the number of unwanted pregnancies decreasing.

    Birthrates:

    http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005067.html

     

    Part of the reason may be that so many couples are now relying on sterlilization – in 1997 26% of women of reproductive age had been sterilized and another 10% of couples relied on the fact that the man has been sterilized.  It’s my understanding those numbers are steadily increasing as our population ages and couples reach the stage of having ‘completed the family’.

  • crowepps

    I don’t think this is so much a claim of the RCC as it is an observation made by scientists.

    There has never been a scientific observation supporting this claim.  The claim instead arises from those who demand proof that it’s NOT possible that it COULD possible happen, and the fact that no scientist is ever willing to say something is totally impossible.

     The percentage of pregnancies that ended in abortion has decreased from 30.3% in 1981 to 22.6% in 2005.  When you consider the situation with unmarried women, the drop has been from 65.1% to 39.5%.  Something is going on.  

    I’ll agree with you that something is going on, and it would certainly be nice to know what it is so that we could build on that success but did you realize that from 1981 to 2005 the actual birth rate went DOWN?  Apparently this change didn’t have anything to do with a consistent rate of pregnancies and women choosing not to have abortions (which would have made the birthrate go up) but instead with the number of unwanted pregnancies decreasing.

    Birthrates:

    http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005067.html

     

    Part of the reason may be that so many couples are now relying on sterlilization – in 1997 26% of women of reproductive age had been sterilized and another 10% of couples relied on the fact that the man has been sterilized.  It’s my understanding those numbers are steadily increasing as our population ages and couples reach the stage of having ‘completed the family’.

  • paul-bradford

    did you realize that from 1981 to 2005 the actual birth rate went DOWN?  

     

    In 1981 the birth rate was 67.4 births per 1000 women of childbearing age.  In 2005 the rate gone down to 66.6 (but in 2006 it went up to 68.5)

     

    The truth is that the birth rate has been stable since 1973.  The highest it’s been is 70.9 in 1990 and the lowest has been 64.8 in 2002.  That kind of ‘difference’ is actually insignificant.  The needed birth rate for a stable population is 66.7 so the rate has never been more than 6% above or 3% below.  We’ve had ZPG (zero population growth) since Roe.  I think there’s a connection there.

     

    I have more to say but I’m headed for Cape Cod.  I’ll answer the rest of your questions in a few days. 

     

    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • noworsethanusual

    The "Right to Life" organization has set up a special webpage devoted to Ryan at

    http://www.nrlc.org/AHC/RyanUpdate.html