Holy Publicity, Batman!

Pandora's Box The Pro-Life Action League’s “Contraception Is Not the Answer” conference was a huge success! What’s more, an article on the conference was prominently featured in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune. On the whole, we found the article to be fairly balanced. It does contains a few misleading points, though; we plan to address those in a separate post. For now, here’s the article, without further comment:

Emboldened by the anti-abortion movement’s success in restricting access to abortion, an increasingly vocal group of Christian conservatives is arguing that it’s time to mount a concerted attack on contraception. Their voices were raised in Rosemont on Friday and Saturday at an unusual anti-abortion meeting that drew 250 people from around the nation to condemn artificial birth control. Experts at the gathering assailed contraception on the grounds that it devalues children, harms relationships between men and women, promotes sexual promiscuity and leads to falling birth rates, among social ills. “Contraception is more the root cause of abortion than anything else,” Joseph Scheidler, an anti-abortion veteran whose Pro-Life Action League sponsored the conference, said in an interview. No one knows how many supporters Scheidler and his colleagues have, but conservative leaders are watching to see if the anti-contraception rhetoric gains traction. Of special interest is how closely evangelical Christians are willing to align themselves with traditional Catholics on the issue. The Catholic Church long has opposed contraception, but evangelicals generally embraced its use–until recently, some argue. “It is clear there is a major rethinking going on among evangelicals on this issue, especially among young people” disenchanted with the sexual revolution, said Rev. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “There is a real push back against the contraceptive culture now.” Whether or not Mohler is right about young people, the sympathetic sentiments of a key leader in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination adds fuel to the debate. New strategy “I think it’s great that more pro-life people are finally speaking up about it,” said Helen Mazur, 27, who flew in from Philadelphia with her husband for the conference, called “Contraception is Not the Answer.” “It’s always been a touchy subject, but you have to stand strong on your beliefs. Contraception is the root cause of the explosion of the amount of abortions in the world,” Mazur said. “It’s new to some aspects of the pro-life world, and it’s old news in other parts of the pro-life world. It’s just beginning to be embraced more fully by the whole pro-life world,” said Mary Turner, 42, of La Crosse, Wis. That possibility alarms abortion-rights advocates, who warn that birth control, taken for granted by millions of women, could become a battleground. “You would think that the pro-life community would agree that the best way to reduce abortion is to reduce unintended pregnancies, and the best way to do that is make sure contraception is widely available,” said Larry Finer of the Guttmacher Institute, a public policy group. “But clearly, that is not the case. Instead, we see groups extending their traditional position on abortion into the realm of contraception.” Ted Miller of the advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America thinks a series of legislative battles lie ahead. “The same strategy that anti-choice groups have used to undermine the right to abortion, they’re going to use to try to restrict access to birth control,” he said. “But this time I think they’re over-reaching. The public isn’t going to buy this.” Unlike abortion, birth control is part of the daily lives of most women of childbearing age in America. A stunning 98 percent of women 15 to 44 who have had sex report using at least one method of contraception; almost 40 million women of that age use birth control, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Meanwhile, 91 percent of Americans agreed that couples should “have access to birth-control options” in a new Harris Interactive poll of 1,001 likely voters, conducted in July. “You’re going to tell women they can’t try to prevent unwanted pregnancies, they can’t take steps to make sure they’re economically and emotionally ready to have a child? No way,” said Kirsten Moore, president of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project. What’s more likely, experts suggest, is an ongoing “chipping away” at access to contraceptive services. This could entail cuts to federal programs that pay for birth control. Likely it also would involve a state-by-state push to allow pharmacists to refuse to fill birth-control prescriptions for reasons of “conscience.” Rev. Thomas Euteneuer, president of Human Life International, opened Saturday’s session with a clear tactical agenda for the budding movement: “It’s time to get serious about denying Planned Parenthood funding for birth control or sex education and abortion. We need to hold them accountable for this contraceptive welfare. We have to work very carefully to keep that sword away from Planned Parenthood.” ‘Chemical attack’ Euteneuer believes a single argument holds the greatest potential for changing how the anti-abortion community thinks about birth control. “Chemical contraception doesn’t prevent abortions, it causes abortion,” he said in an interview. “If we believe life begins at the moment of conception, we have to defend it against [this] chemical attack.” Euteneuer was referring to the possibility that hormonal birth control, including the pill, the patch, injections and some IUDs, might prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a womb. Scientific evidence suggests that this occurs infrequently, if at all, and that birth control works primarily by preventing a woman from ovulating. But there is no way to prove that interference with implantation doesn’t occur, which disturbs anti-abortion supporters. “We can’t say it’s true, and we can’t say it’s not true, because there is no test for fertilization” and therefore no opportunity to study the question in humans, said James Trussell, director of Princeton University’s Office of Population Research. Another line of argument against contraception, that it harms relationships between men and women, is advanced by Janet Smith, professor of moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. “When people use contraception, they’re not asking themselves, do I want a lifetime relationship with this person or would this person be a good parent,” Smith explains. “They’re simply hooking up, typically because of sex, and sliding into marriage.” The result, Smith says, is disappointment and divorce. Damon Clarke Owens, another speaker and president of New Jersey Natural Family Planning, believes contraception changes sex from a “unconditional gift of self” to a conditional act that turns away from “God’s gift of children.” “If the sex act has nothing to do with a child, then what happens if contraception fails?” he asked. “Abortion becomes a backup for failed contraception, another way of getting rid of the unwanted and devalued child.” What this boils down to is a case for “women and men having sex only within marriage and only for the purpose of procreation,” said Steve Trombley, president of Planned Parenthood of Chicago, and “I don’t think that’s sellable in any corner of America.” Internal dispute Even within the anti-abortion movement, however, there is disagreement over making contraception an ideological and political target. Although good statistics don’t exist, such an overwhelming portion of women uses birth control, it’s likely many who oppose abortion are among their number. Anti-abortion organizations have long adhered to a disciplined strategy of making abortion their exclusive focus to maximize the potential for political success. Dr. John Willke, who heads the International Right to Life Federation and the Life Issues Institute in Cincinnati, sees peril in the attempt to shift the movement’s strategy. “I’m here to stop abortions… and we’re coming close to winning on this issue,” he said. “If we take up an anti-contraception agenda, we won’t win the abortion fight in the foreseeable future.” But Scheidler is anxious to take advantage of the anti-abortion movement’s successes. “We’ve been trained to steer clear of discussing contraception, as if it were a distraction,” he said. “I’m tired of this `Don’t get off the subject’ mentality. Contraception is the subject.” “It’s not just a side issue from pro-life, it’s the core issue,” Libby Gray Macke, director of Project Reality, an abstinence program in Illinois, told the crowd Friday evening. “Abstinence is the way to prevent abortion.”

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