In a country where abortion is a legal and common reality, we are all, in a sense, survivors of it, at least insofar as there was a time when all of our mothers could have easily killed us and yet did not. Particularly in the wake of last week’s annual and magnificent March for Life, it is worth examining two frequent arguments that, while not strictly pro-abortion, are nevertheless regularly deployed by pro-abortion partisans in order to advance their cause.
The first runs along these lines: “If pro-lifers really wanted to reduce the number of abortions, they would be supportive of comprehensive sex education and in favor of free access to contraception. These things are proven to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and thus abortions, so if pro-lifers are opposed to them, then they are not really serious about ending abortion.”
There are two major flaws with this, one practical and the other, as it were, conceptual. To the first: we actually know—we have hard, rigid, scientific, factual, incontestable data to prove it—that comprehensive sex education and contraception are not necessary to keep the unwanted pregnancy rate low. We draw this conclusion from two related statistics: one, nearly three-quarters of all out-of-wedlock births are unintended. and two, the out-of-wedlock birth rate, and consequently the unintended pregnancy rate, has absolutely skyrocketed over almost the past century. For the pro-abortionist to make his argument with a straight face, he would have to believe that what he calls “comprehensive sex education” was more universal in the 1920s than in the early 2000s, or that contraception was more widely-available during the Great Depression than it is today!
To the conceptual aspect of the problem we respond: One can be opposed to “comprehensive sex education” (which often seems to take the form of teaching eleven-year-olds how to put condoms on bananas) and one can equally be opposed to “free” contraception (or even contraception more generally!), yet one can still proudly call oneself pro-life and anti-abortion. The pro-life position is not about condoms and pills and copper implants and teaching schoolchildren how to “safely” contracept with each other; it is about ending abortion—making it illegal, for one, and also working to shift the culture so that more and more people see it for the abhorrence that it is. That’s it. That’s what pro-lifers want to do. Pro-choicers like to try to ensnare pro-lifers in a silly and useless political argument, a kind of hostage-by-policy approach to the whole thing (“If you don’t support free tubal litigations, you’re not really pro-life!!!”), when of course the matter is much simpler than that. We will address this in some more detail in a moment.
Pro-choicers—and actually more than a few progressive or statist-minded pro lifers—also like to come at the issue in another, similar way, namely by saying things like: “If pro-lifers were really pro-life, they would support mothers and children, especially poor mothers and poor children, with paid maternity leave, generous welfare, free childcare, free housing, free food, universal healthcare, etc etc (and also free contraception, of course). If a pro-lifer doesn’t support government programs and policies to help mothers and children, then they’re not really pro-life—they’re just pro-birth!”
To this we have two objections. The first is this: Government policy is a complex and deeply idiosyncratic tool. It doesn’t always do what you think it’s going to do; sometimes, in the main, it doesn’t really do anything at all, and sometimes it does very bad things when you think it’s going to do good things. In particular, government policies that seek to financially and medically support large numbers of people have a history of being not just wasteful but practically counterproductive: there is strong evidence, to take one small example, that many American welfare policies actually perpetuate poverty rather than alleviate it, and that government health insurance for poor people is actually a net loss for poor peoples’ health. It is not at all unreasonable, therefore, for pro-lifers to disagree about the effectiveness and propriety of this or that government policy while still advocating a strict pro-life ethic. “You can’t be pro-life unless you agree with progressive economics!” is a weak, air-filled, toothless argument.
But more importantly we might point this out: There is nothing that says one has to support both fundamental civil rights and consequently an expanded, all-enveloping welfare policy. These things can easily be mutually exclusive. By way of example, let’s try a useful historical what-if. Suppose a pro-slavery partisan approached a fervent abolitionist in the 1850s and said to him: “Oh, you want to abolish slavery? Well, do you support a federal jobs program for freed slaves? Do you support giving freedmen a housing stipend and vouchers for beef, eggs and grain? Do you support free education for freed child slaves? Well, if you don’t support all of these things, then you’re not really in favor of abolishing slavery!” Would this make any sense at all, or would it be the nonsense rambling of someone committed to denying the full civil rights of a substantial sub-class of the population?
The howling, idiot-simple hollowness of this argument becomes evident when you divorce it from the smug assumptions of modern social progressivism. Abortion, like slavery before it, degrades and dehumanizes and kills; all right people should oppose it. And if you encounter someone who tries to trick you into supporting it by this or any other similar silly dialectic, don’t be afraid to point out how simply wrong they are, and how their wrongness directly contributes to hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths every year.