Have you ever heard something like this before?
If pro-lifers really cared about ending abortion, they’d give out contraception to prevent unintended pregnancies. But they don't really want to do anything practical to help end abortion—they just want to punish women who have sex!
Of course, even if pro-lifers were hypocrites, their argument that abortion kills an innocent human being would still be correct. But are pro-life advocates hypocrites if they don’t promote contraception? No, and here’s why.
The Pro-life Endgame
The goal of the pro-life movement is to restore the right-to-life of unborn human beings. Does promoting contraception help or hinder that goal?
I think it’s safe to say contraception doesn’t help that goal. Birth control pills and condoms don’t teach people that unborn children are biological human beings who are entitled to the same basic rights you and I possess. To many people, contraception just prevents “pregnancy,” or it prevents a “potential person” (that will one day become a baby) from being created inside of a woman. There’s nothing hypocritical about pro-life advocates' not promoting contraception, because it doesn’t do anything to help our ultimate goal of changing both public opinion and public policy to protect unborn children from harm.
But critics might respond by saying that using contraception could prevent some abortions from happening, and don’t pro-lifers still care about accomplishing that goal? Yes, but that doesn’t mean every way to accomplish that goal should be used. Contraception teaches couples that unborn children are objects who are only valuable if the couple "wants" a child. Pope John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae that:
It may be that many people use contraception with a view to excluding the subsequent temptation of abortion. But the negative values inherent in the "contraceptive mentality"-which is very different from responsible parenthood, lived in respect for the full truth of the conjugal act-are such that they in fact strengthen this temptation when an unwanted life is conceived (emphasis added). Indeed, the pro- abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church's teaching on contraception is rejected. (EV 13)
Unborn children not only have a right to life but a right to be created by parents who love them and are willing to make sacrifices for the child’s good. However, contraception use creates a mentality that views children as a “negative side effect” of sex, or even a disease, whose interests are superceded by their parent's desire for sexual union just for it's own sake. This attitude is especially common among the 85% of unmarried couples who seek abortions.[i]
It shouldn't be surprising, then, that the Supreme Court even affirmed that one reason abortion must stay legal is because women rely on it when contraception fails. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Court said that Roe v. Wade
[C]ould not be repudiated without serious inequity to people who, for two decades of economic and social developments, have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.[iii]
I’m all in favor of teaching people how to responsibly plan their families, but if contraception fosters an attitude that unborn children are disposable (and in some forms could be abortifacient), then it shouldn’t be promoted as the way to achieve the goals of the pro-life movement.
Don’t Get Suckered
Promoting contraception may also reinforce attitudes towards sex and pregnancy that conflict with the goal of creating a culture of life. On one university campus, a group of students chastised me for not passing out condoms. I told them I didn’t have to, because the campus health center gave condoms away for free. One man responded, “But the center is all the way on the other side of campus. I don’t want to have to walk all the way over there just for condoms. You guys should be passing them out here.” If this man were too lazy to walk a few hundred yards for condoms, why in the world would we expect him to work hard to provide for a child should the condom fail and his partner becomes pregnant?
Pro-life advocates should not be suckered into thinking that abortion is a public health problem that we have to help alleviate by dispensing contraceptives as “the cure.” We must continue to teach our culture that abortion is a moral problem and that the unborn deserve cultural recognition and legal protection as a remedy to this problem.
Granted, it will be easier to pass laws against abortion when fewer people seek abortion services, so there is value in developing strategies to reduce unintended pregnancies. But pro-life advocates should not have to compromise their belief that the unborn are human beings just so that everyone can “play nice together.” Instead, we must re-focus our strategy and find better ways to achieve the goal of restoring legal protection for unborn human beings.
The Next Step
If you are serious about this, then I recommend picking up a copy of my new DVD, Making the Case for Life, which teaches pro-lifers how to persuasively defend the lives of unborn children. The DVD also contains over thirty minutes of bonus features including “real-life” examples where I use pro-life apologetics to answer tough critics on university campuses and Catholic Answers Live.
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[i] Jones RK, Finer LB and Singh S, “Characteristics of U.S. Abortion Patients 2008”, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2010. Page 5. Available online at: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/US-Abortion-Patients.pdf
[ii] Robert P. Jones, Daniel Cox, and Rachel Laser, “Committed to Availability, Conflicted About Morality: What the Millenial Generation Tells us About the Future of the Abortion Debate and the Culture Wars” Public Religion Research Institute June 6, 2011 Available online at: http://publicreligion.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Millenials-Abortion-and-Religion-Survey-Report.pdf
[iii] Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey (91-744), 505 U.S. 833 (1992)