June 29, 2016

The Pro-Life Movement Seems to Have Little Interest in Reducing the Number of Abortions

Pro-Life Demonstration at Supreme Court
It sure was nice to see the U.S. Supreme Court hand down the Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt decision, overturning a Texas law that has resulted in the closing of many clinics that provided abortion services. The 5-3 decision is being heralded as one of the most important we have had around abortion in years. As Damion Reinhardt (Background Probability) recently pointed out, it was also nice to see evidence that the Court paid attention to scientific research in reaching their decision. By considering scientific and medical evidence, it sounds like the Court was able to see the Texas law for what it was.

I realize that abortion is a controversial issue, but the insistence by many social conservatives that they oppose reproductive rights because they are fighting to prevent the murder of the unborn has always struck me as more than a little disingenuous. I say this not for the reason you usually hear people say it (i.e., that these same social conservatives seem to instantly stop giving a damn about the would-be person at the moment of birth), although I have certainly noticed that too. No, coming back to Damion's post, I say it because the science is so clear on how we could dramatically reduce the number of abortions performed each year throughout the U.S. If the right-to-life crowd was really interested in reducing the number of abortions, they'd be crazy to ignore the science.

If we wanted to bring about a meaningful reduction in the number of abortions sought each year, we'd be smart to focus on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies. The science is clear that providing women with easy access to inexpensive contraception is one way to do that. If we were to make effective contraception cheaper and more readily available, we'd have fewer unwanted pregnancies. And yet, many social conservatives oppose contraception and would seem to prefer making it more expensive and harder to come by. This makes me question the sincerity of their stated goal of wanting to reduce the number of abortions.

How else might we reduce unwanted pregnancy? The available evidence supports reality-based sex education as an effective means not only of reducing unwanted pregnancy but also reducing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Moreover, the science tells us that abstinence-only sex education is a miserable failure on both counts. And yet, this is the method many social conservatives prefer. Again, this makes it difficult for me to take them seriously when they say they are interested in reducing the number of abortions.

But if social conservatives are not really interested in reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and the abortions that are more likely to result from them, then what is their goal? Some fundamentalist Christians appear to be focused on convincing the rest of us that the only legitimate purpose of sex is procreation and that sex for any other purpose is dirty and sinful. It is beyond comprehension that they still haven't figured out that this is a lost cause.

For many other social conservatives, my best guess is that the fight is more about controlling female sexuality. Reproductive rights, access to contraception, and reality-based sex education are all forms of empowerment for women. This is something many social conservatives seem to oppose, and so I'm inclined to think the pro-life movement is more interested in this than they are in reducing the number of abortions.
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