Friday, November 9, 2012

Pro-Lifers & Birth Control

[Today's post is reprinted from my blog, "Yeah, but..."]

Gallup says 89% of American adults consider birth control morally acceptable. Gallup also says 50% of Americans describe themselves as "pro-life."

Let's assume all of the other 50% (the people who don't describe themselves as "pro-life") consider birth control morally acceptable. That leaves 39% of Americans who both describe themselves as "pro-life" and consider birth control morally acceptable. In other words, at a minimum, 78% of self-described pro-lifers consider birth control morally acceptable. But you wouldn't know it, would you?

I thought I was a minority in being both anti-abortion and pro-birth control. The polls say most pro-lifers are fine with birth control, so why doesn't it seem that way? I have some theories.

1) Pro-lifers who are more active in the pro-life movement are probably both more vocal and more ideologically "pure." In other words, perhaps the majority of self-described pro-lifers are fine with birth control, but the majority of pro-life activists (the people we hear from the most) are not?

2) "Birth control" is a vague term. There are many different types of birth control, and some are more controversial than others. For example, maybe most pro-lifers think condoms are a good idea but reject the morning after pill. Would they say, generically, that "birth control" is morally acceptable, or no?

3) The religious right is vocal about opposing the birth control mandate. People conflate pro-lifers with the religious right (and there's certainly a correlation, but still it's not quite accurate). People also conflate not wanting to pay for birth control with thinking people shouldn't be allowed to use birth control.

Anything I'm missing? Why do you think there's such a discrepancy between the perceptions of the pro-life movement and what an average "pro-lifer" actually thinks?


TooManyJens said...

I'd add a #4: Birth control opponents use every ounce of influence they have to drive out
pro-birth-control voices from the pro-life movement. Why do you think
Democrats for Life and Feminists for Life don't take pro-birth-control
stands anymore?

Birth control opponents have a strong interest in conflating pro-life with anti-birth-control because pro-life is a far more popular stance. Similarly, abortion advocates have a strong interest in conflating a right to birth control with a right to abortion because birth control is much more accepted.

"People also conflate not wanting to pay for birth control with thinking people shouldn't be allowed to use birth control."

People also conflate not wanting birth control to be available as a benefit in the insurance coverage that women pay for (either with cash or their labor) with not wanting to pay for birth control. It goes both ways. And a lot of the viciousness behind the attacks on people who advocate for the contraception benefit does stem from not wanting people to use birth control or just generally being hostile to women deciding how to use their sexuality. All you have to do is look at the slut-shaming of Sandra Fluke to see that.

Diane said...

I am particularly interested in your point #2. I'd like to add to it.

A) I think the term "birth control" itself is misleading. Abortion is "birth control" (preventing birth, after conception has occurred) . I think we should be making a very clear distinction between preventing birth after conception has occurred vs. preventing conception from occurring in the first place. The difference is huge!

B) Personally, I am not opposed to artificial contraception, but I think we're being very naive and unwise (and disrespectful to women) by not being more skeptical of it than we are, in our current popular culture. First, artificial contraception places the health burden mainly onto the female. There may be no way around this, but I think we should have the guts to be honest about that reality, and what it really means. Even condoms sometimes cause issues (increased yeast infections and B.V.) because they're shoved up inside a very delicate part of our bodies. Secondly, I think we get easily caught up in the fantasy that contraception makes intercourse totally safe for females. It doesn't. Condoms break, IUDs and other devices, and pharmaceutical hormones fail us (and/or are improperly used). Still, we often tout their use as being a magical cure-all. I think this creates a false sense of security that leads to (guess what?) more unwanted pregnancies. Lastly, this false sense of security encourages a disconnect between our thinking, our sexual choices, and realities of the female body. Many women and men have intercourse without even considering just how fertile the woman is on that particular day. Yet, in terms of contraception and women's health: being more aware of when we're most fertile or not can GREATLY reduce the instances of unintended pregnancy, especially if used in conjunction with artificial contraception. But we don't talk about that, which is so unfortunate, for women and women's health, in particular

We're kind of off in La La Land much of the time. Thinking of artificial contraception as a magical cure-all. Instead of viewing it realistically. That's my issue with it. Not that I'm morally opposed overall. I'm opposed to our fantasy thinking and reluctance to be honest - about artificial contraception, women's health, the female body and fertility.

Diane said...

Sorry my comment was so long!!! Wow.

Dolce said...

I second Diane. I also would add that I believe there are definitely better ways to prevent conception that are probably more respectful of our bodies and definitely healthier for us. I also think that the birth control controversy is cleverly used by abortion proponents to both distract people from the real issue (abortion) and make $$ for drug companies and PP. Artificial contraception is a HUGE cash cow and is touted as a cure-all for any and all women's health and equality issues to both make money (thus any natural ways of tracking fertility are mocked even though they do work well for many, though not necessarily all, women) and to keep us from talking about the human rights issues that we as pro-lifers really care about.

I think the best way to get around this is to avoid talking about and taking a stand on birth control period, both as a cure for women's rights issues and as a way of preventing abortion (there are no studies which have shown this definitively either way). Instead, what we need to focus on is the crisis of unwanted or unexpected pregnancy - which WILL happen (though perhaps less often) regardless of the availability and cost of birth control. Women who become pregnant without wanting to are shoved to the side when hard-core birth control proponents claim that the pill (etc) will solve this issue. It will not, there will ALWAYS be women who become pregnant if they are having sex, regardless of how perfectly they have used their choice of contraception. We need activists and organizations in the spotlight to support the women who do become pregnant and stop collectively fooling ourselves that birth control will somehow stop unwanted pregnancies from occurring.

VAprochoiceLIBERALdemocrat said...

"People also conflate not wanting to pay for birth control with thinking people shouldn't be allowed to use birth control."

TooManyJens said...

Birth control is not perfect, but it is worth standing up for. Most women are never going to trust that someone who won't stand up for their right to use birth control really has their best interests at heart. Advocating for safer methods, and against the one-size-fits-all mentality that some doctors have (no, not all women should be on the pill)? Yes, absolutely. But just throwing the entire concept of family planning over the side and saying, "meh, we don't have a position on that" is saying to women "this thing that's so important to the vast majority of you really doesn't matter to us."

Jameson Graber said...

"People also conflate not wanting birth control to be available as a benefit in the insurance coverage *that women pay for* (either with cash or their labor) with not wanting to pay for birth control. It goes both ways."

Why does it go both ways? I still don't understand this argument. Is the argument that our current insurance system leaves women with no other options than to pay for insurance plans that don't suit them? If that's the issue, there are plenty of ways of rectifying it, like severing the link between insurance and employment and providing more flexible means of finding the plan that's right for each individual.

Paying for health insurance shouldn't be accompanied by a sense of inevitability. We should all be free to look for what we want. If some insurance programs cover birth control, then great. The problem is when we decide that all health insurance programs have to as a matter of principle. Personally, I don't think it's at all economically efficient to use insurance as a way to buy birth control, so I have trouble seeing why this is such an issue.

TooManyJens said...

I would dearly *love* to sever insurance from employment! That's something to work toward, but it will take time, and what do we do in the meantime?

It actually does end up being economically efficient for insurance to cover birth control, for several reasons. The most effective forms of birth control have up-front costs that many women couldn't afford out of pocket. Having effective family planning leads to fewer pregnancies, healthier pregnancies, and healthier children, all of which reduce costs.

Diane said...

Dolce that's such an important point about how artificial contraception is a total cash cow!

I love everything you said.

One semi-argument: I'd argue that it's not true that there will always be women who become pregnant if they are having sex.

This is another language distinction that I think is absolutely critical to advancing our notions of true freedom, choice and women's health: There will always be women who become pregnant specifically if they are having penis-in-vagina INTERCOURSE that includes ejaculation of semen into their vagina/cervix.

Having SEX (and a fantastic sexual relationship) is not solely dependent on this one specific conception-causing sexual act only.

I sure wish we'd break out of the thinking that women's only 2 choices are: engage in intercourse that includes ejaculation of semen into our reproductive organs - OR - abstain from sexual relationships. sexuality, and intimacy altogether. Doesn't have to be that way. We're screwing women over (bad pun, sorry!) by making it seem so black-and-white. The gray areas are plentiful.

TooManyJens said...

Love the point about non-procreative forms of sexuality! You're right, that's too often overlooked.

Jameson Graber said...

Thanks for the links. It's a good question you raise, but I worry that we're way too quick to impose mandates on some in order to give options to others. I really have to believe there's a way to do things that's more thoroughly consistent with the idea of liberty for everyone.

Economically speaking, it seems to me up front costs could always be remedied by some sort of long-term payment plan. I wouldn't really call that insurance. You can even have co-payment without it really being insurance. I think a lot of economic wisdom on this issue is obscured by our abuse of the term "insurance."

Anyway, I'm honestly just happy I was able to make an economic point on this issue without being called a chauvinist. +1 from a happy libertarian

Diane said...

I think we could possibly benefit from looking at this from additional angles. Not as absolutes, but as ideas to consider.

For example, what if... during times when we cannot afford up-front costs for contraception (btw, I get it, I've been in that sitch before) we were empowered, as women, to take that into consideration, when choosing what we're willing, and not willing, to engage in sexually?

What if we were empowered to approach our sexuality realistically and responsibly, the way we view other life/resource choices? For example, if I can't afford a new dress, then I can't go out and buy one, and wear it to so-and-so's party this weekend. I need to wear one I already own and doesn't cost additional money that I don't have. My insurance company (or some other entity) could pay for me to buy one, in an effort to cut down on the possibility of me shoplifting one. Sure. But should they? Or - maybe I should save up for the dress, sometime in the future. That seems reasonable, I think.

When I can't afford to buy a fancy cake for dessert, I can't buy one, even though I might think that the cake would've been "fun", and even though it might "disappoint" my boyfriend that I couldn't buy it for him (because HE was really really hoping for some cake on my dime).

I mean, just some food for thought about how sometimes during times that we can't afford something that we want, we need to save up for it, and do without it in the meantime. And that's not really unfair or unkind. It's just... life and being a responsible citizen. (Food for thought here, NOT a definitive proclamation).

Dolce said...

"I sure wish we'd break out of the thinking that women's only 2 choices are: engage in intercourse that includes ejaculation of semen into our reproductive organs - OR - abstain from sexual relationships. sexuality, and intimacy altogether."

Yes! THANK YOU for mentioning this, it is also a point that so many people miss!

Pro Life Pagans said...

I think many of the veteran pro-lifers have often viewed some forms of birth control as abortive at times, and I think this has discouraged some of the more moderate members from becoming involved. For instance, when I would take part in clinic vigils they would hand out literature saying the Pill was abortive, and it made me wonder about some of the younger people who would leave the group. Beginning apparently in the 1990's some doctors began to challenge the rationale for this. See also

Diane said...

Thanks TMJ. :)

Dolce said...

There's a difference between not having a mandate or definitive statement as an organization towards birth control, and just throwing it under the bus. Ultimately, using some type of artificial or natural contraception is a lifestyle choice that women have a right to, but I think saying more than that is unnecessary when our focus is helping the world see that unborn babies are human and deserve protection, and helping women in crisis pregnancies become empowered to keep their child.

Either way, there are PLENTY of organizations out there that will help women get their hands on artificial contraception. Its profitable and easy to do. Helping women keep their babies, have healthy pregnancies, and not have to resort to abortion to stay in school or keep their job? Not so profitable or easy to do.

Laura Nicholson said...

Good point with #4. I've seen many conversations about abortion where some pro-lifers start telling others they aren't "really" pro-life and aren't wanted in the movement because they take atypical stances (or, at least, what is *perceived* as an atypical stance). I've seen this in regard to birth control, certainly the debate about abortion & rape, fatal fetal deformities, and so forth.

I understand people have a lot of passion about all of these issues, but I don't think it dose the pro-life side any good to alienate those who could be united under the general "abortion is immoral" idea.

Laura Nicholson said...

"I think we should be making a very clear distinction between preventing birth after conception has occurred vs. preventing conception from occurring in the first place."

I agree. I think most people don't think of 'abortion' when they think of 'birth control' so I didn't make that distinction.

It would be great if conversations about BC weren't so politicized. I think sometimes people hear comments about understanding your body's cycle and immediately jump to "NFP is ineffective and artificial contraception is NOT immoral!" without really understanding what you're talking about. If we really want to empower women to have control over their reproduction, it makes sense for women to have an intimate understanding of their cycles and their bodies regardless of whether they have sex or not and whether they use other forms of birth control or not.

And on that note, it makes sense to make sure women who use artificial birth control understand the limitations. It seems clear that women properly educated about birth control have a much lower change of unplanned pregnancy than otherwise.

Laura Nicholson said...

Good points, all. You guys are giving me a lot to keep in mind for future posts. :)

jjalsevac said...

Personally, I think the main reason is that most of the activists who are in the pro-life movement are also those who have spent the most time looking at the data and have realized the truth that the argument that more birth control means fewer abortions is absolute bull. The use of birth control is through the roof, and so are the number of abortions. A recent study from Spain showed that the abortion rate went up in direct proportion to the rate of contraception.

Most pro-life activists realize that the solution to abortion is not more birth control, but a restoration of a culture of sexual sanity - in which sex is reserved for marriage, and in which marriage is viewed as a life-long commitment. Birth control has only led to the creation of a culture of promiscuity in which abortion is the inevitable back-up when the birth control fails. It has led to extremely high rates of promiscuity, of co-habitation, and marital break up. And these are all situations in which abortion thrives - because who wants to have a baby with a boy/girlfriend who you were just having a fling with, or with a cohabiting boy/girlfriend who could pack up and leave tomorrow, or with a husband/wife who doesn't view marital vows as anything particularly important to begin with.

Birth control is directly correlated with abortion rates, and there is no solid evidence that increased birth control has ever done anything to lower abortion rates - on the contrary.

It may sound "purist," but I don't see anyway to be pro-contraception and pro-life. The connection between contraception and abortion is simply too clear in my opinion. And I think it is to most full-time pro-life activists, who have followed the rabbit down to the bottom of the rabbit hole, and have found the sexual revolution at the bottom - the rotten root from which abortion and the contraceptive/promiscuous culture have sprung.

TooManyJens said...

"Birth control is directly correlated with abortion rates"

No, it isn't. What they are both correlated with are desired fertility rates. If desired fertility decreases, use of birth control will increase to the extent that people have access to it. If they don't have enough access to effective birth control, abortion rates will also increase. If birth control then becomes more available, abortion rates will go down.

If you don't want abortions *or* birth control, your opponents are human sexuality and the desire for fewer children. So you can try to convince people not to want sex or to want more kids. Personally, I don't see any way to convince people (on the whole) not to want sex, and it's none of my business to tell them to want more kids, so I think better birth control is the best bet for reducing the incidence of abortion -- that, and ensuring that people have the ability to raise the kids they do conceive and are not so desperate that they have abortions they don't really want, but think are their only option.

TooManyJens said...

"Either way, there are PLENTY of organizations out there that will help women get their hands on artificial contraception."

And right now, most of them are abortion advocates. Do we really want people who seek contraception to only be hearing from people who will tell them abortion is OK? Or would we rather have them hearing the message that "trying to prevent contraception is your right, and we will help you, but if you do conceive, that child is a human being to whom you have a responsibility."?

Clinton Wilcox said...

I've often thought about bringing this up, but my guess is that pro-choice people wouldn't accept this. They would probably feel that we should be able to "go all the way" whenever we want, without having to live with the "consequences." I still feel it's a valid point.

Diane said...

jjalsevac, I hear you. And I agree with what you said about restoring a cultural of 'sexual sanity"! However, I don't agree with the "reserving sex for marriage" part.

First: Intercourse causes pregnancy. Not all sexual activities cause pregnancy. Secondly, this basic fact applies to married people, too! Marriage doesn't suddenly erase the consequences of intercourse for women.

I'm a married woman. And I need to abstain from intercourse while I'm fertile (If don't want to become pregnant). I don't think it's right for us to imply that MARRIAGE is the dividing line. Heck, even if you were to support the use of artificial contraceptives - being married + using artificial contraceptives doesn't even guarantee against pregnancy. The only way to ensure we don't become pregnant, is to not have intercourse while we're fertile. Married or not.

I don't think promiscuity is good, so I'm definitely not advocating for it. But I think our dividing line should be between women who want to become pregnant, and women who do not want to become pregnant, plain and simple. Whether married or unmarried.

It's not a morality thing, it's a basic cause-and-effect thing. We can have our own moral beliefs, too. But somehow we need to get the message across: it's pretty simple to prevent pregnancy when we don't want to be pregnant, if we're willing to be honest! It ain't rocket science!

Also, I agree with much of what you said re: artificial contraception and the neg. affects you mentioned. For sure.

156 said...

This has been a great discussion. I would like to add two points.

First, many media outlets are very liberal, so they have been willing to assist the abortion industry in portraying the pro-life movement as anti-contraception.

Second, regarding your point #1, I heard once that the core right-to-life movement is seventy-five percent Catholic, so that might help to explain why the activists are anti-contraception.

Third, I think jjalsevac's opinion might be illustrative of the attitude of many right-to-life activists. I think good evidence exists that greater use of long-acting methods would suppress abortion rates, but fears about anti-implantation effects help to stifle any tolerance for contraception.

156 said...

I meant three points!

M said...

All interesting points. I wish Gallup broke down some of these polls by "level of passion" if that were possible. I haven't seen stats on what "core" pro-lifers believe vs. other pro-lifers. Do you know of any?

156 said...

"Do you know of any?"

No. However, I would not necessarily equate a high level of passion with involvement in the pro-life movement. Certainly a correlation exists, but I suspect that many activists are motivated by their involvement in the Catholic Church rather than simply by a concern about the unborn. That would explain why they are not willing to accept sterilization and highly-effective contraceptive methods as being part of the solution to the incidence of abortion.

Diane said...

The really crappy things about people thinking that we "should be able to" have intercourse without unwanted consequence is that the belief/wish doesn't magically change biological reality. (Thinking that something "shouldn't" happen, doesn't make it not happen.)

ockraz said...

A: "Birth control is directly correlated with abortion rates"
B: "No, it isn't. What they are both correlated with are desired fertility rates."

I'm trying to wrap my head around this. (BTW- is TooMany=Roth?)

First of all, if birth control and abortion are both directly correlated to the same thing, then don't they need to be correlated with one another? Although, the implication seemed to have been that increased BC was somehow causally related to higher abortion rates, which would not be the case if the actual cause is a third variable: desired fertility. Do either or both of you think that sounds right?

Secondly, it's not clear to me what the implications of this are. The initial assertion was that we'd reached a saturation point such that additional BC would not decrease the rate of abortion. I'm skeptical of that, but then if additional BC actually WILL reduce the rate of abortion, then why would the rate of abortion not decrease when the availability of BC increases. That's the phenomenon we'd hope to see, but based on what Jen said about fertility, it sounds like we don't see that effect.

Have I misunderstood? Perhaps the fertility correlation is one which shows up long term in multi-generational changes to the culture and not fine grained enough to pick up a decrease in abortion which would correspond to an increase in BC. If not, I just don't understand why an inverse correlation isn't seen.

AnotherOakMan said...

Yes, I think "Birth Control" is vague and unless you explain exactly what you mean it is a meaningless question. I'd say there is probably a difference between:
1) Birth control which only prevents fertilization
2) Birth control which prevents (or potentially can prevent) implantation
3) Birth control which expels an implanted fertilized ovum

I'd be interested to know what secular pro life thinks about each of these cases. I'm totally OK with all three, but I'm not pro life. It seems to me very hard from a secular point of view to say a nascent fetus is a "person" (we're talking about a few days old at most), but if that's your point of view I'd say 2 and 3 would have to be out. Which means no IUDs, no pill, etc.

NorthStar156 said...

The medical researcher in this video makes what I think is a good point. "Imagine if we were treating hypertension or stroke or cancer. We would never choose a medication that's twenty-fold less effective. We would always choose the first-line, best medication."

Why is the pro-life movement not speaking out about the use of inferior methods of contraception? Implants are vastly superior to the most commonly-used methods.

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Fugazi said...

Hmm .. Everything you have put here flies in the face of true facts, for example when most of Eastern Europe was under the banner of the USSR and contraception was very difficult to get hold of their abortion rates were one of the highest in the world, since the collapse of the USSR abortion rates have fallen by 50%, this is in direct correlation with the increase in availability of contraception

Section 3.

Ingrid Heimark said...

So great to finally see pro-lifers share my view that birth control is a right, controlling fertility by non-lethal means is no threat to the unborn.... Here in Norway pro-lifers are also pro-birth control