Many of you have seen the blogpost by Libby Anne tited, “How I Lost Faith in the Pro-Life Movement.” It keeps cropping up on Facebook threads. To make sense of what I write below — I am dealing with the distinct arguments she advances — you will need to read the original post. While I cannot create an exhaustive reply, here is the one I have been posting:
I find it necessary to try to respond to the arguments made in this blogpost by Libby Anne. I keep seeing it popping up in places. For a more universal account of the erroneous claims of the author, I would direct interested parties to Randy Alcorn’s Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments, Scott Klusendorf’s A Case for Life, and Francis Beckwith’s Politically Correct Death. Many of the issues I address below are linked. Don’t go ballistic until you have read through them (then, feel free, I guess). Here goes:
I’ll begin with this: The article is an opinion piece, demonstrated by a lack of research breadth. Her personal experience is limited, but she writes in a style that might be persuasive to her peers. The “research” upon which she relies is primarily crafted by those with an intrinsic (and, I might add, financial) stake in the legality and proliferation of abortion: The Guttmacher Institute, which is the research arm of Planned Parenthood. But the author avoids addressing the mountain of evidence from obstetrics and ethical philosophy that proves, with no doubt, that human life begins at conception and that to separate the concept of personhood from that of humanity starts us down the very dangerous road on which some human beings have arbitrarily created another class of human beings (those not ascribed “personhood”) that the former is permitted to kill. Even abortion advocate Camille Paglia admits as much in the September 2008 issue of Salon: “Hence I have always frankly admitted that abortion is murder, the extermination of the powerless by the powerful. Liberals for the most part have shrunk from facing the ethical consequences of their embrace of abortion, which results in the annihilation of concrete individuals and not just clumps of insensate tissue.”
If increasing advocacy of contraceptives led to less need for abortion, why do we still have high teen pregnancy and abortion rates in the U.S.? Are there any teens today who don’t know what a condom is and what it is for, or who don’t know about the pill? We have beaten kids over the head with comprehensive sex education for fifty years in many states, and yet we still abort approximately 1.2 million children each year.
The first issue raised by the New York Times article Libby cites is problematic on a number of fronts. First, those conducting the research are not exactly neutral on this issue. Guttmacher is the research arm of Planned Parenthood – the largest abortion provider in the country. Second, if we want to admit Guttmacher stats, look at their teen abortion rates. California, surely one of the most liberal states in the U.S. – the ACLU of Northern California notes: “California’s sex education policies are the envy of most other states. California is alone in having never accepted Title V federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funds, and state laws require that sex education in schools and state-funded community programs be comprehensive and bias-free.” – ranks 15th in the nation for teen pregnancy rates and 6th in the nation for teen abortion rates. Utah is 45th and 49th respectively – and Utah is an “abstinence only” state. In fairness, Texas is 4th and 27th and primarily advocates abstinence. Maine, with a fairly homogenized population and comprehensive sex education, ranked 48th for teen pregnancy, but 29th for abortion rates. What this demonstrates is little correlation between comprehensive sex education and pregnancy rates (comparisons with states that are abstinence only are all over the map), but a pretty solid correlation between comprehensive sex education and higher abortion rates.
The argument that making abortion illegal would have no impact at all on the number of women having abortions is absurd on its face and is simply untrue. As former abortionist Bernard Nathanson explained in his book Aborting America, there are 15 times more abortions taking place each year now than there were in the year before Roe v. Wade (and that, by the way, despite the fact that the Therapeutic Abortion Act was already in place in California). Nathanson also explains that the commonly bandied-about statistic that 10,000 women died every year in the U.S. from illegal abortions pre-Roe v. Wade was nothing more than a “nice, round shocking figure” that was pulled out of thin air by the leaders of NARAL (then the National Abortion Rights Action League). Now we hear that 50,000 women die each year worldwide from unsafe abortions. How does one go about accurately tallying the number of women who die from illegal abortions? We can’t even get an accurate count of legal abortions in the United States. It should also be noted that the relative danger associated with abortions has much less to do with the laws concerning abortion, but with the relative development of the country in which the abortions take place. What makes abortions safer isn’t lenient abortion laws; it’s access to antibiotics.
Regardless, the argument begs the question, because if unborn children are, in fact, human beings, they should be protected by law regardless of whether or not people adhere to that law, or are harmed in the course of violating that law. We don’t make child abuse safe for the parent, just because the law against child abuse lacks 100% effectiveness or because parents are sometimes harmed while abusing their child. (And if you object to the analogy, that’s fine – it just puts us right back to the crux of the issue: what is the unborn if not a human being?) The law is not only an instrument for punishment; it is also instructive about the values of the culture that enacts it. Lax abortion law encourages incorrect thinking about the humanity of the unborn.
The argument about the best way to decrease abortion being to increase contraceptive usage gets a mixed response. Yes, if every sexual encounter that was not intended to create a child were consistently accompanied by very effective contraception, then, yes, the birth rate would be lower. What made me laugh is that the condom, which Planned Parenthood fights to have distributed for free in every high school in America, is identified in the article as having “a high failure rate.” The author argues that making birth control accessible and available would do the trick. But we are talking primarily about young people, many of whom cannot remember to bring a pencil to class. Birth control has been widely available for decades in the United States and our abortion numbers have barely budged. This is just empirically untrue. Some have pointed to a USA Today article touting the virtues of free contraceptives, but they admit that one of the most effective devices is the IUD — which is not always a contraceptive (it does not stop always stop conception), but sometimes an aborifacient. The other recommended method is a chemical implant. For example, Norplant does work as a contraceptive, sometimes. But ovulation occurs in about 1/3rd of cycles, and one of the mechanisms of Norplant is to create an inhospitable uterine lining. So in some cases, Norplant works as an abortifacient. Of course, neither method stops sexually transmitted diseases.
Additionally, many pro-life groups are not opposed to contraception, but to abortifacients masquerading as contraception. Some IUDs and some forms of the pill do not prevent conception. They are merely early forms of abortion. Where we get into trouble is with the redefinition concerning words such as “pregnant.” If you begin with the argument that human life begins at conception (an argument that Planned Parenthood used to make before they got into the business of abortion – I have both a photocopy of an old brochure as well as an original publication, both of which say so), then any method of birth control that is not a barrier method or some form that always prevents ovulation is an abortifacient.
Because most pro-life people are Christians, what they oppose is not contraception, but sex outside of marriage. The idea is not to control women’s sex lives, but for people to control their sex lives regardless of gender. The arguments for doing so are well documented and I will not rehash all of them here.
The essay is exhausting to read and the reasoning in general so poor, that I will not address the issues concerning Barak Obama and the Tea Party. I do have to address the author’s arguments concerning unborn children. An attempt is made to equate lack of attention to miscarriage with lack of an appropriate, consistent pro-life ethic. First of all, there is plenty of research designed to help women avoid miscarriage. Google “research miscarriage” and you will find the articles. But there is a difference between people experiencing a natural death and people intending to cause death. Some people die very young, but that does not make them less human. There is little an average person can do to prevent someone else’s miscarriage. There is a lot that an average person can do to help others avoid intentionally ending the life of their unborn child. The focus, then, is not only on saving the lives of unborn children, but on helping people to avoid participating in abortion. The argument made by the author is similar to one that is not made here, but is often heard: “Why don’t pro-life people concentrate on all the unwanted children who are already here?” I have some responses: 1) The actions are not mutually exclusive. I know of many pro-life couples who also adopt. 2) It begs the question – if unborn children are like the post-born children, what moral justification would there be in sacrificing the former for the latter? And 3) The argument extends from the absurd premise that identifying with and dealing with one good, obligates that person to either additionally deal with all extensions of that good or else invalidates the more narrowly focused good. It would be like arguing that you cannot really care about the lives of people if you just focus on lymphoma when more people die each year from heart disease.
I welcome your comments on this blog post and will try to answer as many as I can.