On Abortion and Contraception, a Different Kind of Logic
I closely followed Debra Nussbaum Cohen’s piece about the inherent contradiction between anti-abortion and anti-contraception stances – stances which are often held by the same folks. Her logic is impeccable: Debra is 100% right that contraception is a rational middle ground, that opposition to family planning is absurd whatever your stance is on the morality of abortion, and that making birth control more widely available is sound public policy.
Just this last weekend, while spending time with friends who are scientists, I engaged in a similar discussion about the seemingly self-cancelling bent of the anti-choice movement. If they truly believe every abortion is murder then why, why, don’t they hand out condoms? Why do they cut childcare funding and lobby against maternal health provisions? And at the heart of it all, why not be pragmatic rather than dogmatic? Why do they work for an environment which will create more unintended pregnancies and by rational extension, more trips to the abortion clinic?
But of course what we good-faith liberal thinkers often can’t wrap our minds around–even if we know it in our hearts – is that the reasoning behind their movement is not the same kind logic behind ours. It’s not about reducing abortions or saving the lives of fetuses but instead about creating a paradigm where all sex is either procreative or punishment (or both).
Beyond that, there’s an even more insidious social agenda at work.
Melissa Harris-Perry wrote a must-read piece earlier this year in “The Nation” during the height of the GOP-led “war on women.” I’ve returned to read it again and again when faced with this seeming paradox in my ideological opponents. Emphases are mine:
While leaving abortion nominally legal, cuts to family planning services and the legalization of terror against abortion providers would create an environment of compulsory childbearing. Women who can’t control their fertility will be unable to compete for degrees or jobs with their male counterparts. Likewise, without affordable childcare women would be less likely to work outside the home. And without basic rights to organize, women teachers, nurses and other public sector workers would be compelled to accept lower wages and harsher working conditions, shoving many women out of the workforce altogether. In the Republicans’ future America, women will be encouraged to marry younger, to stay in difficult (even abusive) marriages and to rely on male wages.
For white women in particular, this would mean a retreat to the home, where they would be encouraged to bear more children so as to reclaim the racial character of the nation. Immigrant women, however, would be discouraged from having children. Hispanic women have had the highest fertility rates for more than a decade, but efforts to roll back birthright citizenship aim to deny their children access to public education and class mobility, leaving more space for the children of white Americans.
Do we think the anti-choicers are sitting there, cackling, rubbing their hands together, plotting to send white women back to the home? Not most of them – but they’re probably okay with this outcome of their policy provisions.
Harris-Perry’s compellingly accurate and frightening vision of the future explains why sometimes it’s important to divorce the emotion of issues like abortion from the real-life application of common sense, and ask: where will these anti-abortion policies lead? Even if you’re uncomfortable with abortion, are you comfortable with the far-reaching consequences of legislating women’s lives?
Unfortunately, common sense seems to be fading even faster from the landscape than our reproductive rights are being jettisoned in dozens of states.
Let’s hope that in the fight to consider contraception “preventative care,” logic and fairness will prevail.