We Can’t Ignore the Elephant in the Living Room

Close followers of the the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate will recognize that contraception now occupies a prominent position on the battlefield. And not just potentially abortifacient “emergency contraception,” mind you, such as the FDA approved for over-the-counter sales this morning, but contraception per se. It’s no surprise that self-styled pro-choicers are making a conscious effort to shift discussion away from abortion, because they know they’re up against the ropes in the arena of public opinion. Hence, the pro-choice movement’s increased attention on birth control: From a PR standpoint, they think they have a winner. This is precisely why pro-lifers cannot back away from this issue. No doubt, opposition to contraception is a much harder sell to the general public than opposition to abortion. But that’s no excuse to shrug our shoulders and keep quiet. On the contrary, we as pro-lifers have to keep the issue of birth control front and center, alongside abortion, where it belongs. If we fight the latter while ignoring the former, we do so at our own peril. (This belief is the motivation behind our long overdue “Contraception Is Not the Answer” conference next month.) That said, I was pleased to see that the Wall Street Journal has published two op-eds in recent days addressing contraception — one directly, one indirectly. On Friday, Wheaton College professor Christine Gardner wrote a piece titled “God’s Protection,” under which appears the teaser, “Evangelicals embrace the ‘contraception culture.'” Gardner notes that a September 2005 Harris Poll found that “evangelicals overwhelmingly support birth control (88%)”, but also includes a brief yet very important history lesson:

Protestants’ acceptance of contraception has a relatively short history. The 1930 Lambeth conference of Anglican bishops was the first Christian church body to authorize the use of contraceptives within marriage, even as it condemned certain motives for using it, like “selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.” The introduction of the birth control pill in the 1950s and 1960s offered “free love” to society at large; married evangelicals embraced its convenience and effectiveness. The Catholic Church, by contrast, stated in Pope Paul VI’s “Humanae Vitae” encyclical of 1968 that the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage are inseparable.

Then comes a breath of increasingly ecumenical fresh air:

A minority movement within evangelical circles would agree. They oppose contraception not merely on pro-life grounds but also on the grounds that artificial contraception inhibits the possibility of children, in effect, offering a “thanks, but no thanks” (or at least “not right now”) response to God’s blessing to “be fruitful and multiply.”

She concludes with this implicit call for housecleaning:

Some evangelicals charge that the Pill has contributed to the moral breakdown of society; perhaps, but evangelicals’ embrace of the contraception culture has not helped. It may have made Christianity sexier to potential adherents but diminished a public understanding of marriage in the process. For evangelicals, this may be a bitter pill to swallow.

A related WSJ op-ed — this one by Syracuse professor Arthur Brooks — was published on Tuesday. It’s titled “The Fertility Gap,” under which appears the rather straightforward teaser, “Liberal politics will prove fruitless as long as liberals refuse to multiply.” Brooks’ thesis is this:

Simply put, liberals have a big baby problem: They’re not having enough of them, they haven’t for a long time, and their pool of potential new voters is suffering as a result.

More specifically, he notes:

According to the 2004 General Social Survey, if you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids. That’s a “fertility gap” of 41%. Given that about 80% of people with an identifiable party preference grow up to vote the same way as their parents, this gap translates into lots more little Republicans than little Democrats to vote in future elections.

So what do the next several years hold? According to Brooks:

Consider future presidential elections in a swing state (like Ohio), and assume that the current patterns in fertility continue. A state that was split 50-50 between left and right in 2004 will tilt right by 2012, 54% to 46%. By 2020, it will be certifiably right-wing, 59% to 41%. A state that is currently 55-45 in favor of liberals (like California) will be 54-46 in favor of conservatives by 2020–and all for no other reason than babies. The fertility gap doesn’t budge when we correct for factors like age, income, education, sex, race–or even religion … Some believe the gap reflects an authentic cultural difference between left and right in America today.

And how. Think for a minute about the large families you know. (That, of course, begs prompts the question: What constitutes a “large” family? At least four children? Five? Six? It depends on whom you ask, I suppose, but I’ll arbitrarily say five.) You don’t know everything about them, of course, but it’s probably safe to assume that Mom and Dad aren’t card-carrying ACLU members. In the culture wars vein, Brooks continues:

As one liberal columnist in a major paper graphically put it, “Maybe the scales are tipping to the neoconservative, homogenous right in our culture simply because they tend not to give much of a damn for the ramifications of wanton breeding and environmental destruction and pious sanctimony, whereas those on the left actually seem to give a whit for the health of the planet and the dire effects of overpopulation.”

The full text of the rant by said columnist — Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle — is here. Interestingly enough, Morford’s column was about the birth of Michelle Duggar’s 16th child last fall (Duggar is a 39-year Baptist woman from Arkansas), and includes this provocative headline:

God Does Not Want 16 Kids Arkansas mom gives birth to a whole freakin’ baseball team. How deeply should you cringe?

The Fertility Gap, indeed.

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