Saturday, January 20, 2007

A disastrous distraction

Pro Life Blogs posts a message from the No Room for Contraception Campaign, arguing that abortion will only be defeated if the pro-life movement persuades Americans that contraception is wrong:

Silence or timidity on contraception is not the answer either. In an effort to appeal to the broadest range of people (and donors), some organizations refuse to address contraception. In the long run this only serves to preserve the culture of death by providing a supply of unborn children whose very creation stems from the contraceptive mentality and/or contraceptive failure. (Though there have been some lone voices in the desert, the movement as a whole has not addressed the issue.)

Part of the failure to address contraception stems from the “put out the fire” mentality – unborn children scheduled to die today won’t benefit from anything else but direct intervention. There is a point to this mentality – firefighters don’t sit around talking about how to prevent fires while watching a house burn, instead they put out the fire. But where this mentality falls short is that firefighters do give fire prevention classes when they aren’t fighting fires. The movement can do both, albeit with greater emphasis on the more urgent problem of abortion.

If the pro-life movement doesn't want to keep fighting the abortion battle in the trenches, and losing countless lives despite their best efforts, then it has to address the contraceptive mentality that has captured the hearts and minds of our nation. Until it does, the movement will always be fighting fires while never addressing the reason why these fires started in the first place....

It's time for a shift in strategy, and it's time to address the harms of contraception. Will this be addressed this upcoming weekend at the many conferences taking place prior to the March for Life? Sadly, the answer appears to be "no"...

This push to make contraception the central issue is a disastrous distraction from saving the lives of unborn children. While the same anti-child attitude may motivate some people to use contraception and to support abortion, many abortion opponents believe that the use of contraception to space or delay children is valid, but they would never abort a child who was conceived despite their contraceptive efforts.

Americans are noticing the amazing 4-D images of children and baby animals in the womb. Ultrasound scans and ultrasound stethescopes in crisis pregnancy centers are saving babies' lives. The age of viability is getting earlier and earlier. People are beginning to understand that abortion always stops a beating heart, and are more open than ever to laws that restrict or end abortion. This is not the time to shift the focus from the humanity of the unborn to a side-topic that not all pro-lifers are agreed on.

In fact, I'd say that this suggested strategy change from the No Room for Contraception movement came straight from the pit of Hell. Pro-abortion groups will be able to tell donors and voters that they've been right all along about the motives of pro-lifers -- they don't really care about the unborn, they just want to control what you do with your spouse in the privacy of your bedroom. Millions of unborn babies will die as new restrictions on abortion are defeated in legislatures and at the polls.

I appreciate the sound words of Scott Klusendorf, who said this in response to a question at an abortion debate on a college campus: "I am not here tonight to argue against any birth-control that does not take the life of a baby once it has begun." A pro-life activist heard that and expressed disappointment in Klusendorf that he wasn't 100% pro-life.

Klusendorf says it's a tactical error to talk about non-abortive birth control in the context of the abortion debate:

Our focus must be: What is the unborn?

Remember: Pro-abortionists do not want to defend killing human fetuses. Rather, they want to talk about why you want to invade people's privacy by taking away their condoms. Too often, pro-lifers take the bait and pay a heavy price.

We don't have to. We can win if we stay focused on abortion.

At a National Abortion Federation conference in 1996, Kathryn Kohlbert cautioned delegates that if the debate over partial-birth abortion is about what happens to the fetus, her side will get "creamed." She urged those present to stick to the abstract: "If the debate is whether or not the fetus feels pain, we lose. If the debate in the public arena is what’s the effect of anesthesia [on the fetus], we'll lose. If the debate is on whether or not women ought to be entitled to late abortion, we will probably lose. But if the debate is on the circumstances of individual women, and how the government shouldn’t be making those decisions, then I think we can win these fights."

It's not hard to see why Kohlbert is worried. For the first time in 26 years, the debate is about the abortion act itself and what it does to the fetus. "When someone holds up a model of a six-month-old fetus and a pair of surgical scissors, we say 'choice' and we lose," writes abortion advocate Naomi Wolf.

These quotes from Naomi Wolf and Kathryn Kohlbert are critical. The abortions rights people are conceding their weakest point and we should listen. In short, they are terrified of defending the act of abortion itself. Why, then, do some pro-lifers insist on letting our opponents off the hook by discussing contraception and natural family planning instead of abortion?

(Emphasis added.)

Klusendorf goes on to say that there's not even a theological reason to link the two issues. Catholic opposition to artificial birth control stands on a separate philosophical basis than opposition to abortion. It goes back again to the inseparability, in Catholic thinking, of the procreative and unitive purposes of sexual intercourse.

Church teaching, following the thinking of Thomas Aquinas, states that sex within marriage is both unitive and procreative. These two aspects of sex cannot be separated without compromising the structure of marital love. Put simply, each act of marital sex must be open (in principle) to the possibility of children. Hence, NABC is not wrong because it leads to an "abortion mentality" (after all, millions of Protestant pro-life advocates use NABC, but would never consider abortion), but because it results in a structural break in the act of marital love.

I'm not here to debate the merits of Aquinas’s argument (other then to say I respect many who defend it), but to point out that it stands or falls apart from abortion. Therefore, I think pro-life advocates should keep the two issues separate. If pro-life Christians think NABC immoral, they can make that case without linking it to abortion. (After all, why not simply cite a great thinker like Aquinas?) And they should do it when the topic for the evening is something other than abortion, especially in secular forums.

And about that contraceptive mentality: Before we blame the modern availability of contraception for the attitude that children are disposible, consider ancient practices like the exposure of unwanted infants which long predate the invention of birth control.

6 comments: said...

>>This push to make contraception the central issue is a disastrous distraction from saving the lives of unborn children.

I think the point of the article has been missed - millions of unborn children have been conceived only to be killed shortly thereafter. Why? Because of contraceptive failure as well as the non-use of contraception.

To say that this is a disastrous distraction is to deny this reality, especially when the evidence shows otherwise.

For example, teen abstinence has driven down abortion rates, especially amongst the 15-17 year old age group. Abstinence programs directly challenge the contraceptive mentality and in fact inform teens of failure rates of contraception. The result has been a reduction in the number of abortions -- far from a "disastrous distraction".

It is true that the pro-life movement has been slowly changing more and more hearts on abortion. However, it is a false dilemma to say that it's either address the humanity of the child or address contraception. Both can be done, albeit with different approaches and prioritization.

As far as pro-abortion groups go -- they need to take some of their own arguments to heart. If the government is supposed to "stay out of the bedroom"
then why is the federal government funding contraceptive programs via the Title X program? Over the past several decades, contraception has sustained a high abortion rate instead of lowering it, so it's time to admit Title X funding of family planning programs has been a failure and to de-fund it.

Contrary to the fears of the abortion-rights movement, addressing contraception does not mean banning it. This debate isn't about banning contraception, but rather, about the dependency on abortion for failed contraception, the harms contraception poses to society, and its effect on women's health.

Informing the public on the harms of contraception isn't something the pro-life movement should run from but rather embrace. Informing people of contraceptive failure rates, the health effects of hormonal contraceptives, the effects of pre-marital sex (especially for teens), the correlation between usage and abortion, and the impact it has on relationships is a positive way of addressing contraception.

When people are informed of the harms of contraception, the risks of pregnancy due to contraceptive failure, the benefits of abstinence, etc., they will
be less likely to engage in risky behavior. As teen abstinence has shown, a reduction in risky sexual choices reduces the demand for abortion.

Until society at large hears the truth about contraception, the contraceptive mentality will continue to fuel the demand for abortion. Addressing the contraceptive mentality in a way that informs people of the harms and risks of contraceptives and pre-marital sex is a viable strategy for reducing the demand for abortion.

Instead of fighting abortion, advocates such as Mr. Klusendorf and others can further end or lower the demand for abortion by addressing the contraception mentality, all without making an issue of banning it.

Ruben Obregon
The No Room for Contraception Campaign

Contraskeptic said...

Ruben, thanks for taking the time to visit this blog and to respond.

As I read your response, it seems to me the problem you're trying to address isn't really contraception, but sex outside of marriage and an attitude that children are not intrinsically precious.

The very first paragraph of your reply seems to admit that contraception isn't really the issue. Why have millions of unborn children been conceived only to be killed shortly thereafter? You answer, "Because of contraceptive failure as well as the non-use of contraception."

To call the attitude that children aren't precious a "contraceptive mentality" not only misses the point, but it's an insult to every married couple who uses either artificial or "natural family planning" contraception but would welcome any child that God brings into their lives, whether or not the baby arrives on their intended schedule.

You have a point about Title X funds, but I think the way to address that is to point out that this is not a federal matter, that it is a controversial issue better left to the private sector, and that Title X funds enable some organizations to free up funds for lobbying and political activities. In other words, I think you can convince congressmen to defund Title X without first convincing them that contraception is evil.

Deb said...

All contraceptive use is birth control, but not all birth control ls contraceptive.

Natural Family Planning is NOT contraceptive in nature. To contracept means to physically stop sperm and egg from meeting under circumstances where they could otherwise meet. In other words, it applies during an act of sex, not during an act of abstinence. Therefore, couples using NFP are not guilty of trying to physically change the procreative nature of the sexual act. Now, if they keep abstaining for selfish rather than serious reason, they are guilty of undermining their marriage vocation, and their promise to be generous and open to life.

The sin in contaception is the denial of Natural Law. To take the greatest gift God has given us, which is to share in the process of creating life, and physically trash it, no matter what good intention we may have in our hearts. While those who abstain from the marital act for illicit reasons may achieve the same result as those using a contraceptive, it is not exactly the same sin, because those abstaining are at least showing physical respect for the nature of the marital act. They are not trying to change it into something it is not. Altering the sexual act, or our natural state during the sexual act, in order to secure its pleasure without regard for its procreative nature is wrong, and it is God who is insulted by such activity.

Contraskeptic said...

Deb, thank you for your comment. In a later entry I go into detail about the problems I see with using natural law to determine what is acceptable or sinful in God's sight. I'd be interested in your response.

Using your line of reasoning, a case could be made for saying it's a sin to spay or neuter your cat or to use herbicides, because it interferes with the natural processes by which God's creation reproduces itself.

Deb said...

I did scan through your post on Natural Law. If I understand your position clearly, you disagree with the idea that one evil act can negate the supposed "good" whole. This is a crucial point to decide on in this discussion, because as you note it is a Catholic teaching and not necessarily taught in other denominations.

Nevertheless, it is not logical to conclude that only intentions matter. I could steal a sum of money from someone with the good intention of giving it to charity. What I do with the money does not change the evil nature of the act through which I procured the money in the first place. The same is true of marriage. You can't build a strong, intimate union between yourself, your spouse and God on the sand of evil physical approaches to the marital act, even though you may have the good intention of, for example, being able to better provide for children you have already.

As far as the reference to spaying pets, you are comparing apples to oranges. Human sexual ethics are not in the same category as animal breeding porcedures. Perhaps you are trying to make the argument that sometimes humans need to take drugs or have surgery when they encounter disease, which could be construed as altering our natural state in order to achieve a good? I will answer that with an argument which I bet you have heard before, that fertility is not a disease and should not be treated as such.

Consider: Suppose a woman finds out she has uterine cancer and must have her womb removed or die. She would be rendered infertile in the process, but that is not the sought goal of removing the uterus. Suppose, though, that there is nothing wrong with her uterus but she decides to have it removed so as not to have any more children. The first instance is an attempt to stop disease. The second is self-mutilation.

As far as Natural Law depending on individual interpretation, well, we again have foundational problems in our discussion. As a catholic, I accept the idea that the Holy Spirit speaks through the Church the Lord Jesus established through his original apostles and through papal succession. Therefore I believe in the inerrancy of Catholic Church teachings regarding faith and morals, since I believe that when the pope or the Magisterium speaks on these issues they are not speaking as individuals, but under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

So, this discussion about contraception is really the outgrowth of the age-old question of authority, isn't it? For myself, I have a hard time believing that Jesus would establish a church that could be as easily corrupted within a few generations as those who reject papal succession would like to believe. Secondly, how did the church survive for the first couple hundred years without printed scripture? Tradition. Tradition has it's place in God's revelation. Thirdly, does God really want all the splintering of His church that happens when people rely on "Sola Scriptura?"

What would happen to our country without a president, and governors, and mayors? To have one leader is a necessity in any society. Circumstances arise when society needs to have decision making power focused in one person or a specific decision-making entity. That is why Jesus gave His Church the offices of Pope, and bishops and priests. Books can't make decisions or be leaders.

Perhaps this discussion can go no further unless one of us goes into conversion territory.
Thanks for the forum, it is an important topic to discuss.


Contraskeptic said...

Deb, I have to say I'm puzzled by your latest reply, as I didn't bring up the issue of intention in that other post to which I linked. The issue is whether the act is evil, not anyone's intentions regarding the act.

Arguing that the Pope or the Magisterium has the authority to reveal new commandments from God does get around the problem I posed regarding deriving commandments from one's understanding of nature when that understanding is inaccurate.

(What you write makes me wonder: If the Pope's ex cathedra statements are infallible and the authoritative expressions of God's commands to His people, why don't Catholic Bibles contain papal bulls, encyclicals, conciliar documents, etc., alongside the Old and New Testaments? Wouldn't Humanae Vitae have as much weight as, say, the letter from Paul to Philemon? In the Catholic view, both are written by apostles and both are authoritatively inspired by the Holy Spirit.)