The XX Factor

Could Abortion Opponents Embrace Contraception?

Andrew Sullivan careens very close to revelation about the anti-choice movement today, asking, “What are the odds that the Christianists are prepared to do the one thing that would actually reduce abortions dramatically: guarantee free contraception as part of a public option.” Answer: somewhere between zilch and nada. The Christianist movement that brought you abstinence-only education doesn’t feel much better about contraception than they do abortion.

Dan Savage is right ; the organized anti-choice movement is motivated by the desire to punish what they consider deviant sexuality much more than they are motivated by any love of fetal life. It’s been well-observed by pro-choice activists for a long time that anti-choice activists, given the choice between punishing sex and reducing the abortion rate, will choose the former every time. The anti-choice movement’s hostility towards contraception is an open secret; most people on both sides of the debate know about it, but anti-choice activists also know better than to flaunt their hatred of contraception when trying to woo people on the issue of abortion. As I discovered when an anti-choice handbook fell into my hands , activists are instructed to dodge questions about their hostility to contraception early in conversations, and put a great deal of work into softening targets up before hitting them with appeals against not just abortion, but contraception.

But for anyone who cares to know, the anti-choice movement’s larger anti-birth control agenda isn’t that hard to figure out. Some groups take a “moderate” stance of refusing to take an official stance on contraception, while quietly promoting misinformation about it . Some groups openly flaunt their desire to ban contraception; the American Life League holds annual protests against legal contraception on the anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut , the 1965 Supreme Court decision that legalized contraception for married couples. Abstinence-only programs instigated by the religious right are rife with flagrant misinformation about contraception straight out of anti-choice mythology. If there’s any angle prominent anti-choice activists can use to take potshots at contraception, they will . Knowing as we do that access to contraception reduces the abortion rate (duh), the only honest conclusion is that the “pro-life” movement doesn’t care about the abortion rate so much as they care that women can get abortions without fear of punishment.

Incidentally, this is one reason I prefer the term “anti-choice” to “pro-life”. In the public at large, “pro-life” is a feel-good term adopted by people who have no knowledge of the radical anti-sex bent of the anti-choice movement. In fact, many people who self-identify as “pro-life” oppose banning abortion, and many have abortions themselves. Calling yourself “pro-life” has as much weight in the real world as going on the record as believing that divorce is sad; you may want to be on the record as pro-marriage, but you’d get a divorce if you needed one. We need to distinguish between those attracted to the feel-good “pro-life” term, and activists out to ban abortion and severely restrict contraception access.