pro-lifers object to contraception that prevents implantation or otherwise works post-fertilization, but they believe contraception that prevents fertilization is morally
acceptable. I’m not addressing those pro-lifers here.
In this post, I’m addressing those who believe any form of artificial contraception is unacceptable.
suggest the strong majority (89%) of Americans think contraception is morally acceptable* (including most Catholics
(90%), and pro-lifers
(78%, minimum)). Research suggests the strong majority (over 80%) of sexually active American women
use some form of artificial contraception. Note that, if about half of American women are pro-life, this means the majority of
self-described sexually active pro-life women use artificial contraception.
*Update: as of May 2019 this number is up to 92%.
widespread acceptance and use of contraception among both the general
population and self-described pro-lifers, the pro-life movement has a reputation
for being anti-contraception. Some pro-lifers believe pro-choicers purposefully
try to paint us as anti-contraception to make us less palatable to the American
public. I think, though, that many pro-choicers sincerely believe their own
accusations, and with decent reason. Consider quotes like this:
closes the sexual act to the gift of life. Once a contracepting man and woman
have allowed a contraceptive mentality to seep into them, they immediately view
a newly created child as an inconvenience at best and as a hostile intruder at
worst. For them, the only solution is to get rid of the baby through abortion.
You see, contraception leads to the need for abortion.”
this quote is just one example. But, speaking anecdotally, nearly every time I
bring up contraception in pro-life circles, someone responds along the same
gift of life.” In the context of sex and especially birth control, the “gift of life” is a loaded phrase in two ways.
think the phrase suggests a religious perspective not everyone holds. Often people
use the phrase “gift of life” because they believe God decides who will get
pregnant when, and therefore pregnancy is a gift and God is the gift-giver.
But suppose *ahem* some people don’t believe in God; then the pregnancy = gift from God idea doesn’t mean much. (Not to mention how, for someone who wants to conceive but physically cannot, the idea comes across as fairly insensitive.) From a more secular perspective, pregnancy is the result
of reproducible biological processes, and those biological processes don’t have
a will. They’re not trying to give you a gift, or a punishment, or anything. They
just work the way they do, and whether or not pregnancy is a gift really
depends on how the people who get pregnant feel about it. Which brings me to:
“gift of life” implies pregnancy is always a good thing, for everyone. That’s
not true. Just because abortion is bad doesn’t mean pregnancy is always good.
For example (to take it to the extreme) you’d be hard-pressed to convince me
that a 12-year-old rape victim who conceives is experiencing the “gift of life.”
And even less dire pregnancies aren’t necessarily gifts. Many people are simply in particularly bad positions in their lives for having kids. Some people
actually don’t want to have kids at all, for their entire lives. Not everyone
considers pregnancy a gift, and that’s okay. I don’t think there’s anything
wrong with not wanting to have kids as a baseline position.
have to feel happy, grateful, or gifted with their unintended pregnancies either. Even
for women carrying planned
pregnancies, it’s normal to feel some less-than-positive emotions throughout the process.
Many people do feel their pregnancies are like a gift, and that’s wonderful.
But many people don’t necessarily feel that way, and that’s okay too. In any case, it doesn’t make sense to chide people for avoiding a “gift” if (a) they don’t believe there’s a gift-giver and/or (b) they don’t consider the subject in question a gift at all.
into them…” Based on the conversations I’ve had with anti-contraception
pro-lifers, the phrase “contraceptive mentality” appears to mean the belief that it’s
okay to try to separate sex from procreation. In other words, you think it’s okay to have a sex life even when you specifically don’t want to get pregnant (or get someone pregnant). From what I understand, many anti-contraception pro-lifers believe this perspective is immoral. They believe it reflects a broader attitude about sex and children—an attitude fraught with irresponsibility, selfishness, and ignorance. They further believe this attitude is related to and inclines people toward abortion.
Interestingly, in my
experience people only reference the “contraceptive mentality” when we’re
talking about artificial contraception. I’ve never seen anyone talk about the
contraceptive mentality behind Natural Family Planning (NFP), despite how NFP
proponents celebrate NFP’s relatively high success rate (depending on the form of NFP you use) for avoiding pregnancy. People who use NFP are trying to have
a sex life and not get pregnant, yet no one accuses them of a “contraceptive
(EDIT 7/16/14: Since publishing this post, several readers have informed me that, within some Catholic circles, there is a lot of conflict about whether NFP users have a contraceptive mentality. My point here is not to suggest NFP users have a contraceptive mentality, but do agree that they don’t. I just ask that those readers who recognize you can avoid pregnancy without accepting abortion further recognize you can do so whether you are using NFP or artificial contraception.)
Anti-contraception pro-lifers have told me NFP users are, by definition, more “open to life.” Yet NFP’s perfect use rate (0.4% unintended pregnancies) is on par with the pill and the copper IUD (0.3% and 0.6%, respectively) and is actually better than condoms (2%). (Again, these are all perfect use rates, not typical use rates.) It’s not NFP itself that is “open to life” – the method can be just as effective at separating sex from pregnancy as common artificial methods are.
If NFP users are more open to life, I suspect it’s because they are also more likely than other groups to be in communicative, committed relationships and to hold religious beliefs that incline them to be pro-life. And that’s exactly my point: it’s not the method of avoiding pregnancy that tells us how a couple will react to an unintended pregnancy; it’s a whole lot of factors. If NFP users get a pass on the “contraceptive mentality” accusation, it’s because the lone fact that people want to have sex and not get pregnant isn’t enough to insist they’ve let some insidious mindset “seep” into them.
child as an inconvenience… a hostile intruder…” Back up. The world isn’t divided into (a) people purposefully trying
to get pregnant and feeling overjoyed and jubilant when they do and (b) people
trying not to get pregnant and feeling panicked or regretful when they do.
|It’s actually more complicated than this.|
There are a lot of factors that affect how people feel about pregnancy (planned
or unplanned), and emotions can run the gamut. As I mentioned, it’s not
uncommon for even people who got pregnant on purpose to feel some anxiety and hesitancy, especially during a first pregnancy. And it’s
not uncommon for people who didn’t intend to get pregnant to feel some excitement and anticipation.
many unplanned pregnancies are carried to term: according to the CDC, about 37% of births result from unplanned conceptions. In 2012 there were about 3.9 million births, meaning over 1.4
million women carried unplanned pregnancies to term. These women would include those who accidentally got pregnant while using NFP, artificial contraception,
or no contraception at all. We shouldn’t generalize how people will feel about
or proceed with their pregnancies based solely on the type of contraception (or
lack thereof) that they use.
of the baby through abortion.” Clearly not. See the above stats. Plenty of
people carry unintended pregnancies to term. Plenty of
people want to have sex, don’t want to get pregnant, and are still willing to carry
a pregnancy should it happen.
It’s not accurate to insist
that people who use artificial contraception must have the vaguely ominous “contraceptive
mentality” that inevitably leads to abortion.
goals. Here’s another numbered list for you:
pregnancies. It’s true that abstinence is the only 100% effective way to
prevent pregnancy, yes. It’s also true that almost no one stays abstinent until marriage and not all married couples want kids anyway. However we may feel about those two
issues, the bottom line is lots of people are having sex when they aren’t ready
for or don’t want kids. Sure, we may wish they wouldn’t take the risk. I also
wish we could cure cancer and invent calorie-free chocolate that tastes the
same. Meanwhile, back in reality, there’s plenty of sex-with-no-desire-for-pregnancy
going around—and in that reality, I’d much prefer people use contraception. Sexually active
women who use contraception experience far fewer unintended pregnancies than sexually active women who don’t.
|Look at this chart. Just look at it! Source.|
contraception. (Here’s this link again.) And if we make them think they can only be in the
pro-life movement by being against all
contraception, we’ve created one more barrier to increasing our anti-abortion
numbers. The same idea goes for alienating the many pro-lifers who already use
contraception. Let’s not do that, hm? Being anti-contraception is not a prerequisite to being anti-abortion. Those are different issues.
There is nothing about purposefully preventing fertilization that destroys human lives. When we try to position
being pro-life in opposition to using any
artificial contraception, we make it seem like being pro-life is about how people
should be having sex instead of about protecting already-created human lives. I don’t think that’s what most anti-contraception pro-lifers mean, but I can understand how people would be
confused. And if that is what you mean, go away.