‘Pro-life’ dogma doesn’t cut abortions, unwanted births. The opposite.

‘Pro-life’ dogma doesn’t cut abortions, unwanted births. The opposite. June 2, 2020

While the Christian Right continues to rail against former President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act (ACA) and malign its mandate for health-insurance companies to cover contraceptives, they should be careful what they wish for if they hope to avoid looking foolish.

The T-shaped intrauterine device (IUD) was one of the most popular birth-control choices for poor, often uninsured women in a St. Louis, Missouri, study. (Miroslav, Adobe Stock)

The error of “pro-life” thinking became even clearer to me (it was already crystal clear) this week when I read an 8-year-old blog post referencing a number of studies on the striking correlation between wide contraceptive use and vastly fewer abortions.

In an October 29, 2012 post in her Love, Joy, Feminism blog — “How I Lost Faith in the ‘Pro-Life’ Movement” — Libby Anne reported that the ACA “may prove the single most effective piece of ‘pro-life’ legislation in the past 40 years.”

She was quoting a 2012 article in the faith-in-culture news and opinion website Religious Dispatches“Barack Obama, Pro-Life Hero” — during the U.S. presidential election. The piece also asserted:

“On October 3, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine published a study with profound implications for policy making in the United States. According to Dr. Jeffery Peipert, the study’s lead author, abortion rates can be expected to decline significantly — perhaps up to 75 percent — when contraceptives are made available to women free of charge. … As most observers surely know, the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) requires insurance coverage for birth control, a provision staunchly opposed by most of the same religious conservatives who oppose legalized abortion. If Peipert is correct, however, the ACA may prove the single most effective piece of ‘pro-life’ legislation in the past forty years.

Religious Dispatches explained, referencing a National Catholic Reporter article in which writer Nicholas Cafardi “provocatively” asserts that Obama was a more pro-life candidate than his election challenger, Mitt Romney.

Cafardi’s point was that women’s (especially poor women’s) decisions to have abortions are motivated by economics — they can’t afford more children (and they can’t afford contraceptives or safe abortions) — so policies that accommodate more family-planning control and achieve the most reduction in unwanted pregnancies also result in fewer abortions.

The Peipert-led study of 9,000 mostly poor and uninsured women in St. Louis, Missouri, who were given access to free birth control of their choice (birth control pills, intrauterine devices or progesterone implants, etc.) “led to dramatically lower rates of abortions and teen births,” the Associated Press reported in a 2012 article.

“When price wasn’t an issue, women flocked to the most effective contraceptives — the implanted options, which typically cost hundreds of dollars up-front to insert. These women experienced far fewer unintended pregnancies as a result … The effect on teen pregnancy was striking: There were 6.3 births per 1,000 teenagers in the study. Compare that to a national rate of 34 births per 1,000 teens in 2010. There also were substantially lower rates of abortion, when compared with women in the metro area and nationally: 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women in the study, compared with 13.4 to 17 abortions per 1,000 women overall in the St. Louis region, Peipert calculated. That’s lower than the national rate, too, which is almost 20 abortions per 1,000 women.”

In her blog post, Libby Anne pointed out some compelling other data that shows the lie in Christian pro-life doctrine, which, in addition to opposing birth control (free or otherwise), also claim that even human embryos in the immediate post-conception zygote (fertilized egg) stage are “persons” entitled to the same legal and moral rights as born people living and breathing independently outside the womb.

“[I]f those who oppose abortion really believe that every fertilized egg is a person we ought to see 5K fundraisers to save these zygotes,” she wrote, quoting a post by Fred Clark in his progressive Christian blog, Slacktivist.

It turns out that among women who don’t use birth control, some 50-75 percent of zygotes naturally fail to implant in the uterine wall and are naturally sloughed in monthly menstrual flows. In terms of pro-life dogma, this means that more than half of all fertilized eggs (new “persons,” as it were) spontaneously die every month. Where is the concern for them?

“The deadly scourge that claims half of all human lives ever conceived is completely ignored,” Libby Anne writes, tongue in cheek.

The kicker is that birth control is the answer, because women on birth control produce far fewer eggs, and thus far fewer potential zygotes than their contraceptive-abstaining sisters.

So, put another way, the pro-life playbook of opposing contraception and abortion is the opposite of a practicable solution, actually exacerbating the essential problem of unintended pregnancies and inevitable abortions.

Libby Anne’s old blog post is authentic and compelling because she was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home that demonized all abortion as murder and classified zygotes as independent agents in the world. Eventually, after five years of study, she came to reject her faith and its attendant “pro-life” movement (she now places the term in quotes) as hypocritical and dishonest.

You simply can’t be against the pill for fear that it will result in flushed out zygotes and yet not concerned at all about the vastly greater number of zygotes flushed out naturally every day,” she wrote in her 2012 piece. “At least, not if you really truly believe a zygote has the same worth as an infant, toddler, or adult, and not if you’re truly motivated solely by a desire to save the lives of these ‘unborn babies.’”

This shows why the Christian Right’s (and current U.S. administration’s) rejection of science and facts is at best counter-productive, at worst dangerous, especially to poor and uninsured women in this case. If legalized abortion and free contraceptives demonstrably, dramatically reduce unplanned pregnancies and resulting abortions, why not support a policy like Obamacare that effectively accommodates them in the real world? Are pro-lifers saying its better to tolerate a far worst outcome just to get people to believe and behave as Christians demand?

The answers to those questions can only be found in La La Land.


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