Opinion: Emancipate Birth Control From the Abortion Debate

It’s rare for me to do an opinion piece, and I’m in dangerous waters on this one –tackling one of America’s most explosive issues with a position guaranteed to anger everyone. Nevertheless, I feel this is is an important stance that has gotten lost in the debate.

I think it is time to emancipate birth control from the abortion debate, politically speaking. As a pragmatic matter, the single most effective way to reduce demand for abortions is to have widely available, safe, effective, inexpensive, preventative birth control, and to educate people in how to use it. With preventative birth control, those who are unwilling or unfit to be parents are able to avoid procreation without resorting to abortion. This, in turn, prevents an untold number of children from having to grow up in adverse circumstances.

I am strongly against a blanket ban on birth control such as that currently advocated by the Catholic church. The rejection of birth control by many members of the anti-abortion movement is counter-productive not only in terms of reducing mainstream support for the movement, but also in terms of increasing the number of unwanted pregnancies and the resultant demand for abortions. The only justification for such a stance is an absolute moral opposition to all non-procreative sexual activity. I don’t feel such a stance is morally justified in light of the current global conditions of overpopulation –in addition to the practical impact of harming the effort to reduce numbers of abortions.

I think the marriage of abortion and birth control is equally injurious to the other side. An often repeated statistic is that Planned Parenthood, the largest American provider of reproductive health services, only spends 3% of funds and efforts on abortion. The implication is that abortion is a relatively unimportant part of what Planned Parenthood does –by the numbers. Yet the fact that Planned Parenthood is unwilling to give up that 3% suggests that abortion is actually quite important to their mission. It is not possible to simultaneously argue that abortion is too important to Planned Parenthood for it to be given up, and yet also not important enough to Planned Parenthood for opponents of abortion to worry about.

Given that 97% of Planned Parenthood’s activities perform a relatively uncontroversial, vital and necessary service for women’s health, and 3% of their activities are morally abhorrent to a sizable percentage of Americans, why hold the 97% hostage to the 3%? Just as I recognize that there are people who feel that sex is morally wrong, I also recognize that there are people who believe that ensuring continued access to abortion is a key moral necessity. But is it more of a key moral necessity than other reproductive health services, including preventative birth control?

I don’t oppose those with strong moral convictions on either side continuing to work for what they think is right, with regards to abortion, but preventative birth control shouldn’t be a hostage to the abortion debate. I would venture that the vast majority of Americans are in favor of preventative birth control, regardless of their views on abortion, and that a considerable number of those nominally opposed to preventative birth control would nevertheless view it as a lesser evil than abortion. Preventative birth control meets both the objective of reducing the number of abortions, and increasing the control of women over their own bodies and reproductive choices. It’s a gain for both sides.

It’s time to emancipate preventative birth control from the abortion debate.

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