Accepting Contraception: Common Sense Over Ideology or Theology


Close observers of the slow-grinding
abortion reduction/common ground discussion have undoubtedly noticed
a split within the “pro-life” camp between those who are willing
to endorse prevention programs involving contraception and those who
are not willing to do so.
 

It is apparent even now in
the different sign-on lists for the Ryan-DeLauro bill, which includes
contraception, and the Pregnant Women’s Support Act, which does not.
 

At one level, this is an evangelical-Catholic
split. Official Catholic teaching bans artificial birth control for
any practicing Catholic. Though this teaching is widely ignored, no
one speaking for the official Catholic position ever endorses policy
proposals that involve contraception. Protestant evangelicals, on the
other hand, do not have a consensus position on this issue, and there
is no official authoritative body of teaching (other than the Bible)
to which we are obligated.
 

But the issue is even more
complicated because over the last two decades or so, certain strands
of conservative evangelicalism have converged on the Catholic position
on contraception. This has been a noticeable development within my part
of the faith community, and its implications cannot be missed when one
begins to encounter very, very large families, as I have in recent years
among the most conservative Protestants in my world.
 

Notice that these conservative
evangelicals are not just rejecting contraception as an ingredient in
public policy, but as a matter of personal morality. They have come
to conclude that using contraception violates God’s will, always and
everywhere. Usually, though not always, the conservative evangelical
turn against birth control is related to a resurgent Calvinism, in which
it is viewed as ungodly to attempt to block the number of births that
God intends for a married couple to enjoy/endure as part of his providential
will.
 

There are other conservative
evangelicals who do not rule out birth control for married couples,
but do draw the line at any endorsement of contraception outside of
marriage or as an aspect of public policy related to the unmarried.
This posture is based on a basic, traditional Christian sexual ethic
in which sexual intercourse belongs in marriage and Christians must
not endorse its practice anywhere else. It is also, more subtly, based
on an approach to public policy in which evangelical Christians refuse
to support public policy measures that violate their personal moral
values.
 

This has been intensified all
the more, of course, where the policies in question pertain to the young
and are delivered through the public schools. At that point, the contraception
message comes right back to the children who are being taught a very
different message by their parents at home. For many, this has been
felt to be a bridge too far.
 

So how is it that some politically
moderate, pro-life, evangelicals like myself are willing now to accept a prevention
plank that includes contraception.

The way I reason it out is
something like this: public policy in a democracy exists to advance
the common good. Deciding on what constitutes the common good is a
values-based
process undertaken by the entire nation and its representatives.
Discerning how best to approximate the values thus decided upon is a
data-based
process best undertaken by those with the greatest expertise
on the matter at hand.
 

Reducing the number both of
unwanted pregnancies, and the number of abortions, is a widely agreed
upon aspect of the common good. Not everyone agrees that one or both
of these are the right goals, but most do—based on such diverse, values-based
considerations as the devastating impact of an unwanted pregnancy particularly
on the woman involved, the morally problematic (at best) practice of
abortion, and the life-chances of children raised in high risk situations.
 

Everyone knows that it is logically
true that if everyone abstained from sex every time they did not want
to be open to a pregnancy, the problem we are considering would not
exist. And everyone knows that abstinence is the best policy in relation
to sexually transmitted diseases as well as unwanted pregnancies. But
for a wide variety of reasons, some perennial and some more specific
to modern culture, many people have sex (both within and outside marriage)
who do not intend pregnancy. The policy question is how to reduce the
negative impact of these choices, even while at the same time discouraging
those choices themselves. I am persuaded by the claims of data-based
policy specialists in this area that providing honest, accurate information
about contraception to anyone who is at risk of creating an unwanted
pregnancy is one of the most important policy steps that can be taken.
 

Support for pregnant women
is important; preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place is
at least as important. That’s why I think a prevention plus support
approach is best.
 

This process of reasoning reflects
the recognition that
public policy in a diverse, pluralistic society
will often involve the need for all of us to make concessions that we
find difficult to accept.
It means that there will be many occasions
when evangelical Christians will have to accept that once again we have
been unable to convince the rest of the nation (and, let’s face it,
sometimes our own kids) to adopt the values we teach and preach. We
remain free to proclaim them in our churches and teach them in our homes,
but the society as a whole will go its own way.
 

This is an invitation to do
a better job of evangelizing, teaching, and preaching, and not a call
to despair over our society. And if we care to make a positive, practical
impact on our society as it actually exists, we have to engage in dialogue
about, and sometimes accept, policy measures that fall short of our
highest values, but meet the needs of real people right now.
 

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  • grayduck

    Whether intended or not, the article amounted to a straw-man argument. The strongest and most common arguments against promoting contraception as a method of abortion reduction are the following.

     

    First, contraception is not one hundred-percent effective. That creates a conundrum for users. If they want children, why would they use contraception? If they do not want children, why would they engage in sexual intercourse and risk a pregnancy? The answer for most seems to be to delude themselves into believing that contraception is one hundred-percent effective. The net result is unintended pregnancies when reality does not conform to the delusion.

     

    Second, most forms of contraception have such high failure rates that they do more to instill a false sense of security that results in more sexual behavior than to reduce the chance of pregnancy when people engage in sexual intercourse. For example, condoms have a one-year failure rate of about fifteen percent. Thus, if a woman uses condoms as her method of contraception from age twenty to age forty-six, she has a ninety-nine percent (99%) chance of facing an unintended pregnancy.

     

    Third, there is a widespread belief that many forms of contraception may prevent implantation and, therefore, effectively cause an early abortion rather than prevent a pregnancy. The usual strategy of playing word games to argue against that viewpoint is not useful or credible to anyone.

     

    Fourth, government-funded contraception exacerbates the primary cause of abortion: an inability of people to fully take control over- and be held accountable for- their sexual decision-making. It tells men that it is government’s job, not theirs, to be fathers. It tells women that while they technically are free to refuse to consent to sex, they cannot reap the benefits of doing so because government resources funded by their taxes will go to women who do say yes to sex.

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com- the internet’s only viewpoint-neutral abortion discussion board.

    • frolicnaked

      If they do not want children, why would they engage in sexual intercourse and risk a pregnancy?

      Because for a lot of couples, sex — including coitus — is an enjoyment and expression of the intimacy present in a relationship (including, but not limited to, marriage) based on mutual love and respect?

    • katwa

      If they want children, why would they use contraception?

      Maybe they don’t want one every 9 months? My mother used contraception, and stopped when she wanted kids. She had two, just the amount she wanted. Are you suggesting everyone who wants kids should be perpetually pregnant?

       

      If they do not want children, why would they engage in sexual intercourse and risk a pregnancy?

      I don’t want kids. Are you seriously suggesting I spend my whole entire life abstinent? That doesn’t seem fair, or natural. Espeically since my BC is 99.9% effective (Depo Vera) and I’ve been having sex for 10 years with no kids yet. .1% seems worth the risk to me to have an intimate relationship with my partner.

       

       For example, condoms have a one-year failure rate of about fifteen
      percent. Thus, if a woman uses condoms as her method of contraception
      from age twenty to age forty-six, she has a ninety-nine percent (99%)
      chance of facing an unintended pregnancy.

       You have a serious lack of understanding of statistics. See here to understand how the stats you are quoting actually work.

  • ahunt

    Um…putting aside the dubious claims and subsequent reasoning…

    Sooo what? Contraception should not be made available to the people who want to use it? What?

  • princess-rot

    It doesn’t matter how much you lie, twist statistics, stomp your foot and whine, people are going to have sex for pleasure without seeking your/your religion’s permission and without feeling obligated to make a baby. Get down off your high horse before you’re knocked off it.

  • emma

    Well gosh darn it then, Gray Duck, I’ll just go throw out my pills, then! Since they’re not 100% effective (99.7% with perfect use), there’s clearly no point in taking them at all. And what better basis for public policy *and*  for my personal decisions than a ‘widespread belief that many forms of contraception may prevent implantation’? It’s always good to make decisions based on popular mythology, and if everyone else jumps off a cliff, I’ll be sure to follow suit. If I need further encouragement, I’ll just remember the torture through which you put those poor, defenceless statistics.

    • grayduck

      "Since [oral contraceptives a]re not 100% effective (99.7% with perfect use), there’s clearly no point in taking them at all."

       

      Your 99.7 percent figure is misleading for two reasons. First, it is based on small, carefully-controlled laboratory studies that remove many factors that apply in typical use. Large studies of real-world use of oral contraceptives show that they have a one-year failure rate of about 8.7 percent.

       

      The other problem with your figure is that it assumes the user will only be sexually active and trying to avoid pregnancy for one year. Typical women, according to researchers, are sexually active and trying to avoid pregnancy for thirty years of their lives. If you extrapolate that 8.7 percent failure rate out for thirty years, you get a failure rate of about 93 percent. (1-(1-.087)^30) 

       

      http://www.guttmacher.com/pubs/fb_contr_use.html 

       

      The only methods of contraception with meaningful failure rates below fifty percent are sterilization, intra-uterine devices and systems, and implants.

       

      http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • jayn

    It’s also important to remember there aren’t two options here, there’s three—safe sex, unsafe sex, and no sex.  Safe sex vs. no sex has arguments that could go either way (total risk avoidance vs. bonding)  However both are miles better than unsafe sex, and if the choice under consideration is safe sex vs. unsafe sex–meaning, the person is going to have sex regardless–I don’t think any sane person would argue against opening that condom.

    • grayduck

      "…if…the person is going to have sex regardless–I don’t think any sane person would argue against opening that condom."

       

      Why assume that someone is going to engage in sexual intercourse regardless- unless she or he is raped? And why assume that condoms are the only method of contraception available?

       

      http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • crowepps

    If they do not want children, why would they engage in sexual intercourse and risk a pregnancy? The answer for most seems to be to delude themselves into believing that contraception is one hundred-percent effective.

    You’ve missed something. People do not ‘engage in sexual intercourse’ because they ‘want children’. They engage in sexual intercourse because it is pleasurable. If you’re not aware of that, there’s a possibility you’re not doing it right.

    For example, condoms have a one-year failure rate of about fifteen percent.

    First, the ‘normal use’ condom failure rate is actually closer to 12%, but remember that included in that failure rate is “failed to use a condom”. For those couples who use condoms as birth control ‘perfectly’ the annual failure rate is only 2%.

    Third, there is a widespread belief that many forms of contraception may prevent implantation and, therefore, effectively cause an early abortion rather than prevent a pregnancy. The usual strategy of playing word games to argue against that viewpoint is not useful or credible to anyone.

    Considering that the argument against the ‘widespread belief’ is scientific facts about reproduction, and the ‘widespread belief’ was created by ideologues and deliberately fostered by ‘playing word games’, this line of argument is neither useful nor credible. There is a ‘widespread belief’ that all Southerners are ignorant bigots and a ‘widespread belief’ that brown eggs are more nutritious than white ones. No matter how many people ‘believe’ in something “it ain’t necessarily so”.

  • marysia

    grayduck, a very large number of contraceptive users whose method did not prevent conception actually go through with the pregnancy. been there done that.

    and if people are concerned about even the small chance of pregnancy that remains even when birth control is used most carefully & conscientiously–they don’t have to have penis-vagina sex, they can find plenty of other ways to enjoy one another’s company.

    and it’s not about “sin” or “using people” by definition, it’s what the partners bring to it or don’t, and that can just as easily be about expressing genuine love and concern for one another.

    your assertion about certain contraceptives being stealth early abortions is none too firm. the bulk of the available scientific evidence suggests that they work by *preventing* conception.

    as for the slim, slim chance that in some instances they *might* affect implantation…well, i would like to hear you & other contraception denouncers get just as worked up about other chemicals that are known with far, far greater certainty to harm & kill unborn lives, such as endocrine disruptors, mercury, & lead.

    the real culture of death is not about contraception or non procreative sex “causing” abortion. it is about the denial of lifesaving options for women & children, both born & unborn. and that includes the denial of women’s freedom to make *their own* decisions about sex and pregnancy *prevention.*

    your freedom not to use contraception is connected to the freedom of other people to choose it.

  • colleen

    It’s pretty amusing to see men and women call themselves “politically moderate” and paint themselves as magnanimous and compassionate because they believe women might be allowed access to effective contraception.
    Politically speaking, contraception isn’t a controversial issue at all. Indeed opposing access to contraception is political suicide.

    The schism isn’t between ‘moderate’ and ‘conservative’, it’s between authoritarians who find brainwashed women attractive and the foaming batshit crazy. Most women don’t want to convert to either.

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • crowepps

    This process of reasoning reflects the recognition that public policy in a diverse, pluralistic society will often involve the need for all of us to make concessions that we find difficult to accept. It means that there will be many occasions when evangelical Christians will have to accept that once again we have been unable to convince the rest of the nation (and, let’s face it, sometimes our own kids) to adopt the values we teach and preach.

    Evangelical Christians also have to aceept that they have been unable to convince the majority of THEIR OWN CONGREGATION to actually practice the values they teach and preach. If the teaching and preaching of these values is not convincing to the people who actually believe in the spiritual basis for them, how could it possibly be convincing to those who do NOT believe?

  • marysia

    colleen wrote:
    –It’s pretty amusing to see men and women call themselves “politically moderate” and paint themselves as magnanimous and compassionate because they believe women might be allowed access to effective contraception.–

    Paint ourselves as magnanimous & compassionate? That’s *not* what this is all about. So what is this about?

    Too often prochoicers have equated opposition to abortion to hostility to contraception. Yet many prochoicers condemn all prolifers as hyprocrites for denouncing something so necessary to reducing abortions.

    never mind that at least 80% of prolifers in the US support contraception, we use it ourselves & seek for everyone who wants it to have access. We are there with prochoicers already on these issues, even when we don’t get credit for this.

    I myself have been taking action in defense of contraception for over two decades. And for over two decades I have been trying to persuade prochoicers that you all don’t need to condemn me or persuade me on this issue!

    it is not about “oh look at how righteous we are, deigning to permit those poor little women their pills.” It’s not about personal self righteousness, it is about ensuring that everyone has freedom of conscience in pregnancy prevention, both for its own sake and as a necessary relief for the root causes of abortion.

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

  • colleen

    I myself have been taking action in defense of contraception for over two decades. And for over two decades I have been trying to persuade prochoicers that you all don’t need to condemn me or persuade me on this issue!

    Here you’ve denigrated and slandered Planned Parenthood and have repeatedly posted url’s to sites like ‘Klanned Parenthood’. That’s not action in defense of contraception.

    However, I wasn’t speaking of you as an individual but, rather, the fact that the ‘pro-life’ movement elects many men and a few women who are indeed opposed to contraception. I expect that’s because for the anti-abortion electorate, passing laws to end abortion is a more important goal than assuring that women, even low income women, have access to effective contraception. I’m arguing that this is not a politically moderate set of priorities. I am annoyed when social conservatives try to present preserving Griswold as some sort of viable compromise. It’s only a compromise within the anti-abortion electorate.

    ps That said and off topic I have appreciated your support of young single mothers being able to keep their children and share your enthusiasm at the recent arrest of Roman Polanski or, for that matter, any other man who rapes a 13 year old.

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD