Saleton gives us “The pro-life case for birth control.” Except that, you know, birth control access has always fallen squarely into the pro-choice camp, being that it’s one of my reproductive health choices that we think women should have. And anti-choice activists and organizations are in the process of launching an all-out assault on it.
If you’re one of the millions of Americans who don’t like abortion but also don’t like the idea of banning it, good news is on the way. In the last three weeks, two bills have been filed in the House of Representatives. Without banning a single procedure, they aim to significantly lower the rate of abortions performed in this country. Voluntary reduction, not criminalization or moral silence, is the new approach.
I’m truly happy that politicians are finally catching on, but this isn’t exactly a “new approach,” unless by “new” you mean “exactly what pro-choicers and reproductive health professionals have been advocating for decades.”
How do you stop abortions without restricting them? One way is to persuade women to complete their pregnancies instead of terminating them. The other is to prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place. And there’s the rub—or, in this case, the rubber. The two House bills used to be one proposal, backed by an alliance of pro-life lawmakers and organizations. The alliance split because one faction wanted to fund contraception and the other didn’t.
Guess which side is which.
Of course, their arguments againt contraception are completely non-sensical:
The objectors make several arguments. They point out that birth-control pills, like morning-after pills, can block implantation of an embryo. But there’s no evidence that this has ever happened. The risk is theoretical, and breast-feeding poses the same risk, so you’d have to stamp that out, too. Critics also note that many birth-control methods can fail. That’s true, but it’s an argument for using two methods, not zero.
Third, they protest that federal family-planning money supports Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions. In fact, however, only 14 percent of this money goes to Planned Parenthood, and fewer than 9 percent of Planned Parenthood clients go there for abortions. So, even if Planned Parenthood diverted family-planning funds to abortion—which would be illegal—we’re talking about a tiny fraction of the money.
Above all, the critics insist that contraception will backfire. As the Youngstown Diocese puts it, “Promotion of contraception leads to more extra-marital sexual intercourse, which leads to more unwanted pregnancies, which leads to more abortions.”
William, catch up: Anti-choicers are getting more and more extreme. Arguing that birth control will prevent abortions has no effect on them, because it’s not about preserving fetal life. It’s not about the babies. It’s about controlling female sexuality, and punishing women who don’t toe the line. Preventing 95% of abortions through birth control, education and aid to low-income women with children will not satisfy these people. They want to see women punished for being autonomous, sexual human beings. That’s it, end of story. And until we recognize what their motives are, all the hand-wringing in the world about why don’t the support contraception? isn’t going to do anything.
But then, what can we expect from “pro-life” politicians? Consistency?
Bush, as we know, believes deeply and earnestly that human life begins at conception. Even tiny embryos composed of half a dozen microscopic cells, he thinks, have the same right to life as you and I. That is why he cannot bring himself to allow federal funding for new stem-cell research, or even for other projects in labs where stem-cell research is going on. Even though these embryos are obtained from fertility clinics where they would otherwise be destroyed anyway, and even though he appears to have no objection to the fertility clinics themselves, where these same embryos are manufactured and destroyed by the thousands, the much smaller number of embryos needed and destroyed in the process of developing cures for diseases like Parkinson’s are, in effect, tiny little children whose use in this way constitutes killing a human being and therefore is intolerable.
But President Bush does not believe that the deaths of all little children as a result of U.S. policy are, in effect, murder. He thinks that some are, while very unfortunate, also inevitable and essential.
You know who I mean. Close to 50,000 Iraqi civilians have died so far as a direct result of our invasion and occupation of their country, in order to liberate them. The numbers are actually increasing as the country slides into chaos: more than 6,500 in July and August alone. These numbers are from reliable sources and are not seriously contested. They include many who were tortured and then killed, along with others blown up less personally by car bombs and suicide bombers. The number does not include the hundreds of thousands who have died prematurely as a result of a decade and a half of war and embargos imposed on the Iraqi economy. Nor does it include soldiers on both sides, most of whom are innocent, too. Last week the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan surpassed the number of people who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But it’s different, isn’t it? Collateral damage in war is a necessity, right?
ut it is hard—indeed, I would say it is impossible—to reconcile Bush’s absolutism over alleged human life when it is a clump of unknowing, unfeeling cells with his sophisticated, if not cavalier, attitude toward the loss of innocent human life when it is children and adults in Iraq.
In all discussions weighing the cost of something-or-other in terms of human life, a philosopher pops up at this point and says that the crucial difference is a matter of intentions. Terrorists purposely target innocent civilians. We try hard not to kill innocent civilians, even if we know it can’t be avoided. They’re worse, even if our score is sadly higher.
But are stem cells any different? Stem-cell researchers don’t want to kill embryos. They know that the deaths of embryos are a consequence of what they do, and they think that curing terrible diseases is worth it—just as President Bush thinks that bringing democracy to Iraq is worth it. In the case of stem cells, there is the added element that the embryos in question will be killed (or pointlessly frozen indefinitely) anyway if they are not used for research. And—oh, yes—there is still the question of whether a clump of a half-dozen cells you can’t see without a microscope is actually a human being in the same sense as a 6-year-old girl blown up as she skips off to kindergarten in Baghdad.
Culture of Life indeed.
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