Archive for the ‘Contraception’ Category

An Inconvenient Truth at the Heart of Catholic Teaching About Abortion

Abstinence-only ed

by Dean Hansen

6/20/13: Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum quotes part of a recent letter to Nancy Pelosi from Father Frank Pavone:

You speak here of Catholic faith as if it is supposed to hide us from reality instead of lead us to face reality, as if it is supposed to confuse basic moral truths instead of clarify them, and as if it is supposed to help us escape the hard moral questions of life rather than help us confront them,” Father Frank Pavone continues in the letter. “Whatever Catholic faith you claim to respect and practice, it is not the faith that the Catholic Church teaches. And I speak for countless Catholics when I say that it’s time for you to stop speaking as if it were.

Mr. Bailie, our seemingly interminable argument about abortion has been so wracked by blame-fixing and moral one-upmanship that it has become nothing but a great waste of time. To properly address the issue, we must cut straight to an obvious and unavoidable question: How can people be forced to stop engaging in sexual activity? This is not a silly question. It lies at the heart of the dilemma for those intent on controlling our sex lives out of a misguided quest for moral “purity”—a quest that is neither dignified, honorable, nor compassionate.

Unless you can prevent premarital, marital, extramarital, and even postmarital sex from happening, people will continue to seek abortions when they fail—through ignorance, distraction, or avoidance—to take the necessary and available precautions to avoid unwanted pregnancies. But the Church tells us, “To avoid pregnancy, don’t have sex.” To which I can only respond that if you expect people to listen to you, much less to trust you, you’ll have learn how to be less clueless and more emotionally available. An entire segment of the population has already proven you wrong. They never get pregnant though they have sex all the time. Needless to say, you’ve discounted them as “intrinsically disordered.”

Since the Church condemns contraception and the vast majority of its members disregard its proscriptions on sex and birth control, abortion will unfortunately continue apace. This sad state of affairs will continue until the Church opens itself to a truly modern discussion about sexuality and contraception and begins fully honoring its congregants’ humanity and sexuality. What has been lacking is mercy, common sense, and genuine compassion for those who face tough decisions about unwanted pregnancies. The Church must stop treating these persons as criminals and murderers. It must stop setting up false thresholds of life and personhood. It must extend love and forgiveness to those who have chosen abortion. Caring about abortion’s effects must begin with caring for those who have survived it.

All the horror stories about evil, sadistic abortion doctors running filthy, medically unsafe clinics and destroying the lives of women who seek their help will not dissuade women in the slightest when it comes to making the decisions for themselves, hopefully minus the inhuman monsters who sometimes prey on them. The more untenable you make safe abortions by driving them underground, the more horror stories you’ll have to back up your flawed arguments, and the more complicit you’ll become to the worst of those vile scenarios. People are sexually active in large numbers. This is an ineluctable fact of life. As a result, many women get pregnant when they don’t want to, and many of them kill babies they don’t want. The surest way to prevent these two unpleasant outcomes is to teach them about responsible birth control and make it fully accessible to them.

The disgrace of abortions is one for which you and the so-called church fathers are largely responsible. All your moral badgering and and mind-gagging ethical anguish will only make people even more determined than they already are not to allow you or the church anywhere near their bodies or their souls. Since people are not going to stop fucking, you have two options: Either promote legal abortion or change the Church’s teaching about contraception. Legal and accessible abortion ensures that people who are too overwhelmed or distracted by desire to guard against pregnancy in the first place will have a reasonable alternative to being bound together in a merely physical relationship against their will. Changing the Church’s policy toward contraception will give those who act as though they care what the church thinks the more reasonable option of avoiding pregnancy, therefore making abortion unnecessary.  Those are and will forever remain, the only options.

But of course, your deep concern and moral anguish is disingenuous rubbish, because you’re not telling the truth. You love the Church so much you’ll let it sink into hell rather than be an agent of real change and reform so that it can better the lives of those you claim to be concerned with. The truth is, you don’t want there to be fewer abortions because you’re creepy enough to believe that disastrous consequences have a way of reforming people and making them despise their own sexuality. But the Church has a sad history of pouring kerosene on the flames, whether it’s discouraging condom use amongst those stricken with AIDS, promoting abstinence, encouraging teenagers to take chastity vows and wear purity rings, or just sticking your noses in people’s crotches as an excuse for introducing them to Jesus. In fact, it’s safe to say, you don’t even know what the problem is.

Hopefully, Catholicism under Pope Francis is beginning to steer the church away from some of its past errors. His acknowledgement (fiercely and immediately contradicted by his underlings who claim deference to him unless they disagree with what he has to say) that God loves and saves atheists as well as everyone else is as good a start on the road to real grace and freedom as anything could be. When Catholicism finally includes homosexuals as something other than  fodder for renewed scapegoating, invites women to participate in the church in real positions of authority, and learns to treat all women with respect and compassion when they are forced into painful choices they shouldn’t be required to make, then you may have to abandon your role as son of the church and embrace the double jeopardy of being an orphan of two fathers. The only way you can countenance this very real possibility is to engage in a thorough re-evaluation of what you hold dear. The Church already recognizes that it’s in crisis. If it is ever to repair the damage wrought by its rejection of science and modernity, it will have to shake off the anachronisms of thought and piety that have eroded its moral force for centuries. What is needed is a détente with the real world through what the current Pope is calling the culture of encounter. You don’t encounter the culture by turning tail and running from it. Will you be among those in his service when he declares that all are redeemed, or just absent without leave?

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Plan B in the Crossfire

Plan BGil Bailie writes:

The FDA lowers to 15 the age at which girls can buy the Plan B morning after pill without a prescription. That’s the pill that wreaks havoc on a young woman’s body, potentially affects her later fertility, and induces an early abortion when fertilization has occurred. We live in a culture where children are robbed of their childhood and adolescence is prolonged almost into middle-age. We are now providing 15-year-old girls with the wherewithal to behave immorally, act irresponsibly, and endanger their future health and happiness, all for the sake of testing just how far we are willing to sink in deference to the sexual revolution’s normless nihilism.

Dan Hansen responds:

Some inconvenient truth: No one wants young girls and boys to be robbed of their innocence or pushed into experiences they are not ready for. That especially includes the experience of abortion.  This kind of misplaced sentimentality that restricts knowledge under the guise of parental protection is dangerous and ultimately futile.  Trying to shelter young people from reality by denying them legitimate knowledge about sex and procreation paves the road to ongoing disappointment. As for the morning-after pill, Plan B is safer than aspirin. The only thing it wreaks havoc with is the endless drama generated by conservative religious panic designed to control other people’s lives. Unwanted and unplanned pregnancies don’t have to happen.  The unborn don’t have to be the “preborn” or the “soon to arrive” waiting for a scalpel or a vacuum pump. With all the false thresholds thrown up as evidence for the wanton destruction of life and the endless moving of goal posts to sustain them, it makes little sense to argue against the prevention of an unwanted pregnancy after intercourse has already taken place.   A prevented life is not a destroyed life. It is at best a postponed one, at worst an unwanted one. Not everyone wants, needs, or feels fulfilled by having children, or by continuing to have them when additional pregnancies would strain their resources to the breaking point. For those who choose not to have children, postponement is a form of emancipation from the constraints of religious and moral opprobrium passed down by the church that tell both men and women that they can only be truly happy or fulfilled as human beings if they walk some imaginary party line instituted, ironically, by a group of celibate octogenarians whose sexual experience is more than occasionally limited to abusing the children of those who still believe them. This is the result of having marinated oneself in ageless proclamations about sexuality being either immoral, sinful or nihilistic. The kind of norms conservative members of the church are petulant about and endlessly long to see the return of possesses one major flaw: If they truly made us happy, or brought settled meaning into our lives, we wouldn’t have abandoned or redefined them in pursuit of something better.  If priests who claim to be captives of Christ can feel this way, so can anyone else.

The morning-after pill, marketed under such names as Plan B, Next Choice or Ella, are all preventative measures with high degrees of safety and reliability. They ensure that abortion is unnecessary and that pregnancy does not have to be an automatic consequence of sexual activity.  IUDs are even more desirable in terms of their long range effectiveness. They have a 99% success rate at preventing pregnancy. Those who argue vehemently against abortion are really arguing for it by obscuring and obstructing these medical facts. The best way to ensure a means of “wreaking havoc” on women is to pile endless guilt on them in the futile and divisive attempt at distracting them from their decision-making power and by so doing, divesting them of a moral agency that isn’t flat, one-dimensional or lacking in vision or empathy.

Perhaps Mr. Bailie would like every teenage girl who gets pregnant to deliver a child regardless of her circumstances, but that’s where his moral concern for life and his refusal to think beyond the severe constraints of his paleo-orthodoxy  takes a sharp drop off the moral precipice. What if she’s a drug addict who got pregnant from prostituting herself to support her habit and dreads supporting the unwanted child that results from that enterprise? Will he adopt it? What if she lives with her parents and they decide to kick her out of their house because “we didn’t raise our daughter to be a tramp?” Will he welcome the fruit of her womb into his home? What if she was made pregnant by a rapist? You might ask the women who were nearly killed by their abusers if they believe those little bundles of joy growing inside their collective bellies are “sacred and precious in God’s eyes.” Is he going to raise one of them to prove it is so? Excuse my cynicism, but I feel confident in assuming the answer is no in all these cases.

I believe that almost every high-minded, pro-life advocate is just one unwanted pregnancy away from being pro-choice.  Until that happens, having a better system of addressing the unchanging facts of our sexual lives is already with us. And it doesn’t involve useless and wasted ablutions to a God who gave you the capacity to think for yourself and use the common sense he already bestowed on you.

In sharp contrast to the tribal nihilism inherent in Bailie’s endless denialism about climate change and the very real havoc it will unleash on us if we continue to do nothing, he manages to invoke the same mental habits he clings to as descriptors of anyone who is sexually active outside the rapturous confines of the mystically-charged nuptial bed. In case Mr. Bailie and others who share his views haven’t noticed, teenagers are already sexually active in large numbers at increasingly younger ages. They did not stumble into the widening gyre of nihilism and immorality because they discovered they were sexually alive.  That’s when they made an earnest attempt to assess their futures without purging what it means to be human in the process. Science attempts to provide women with the tools to keep that future intact. The god Bailie claim to know understands this. Why in heaven’s name doesn’t he?

Abortions more common in places where it is restricted

Gil Bailie writes:

We have been told that allowing mothers to hire medical professionals to end the life of the child in their womb is the quintessence of social progress, comparable only to regarding homosexual coupling as the moral and legal equivalent of the conjugal embrace. So now we are to have women serving in combat, and, again, we imagine that we are making progress. All this is so conspicuously a sign of civilizational degeneration that one can hardly believe people capable of seeing it otherwise.

Sophie Sommers responds:

Allowing mothers to hire medical professionals to perform abortions seems to have at least two salutary effects. One is that it significantly reduces maternal mortality: the World Health Organization says that abortion is a leading cause of maternal death in countries where it is unsafe or illegal. The other benefit is that abortion rights are invariably accompanied by rights to contraception, and contraception reduces abortion rates.

Across the globe, abortions are more common in places where it is restricted. Where abortion is illegal (Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean), the rates are two to five times higher than in countries where it is legal (Europe, North America).

The urge to flatly prohibit behaviors that we deem immoral seems to be deeply ingrained in human societies. But that urge is sometimes flatly counter-productive.

Women don’t stop having abortions because they are illegal. Faced with prohibition, many women just endanger their own lives and, because of the difficulties they encounter, their procedures may take place well past the time when they would have wanted to abort.

The data seem to be telling us that the best way to reduce the number of abortions while safe-guarding the health of the mother is to provide comprehensive family planning that includes access to contraception and, when that fails, to early-stage abortion under safe medical conditions.

Rick Boone responds to Sophie Sommers:

Ms. Sommer’s analysis is either factually questionable (access to contraception reduces abortion rates) or irrelevant. If the practice of abortion is wrong, it should be prohibited. We don’t allow other forms of murder just because we know they’ll occur despite our prohibitions and penalties. If abortion is not wrong, then it doesn’t matter at all that there are varying rates (a statistic that’s rather meaningless without taking into account the number of live births, the number of women capable of child-bearing and, I suspect, other factors). Whatever rate exists is acceptable. Sort of like the varying rates of movie-goers or farmers. Maternal death is certainly nothing to be taken lightly, but, to the extent that we should care about the life of any person, taking the life of another clearly should not be our default answer to the concern.

Sophie Sommers responds to Rick Boone:

Mr. Boone, why would it be “questionable” that access to contraception reduces abortion rates? That would seem to be a no-brainer.

If 50 million abortions have been performed in this country in the last 40 years, maybe it is because most people don’t consider an abortion to be “murder.” If they did, then there would surely be more revulsion against it. Obviously, most people in this country still do not consider a blastocyst or an early-term fetus to be a person, and therefore they do not consider an abortion to be a murder. This is an entirely reasonable and defensible view, whereas assigning “personhood” to an embryo that doesn’t yet have a functioning nervous sytem may not be. Because this is such a grey area, women are granted the right to choose.

I certainly would not discount the value of the mothers’ lives. Legalized abortion, coupled with access to contraception, reduces both maternal mortality and abortion rates. You are not going to eliminate abortions by driving them underground. You will only increase their incidence and make them more dangerous.

Gordon Savage responds to Sophie Sommers:

You suggest it’s a “no-brainer” to say “access to contraception reduces abortion rates.” Yet in your last post you said access to contraception leads to a culture in which “sexual activity without commitment was increasingly expected in premarital relationships.” Not just sex without commitment, but a cultural expectation of sex without commitment, by some alchemy morphs into fewer abortions than sex with someone you love and expect to spend your life with? Really?

Sophie Sommers responds to Gordon Savage:

Gordon, sex without commitment doesn’t necessarily lead to abortion. In Europe, the marriage numbers are down and so are the abortion rates. Contraception is easily available there. In Africa, the marriage numbers are up and so are the abortion rates. Contraception is not freely available there.

Not having sex at all certain prevents abortion, but so does contraception.

I don’t see how you can get around the fact that contraception reduces abortion rates.

How to reduce out-of-wedlock births without reversing 40 years of contraceptive freedom

Gil Bailie quotes Michael New, writing for The Witherspoon Institute’s online publication, The Public Discourse:

Contrary to the bold claims of abortion advocates, there is no proof that legal abortion has reduced either the out-of-wedlock birthrate or the incidence of child abuse. In fact, both the out-of-wedlock birthrate and the rate of child abuse have increased since the onset of widespread legal abortion. And research claiming to show that legal abortion has reduced the crime rate has been proven flawed. Since their empirical arguments for abortion’s benefits are weak, abortion advocates today generally focus on arguments for the autonomy and liberty of women. However, as we observe the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade and consider the impact of forty years of legal abortion, it is certainly worth noting that abortion advocates’ many promises for society remain unfulfilled.

Sophie Sommers responds:

ContraceptionIn 1996, the Brookings Institute published an excellent policy brief about the increased rates of out-of-wedlock births. They provided convincing evidence that the availability of contraception and abortion over the last fifty years led to the demise of “shotgun weddings.” As a result, sexual activity without commitment was increasingly expected in premarital relationships.

How to go forward is the critical question. Can it be done by overturning Roe v. Wade and banning contraception? The authors of the brief believe that would be all but impossible. Here is what they say:

Attempts to turn the technological clock backwards by denying women access to abortion and contraception are probably not possible and might be counterproductive.

Denying women access to abortion and contraception that this point would only increase the number of children born out-of-wedlock and reared in impoverished single-parent families.

Easier access to birth control information and devices, before sexual participation, and easier access to abortion, in the event of pregnancy, could reduce both the number of unwanted children and improve the timing of those whose mothers would have preferred to wait.