The Ill-Fated Attempt to Push Contraception as “Common Ground”

salonWilliam Saletan has two columns at Slate this week on what he thinks pro-lifers and pro-choicers should do to seek “common ground” on abortion in the wake of the Conference on Life and Choice held at Princeton last month.

Chief among his recommendations to both sides is, predictably, to push contraception. He calls for pro-lifers to “embrace” it, and for pro-choicers to embrace it even more than they already do.

Free Birth Control: Good Preventive Health Care?

In both columns, Saletan quotes various individuals who presented at the conference.  Midway through his first column, he quotes at length an idea put forth by Mercer University Professor of Christian Ethics David Gushee, which Saletan called “the most important offer [he has] heard from anybody” on either side of the issue of contraception:

The morality of contraception is not the intrinsic problem in Protestant thought that it is in traditional Catholic moral thought. … It ought to be possible to work in historically conservative evangelical subcultures to increase the acceptance of contraceptive education and provision, at least as a second best option. I think it might even be possible to get evangelical Protestants on board to support the idea that birth control should be free to anyone who wants it as an aspect of preventive health care.

Incidentally, this is exactly what Planned Parenthood is pushing for.

Considering how much money our nation’s largest abortion chain stands to make if that happens — not to mention their history of bilking taxpayers by overcharging for state-funded contraceptives — one needn’t wonder why.

Saletan then proclaims:

If this were to happen—if pro-lifers were to embrace contraception and give it moral sanction—it would prevent more abortions than any anti-abortion law would.

Except it wouldn’t. National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru explains:

I’m highly skeptical. Are people really having sex without contraception because pro-lifers have refrained from proselytizing in favor of contraception?

Contraception As a “Moral Duty”

Saletan’s advice to pro-choicers on the subject is to “Treat contraception as a moral practice.” Here’s what he means:

Pro-choicers hate to moralize about sexual behavior. At Princeton, as elsewhere, most of them talked about contraception purely in terms of access: steep co-pays, lack of health insurance, inadequate Medicaid reimbursement. But pro-lifers didn’t let them off with these excuses. The Rev. Joseph Tham of Regina Apostolorum University pointed to studies indicating that promotion and availability of contraception haven’t reduced the rate of unplanned pregnancies. Terry McKeegan of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute noted that half of unintended pregnancies involve couples who claim to have used contraception.

McKeegan and Father Tham are right, of course. What’s more, even statistics published by the Guttmacher Institute indicate that “Fifty-four percent of women who have abortions had used a contraceptive method (usually the condom or the pill) during the month they became pregnant.”

As Christina Dunigan points out, a lot of the dot-connecting here can be attributed to risk compensation, the commonsense explanation that observes that people generally behave more cautiously as their perception of risk or danger increases — and, conversely, that they tend to behave less cautiously as their perception of feeling “safe” or “protected” increases.

Couple risk compensation and ubiquitous condoms, pills, and other contraceptives, and it’s no surprise that today’s unintended pregnancy rates and abortion rates (to say nothing of STD rates) are where they are.

Saletan continues:

These challenges forced some pro-choice panelists to admit that contraceptives fail because people don’t consistently use them.

Indeed, Feminist Majority Foundation issued a statement just this week lamenting as much.

So what’s the “pro-choice” solution?

[The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy’s Sarah] Brown, in particular, stressed that couples must be “diligent” in using birth control. West proposed “a pro-contraception campaign that emphasizes the moral duty to use birth control.” If contraception is going to work, this is the way its proponents must think and talk about it: not just as an option, but as a responsibility [emphasis added].

Why don’t those who believe contraception is a “responsibility” and a “moral duty” just go whole hog and call for it to be mandatory? One could hardly be considered an alarmist for pointing out that that’s quite obviously where this line of thinking is headed.

Saletan quotes Brown again:

About half of all abortions are to women who have had at least one previous abortion. Half. That suggests not only the family planning systems, but also the people who provide terminations, are not doing enough to prevent additional unintended pregnancies, including such things as immediate post-abortion IUD insertion.

Saletan comments:

That’s a scandal. One unintended pregnancy should be enough to warn you—and the doctor who vacuums out your uterus—not to risk another.

This “scandal” raises a question. Regarding Brown’s remark about “immediate post-abortion IUD insertion”: What if the woman doesn’t want an IUD? Should she be coaxed into getting one? Pressured? Forced?

After all, if it’s her “moral duty” and her “responsibility”…

A Faustian Bargain

The Bullwinkle Approach to contraception (“This time for sure!”) as some sort of “remedy” for abortion is, and always has been, doomed to fail.

That’s why Saletan’s recommendation that pro-lifers “trade abortion for contraception” is a non-starter. Not only would we have to sell our souls in order to accept it, but we’d get nothing in return.

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