Is Availability of Contraception a Pro-Life Issue?


 

This piece originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

 

Christianity and contraception have had an interesting relationship
with each other over the centuries. Prior to the 20th Century, most
Christians would have condemned contraception outright. At the dawning
of the 21st, Catholicism is still holding out on condoning birth
control and even non-Catholic Christians ascribe high value to
childbirth. Add to this the Christian prohibition of sexual promiscuity
and it is easy to understand why many pro-life Christians oppose
increased access to contraception.

Perhaps that is about to change.

A new study by the Guttmacher Institute
reports that as global access to contraception has improved, the
international abortion rate has significantly declined. From 1995 to
2003, estimated global abortion rates dropped from 45.5 million to 41.6
million. Why? According to the report, it’s because the number of women
using contraception worldwide increased during the same period. The
Alan Guttmacher Institute is a non-profit research center that holds a
pro-choice position but is widely quoted both by conservatives and
progressives.

Not everyone is convinced. Steven W. Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute,
has called the Guttmacher global estimates "simply bogus." He claims
that no one — including Guttmacher — knows how many abortions are
performed worldwide since abortion statistics are reliable in only a
few developed countries.

Yet, the underlying claim of the report deserves attention. After
all, Guttmacher is not the only research organization to make such
claims. The report argues that increasing access to contraception will
lower the number of unintended pregnancies, and ipso facto, the number
of abortions. If this claim is correct, access to contraception
arguably becomes a pro-life issue and a place of common ground for both
sides of the debate.

Even in the face of such research, many pro-life Christians would
still likely oppose distribution of contraception claiming that it will
promote sexual promiscuity. There are at least two problems with this.
First, there is no guarantee that decreasing access to contraception
will restrain individuals from sexual activity. Second, Christians
should not expect non-Christians to adhere to Christian principles for
healthy living. While one might wish that our culture would accept the
proven wisdom in remaining abstinent before and monogamous after
marriage, we also realize that most will not. Therefore, we provide
access to contraception for those who cannot afford it. (I wish
everyone on the road would drive safely, but I know that many will not,
so I support seat belts.)

Even George W. Bush — hardly a compromiser by any reckoning –
understood that access to contraception played a role in reducing
abortions and promoting a stable society. During his Presidency, he
consistently proposed funding for Title X
of the Public Health Service Act, the only federal program that
provides contraception to low-income women. Today, the Obama
Administration has promised to do the same through an "abortion reduction" platform, which couples increased access to contraception with sexual education with an abstinence emphasis.

One does not have to compromise his or her beliefs in order to
support increased access to contraception. Pro-choicers can still
support a woman’s "right to choose" and pro-lifers can still support an
"unborn child’s right to life." If the Guttmacher numbers stick and a
direct relationship between access to contraception and declining
abortions is established, the two sides of this debate may finally have
found some common ground. In the midst of highly-polarized debate,
contraception may be one of the few things people can agree on.

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  • kate-ranieri

    Thank you for your article. I strongly support access to contraception AND to age-appropriate comprehensive sexual education. I would also say that like-minded individuals would be advised to pressure mainstream media to do a better job of reporting on the successes of contraception rather than being a lapdog for all the hate- and fear-mongering from the fundamentalists (Catholics and Protestants) who see only abstinence, only heterosexuality, only sex within a heterosexual marriage and ONLY for procreation AS THE ONE TRUE ANSWER. It’s one answer to a multitude of life’s complexities.

  • prochoicegoth

    The ONLY way to reduce abortions is to provide better sex ed and better access to birth control. However, we should also NOT make sex out to be dirty, but at the same time emphasize that sex is a life-changing event, just as pregnancy and birth is. We need to let teens know that although sex isn’t a crime, it is a serious step that shouldn’t be taken lightly. If a teen wants to engage in sexual activity, they NEED to be prepared with birth control.

  • grayduck

    "Steven W. Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, has called the Guttmacher global estimates ‘simply bogus.’" … "Even in the face of such research, many pro-life Christians would still likely oppose distribution of contraception claiming that it will promote sexual promiscuity."

     

    I would expect that more than just "pro-life Christians" would reject an argument based on bogus evidence.

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • grayduck

    KateRanieri on December 11, 2009 – 10:47am: "I would also say that like-minded individuals would be advised to pressure mainstream media to do a better job of reporting on the successes of contraception rather than being a lapdog for all the hate- and fear-mongering from the fundamentalists…"

     

    Could you please provide some examples of these "successes of contraception?"

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • pamgreen

    Dilligent every-single-time use of any of the highly effective and safe methods of contraception WOULD eliminate the vast majority of need for abortion. Abortion is only needed because of an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy or an initially wanted one that becomes a health disaster for fetus or pregnant woman. So every-single-time use of a 95% effective contraceptive would eliminate 95% of the unwanted pregnancies and thus the abortions due to them. The 5% due to contraception-failure would remain and those unfortunate enough to experience such failure would very likely consider abortion as a desirable solution.
    Those abortions needed for cases of rape or incest would remain — and , no, rearing your rape-spawned or incest-spawned child does NOT “help you heal” but rather ensures that you will NEVER forget and NEVER heal and that society will be burdened by one more poorly reared and resented person, a person who may very well be genetically pre-disposed to violent behavior.
    Contraception will NOT prevent some pregnancies from turning into health disasters, though use of contraception COULD prevent some or maybe many of the predictable health-problem pregnancies, ie those with predictable genetic problems (eg both parents carrying same seriously delecterious gene) or those that will predictably exacerbate a pre-existing maternal health problem (eg exacerbate diabetes, exacerbate kidney malfunction).
    If the every-single-time contraceptive chosen were the condom, the vast majority of the time that choice would also prevent transmission of AIDS and other STDs, which would of course be an added benefit.

    Goth is totally right of course. Sex, other than masturbation, does entangle you with another person’s life and this can bring both joys and problems. Adding an unwanted child into that mix can only make the situation far worse than otherwise. Even good relationships can go down in flames.

    Note : as an alternative to contraception , every-single-time practice of homosexuality for every act that is not intended to result in reprodution would also eliminate 100% of risk of unwanted pregnancy and need for abortion . Ie gay sex for pleasure, straight sex only for deliberate breeding. Unfortunately humans are not totally facultative in their sexual orientation. (For views of how it might work if homosexuality were the nearly universal pleasure-sex mode, see various stories and novels by Eleanor Arnason — on another planet and another species, far far away of course.)
    Now to respond in advance to those who will cite Leviticus (a text irrelevant to a great many people in this world, and which also prescribes other widely ignored rules), I must point out that this text derrogates only “men who lie with men” and thus clearly lesbian sex remains perfectly permissable. So universal use of lesbian sex by women for all non-reproductively-intended sex would be a solution. It doesn’t really matter what the men do so long as heterosexual rape is made impossible. Perhaps we should geld most male children and keep those left ungelded on secure stud farms. (thanks again to Eleanor Arnason).
    No, I’m not proposing these alternatives seriously, though they might indeed be improvements over our present system. I DO very seriously propose that we recognize homeosexual relationships as being at least as honorable as heterosexual ones and as being more moral in that they cannot cause anyone to need an abortion and cannot cause the birth of an unwanted child.

  • ack

    I have used contraception, though admittedly not perfectly, since I became sexually active. I’ve never been pregnant (to my knowledge). I consider that a success.

    And you’re intelligent enough to google "contraceptive failure rates" by yourself, I assume. Each time an unwanted pregnancy is averted through the use of contraception, I would call that a success.

  • ack

    Sure, but it’s not bogus evidence. It’s a correlation supported by other studies. In countries where contraception is widely available and comprehensive sex ed is a priority, the abortion rates are lower. Guttmacher established this in another study, which you can access on their website.

  • grayduck

    ack on December 17, 2009 – 6:03pm: "Each time an unwanted pregnancy is averted through the use of contraception, I would call that a success."

     

    True, but that does not prove that an indiscriminate expansion of access to contraception will reduce the number of abortions.

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • emma

    As opposed to limiting access to contraception, Greyduck? I’m certainly not aware of any evidence that that leads to reduced abortion rates.

  • emma

    This seems like Captain Obvious material. It’s hardly news that access to contraception reduces the abortion rate.

     

    The Population Research Institute is not without an agenda; it describes itself as a ‘pro-life organisation’ and, according to Wikipedia, has received a fair bit of its funding from right-wing sources.

    While one might wish that our culture would accept the proven wisdom in remaining abstinent before and monogamous after marriage, we also realize that most will not.

    No, that’s your opinion, not ‘proven wisdom’. It would be nice if right-wing Christians would stop stating their religious beliefs as objective facts. Marriage is, IMO, a patriarchal, irrelevant anachronism that’s useful only for taxation and immigration purposes. And health insurance reasons in the US, I guess.

  • grayduck

    Emma on December 18, 2009 – 12:10am: "As opposed to limiting access to contraception, Greyduck?"

     

    The alternative is to not promote contraception indiscriminately. That would still allow for other, more effective, contraception strategies like promoting the most effective methods of contraception. The best methods are vastly more effective than the worst methods. For example, use of female condoms as a contraceptive method is 270 times as likely to fail as male sterilization. Thus, the number of abortions might be reduced by efforts to expand the use of male sterilization that do not also attempt to increase reliance on female condoms.

     

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

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • prochoiceferret

    For example, use of female condoms as a contraceptive method is 270 times as likely to fail as male sterilization… Thus, the number of abortions might be reduced by efforts to expand the use of male sterilization that do not also attempt to increase reliance on female condoms.

    All right, boys and girls! Can anyone point out the glaring flaw in GrayDuck’s suggestion that would make it a complete non-starter in the real world? I’ll give you a hint—there’s actually two of them!

  • jayn

    Sure, I’ll bite, though GD’s track record indicates that he’s not going to listen…

     

    1. Permanence.  Sterlization is not an option for someone who is merely trying to delay, not avoid, having kids.

    2. Cost.  Sterlization may have the higher effectiveness rate, but if you can’t afford it, a female condom is still better than nothing.

     

    Grayduck constantly focuses on absolute effectiveness rates, while ignoring that there are always other factors to consider–cost is a major one (the best methods have high upfront costs) , but there are also other factors that may make a particular method not suitable.  Right now, male sterilization would not be a suitable option for us, as we do plan to have kids in the future, just not yet.

  • crowepps

    1. GrayDuck assumes there is ONE RIGHT ANSWER which can be applied to all people because GrayDuck can’t grasp the concept that different people may have different circumstances.

    2. GrayDuck assumes that men who don’t want to start a pregnancy right now or with this person don’t want to have children at all ever.

    3. GrayDuck assumes that the only goal is preventing abortion while ignoring the public health problem of STDs which continue to make the use of a condom sensible even after sterilization.

  • grayduck

    Jayn on December 21, 2009 – 11:29am: "1. Permanence. Sterlization is not an option for someone who is merely trying to delay, not avoid, having kids. 2. Cost. Sterlization may have the higher effectiveness rate, but if you can’t afford it, a female condom is still better than nothing."

     

    The issue was not whether sterilization is perfect and that everyone should use it. The issue was whether contraception can be used as part of a public policy designed to reduce the number of abortions. Promoting the use of male sterilization may be effective in reducing the number of abortions. Encouraging the use of female condoms, as a matter of public policy, is not likely to be very effective- and it possibly could be counterproductive.

     

    As a factual matter, I dispute your assertion that female condoms are inexpensive. On a single-use basis, they may be relatively cheap. However, I have not seen any study that has found that, over many uses, female condoms are less expensive than long-acting methods of contraception. If you have such a study, please post it.

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • prochoiceferret

    Jayn’s #2 and crowepps’ #1 are ones I hadn’t even thought of! Which goes to show, even pro-choice ferrets can learn a thing or two about reproductive health from the fine folks at RHRC =^_^=

     

    Alas, this is more than can be said for the gray ducks around here, who are smart enough to read Guttmacher stats, yet remain completely ignorant of how reproductive health policies play out in the real world. I would say that’s a shame and leave them to their quacking, but given that there are many people in a position to make policy who believe similarly, RHRC and its allied forces have their work cut out for them.