Why personhood rather than pregnancy prevention?

Brown writes for On Faith as part of our expert roundtable on the Mississippi personhood initiative, a constitutional referendum on … Continued

Brown writes for On Faith as part of our expert roundtable on the Mississippi personhood initiative, a constitutional referendum on whether or not to call a fertilized human egg a ‘person,’ thus giving it legal rights and protection. Read Francis Kissling, former head of Catholics for Choice, who asks, Does Mississippi really respect life?, Colleen Carroll Campbell of EWTN, who writes, Personhood begins when life begins, and Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life on Taking ‘personhood’ back.

Cast your vote in our poll: Should personhood start at fertilization?

Jeremy Portje

AP

This Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009 picture shows the shadow of an anti-abortion supporter holding a cross near a Planned Parenthood in Dubuque, Iowa to protest the 36th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortions.

In “Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance,”  Atule Gawande’ s remarkable 2008 collection of essays, his final advice for all of us struggling with tough problems in complex societies is to count things – things that matter to us.  He suggests that by counting, we may see new ways forward.    

The current storm over the upcoming Mississippi vote to define personhood as beginning at the moment of conception has brought Gawande’s advice to mind.  This bill and pending vote are just the most recent effort to eliminate abortion, although as Jessica Valenti and others have recently pointed out, this effort has implications far, far beyond abortion – implications that should give all of us pause and deep unease.   But to stay on point, the Mississippi madness should be properly seen as only the latest in a long list of ways that those who oppose legal abortion have tried to eliminate it from the scene.  

How many have there been? There have been countless efforts to challenge the basic legality of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision establishing the legal right to abortion in the US (a decision whose principal effect was to replace illegal abortion with legal abortion, according to the Institute of Medicine, and thereby dramatically reduce both maternal mortality and morbidity).  There have been many, many protests at the entrances to abortion facilities involving harassment of women, fetuses in jars and insulting posters and signs held aloft.  There have been efforts—some successful—to require outpatient facilities that perform abortions to have medical equipment and safety procedures in place that countless other outpatient facilities (such as clinics that perform colonoscopies and plastic surgery on an out-patient basis) need not secure. There have been requirements for sonograms and directive counseling to discourage women from having abortions. Waiting periods and consent requirements have been imposed.   And those who actually perform abortions have been threatened with law suits and in fact have been sued.  And they also have been murdered..

And here we must stop counting because not only is the list too long and painful, but it also reveals a most curious and distressing fact.  Note that none of the passion and fervor that animate these countless efforts have centered on the simplest and most direct approach known to reducing abortion, which is to reduce the unplanned, unwanted pregnancies that lie behind well over 90 percent of all abortions.  To the extent that we can help men and women control when and under what circumstances they become pregnant and bear children, we immediately reduce abortion in a direct, humane and simple way.  

And yet opposition to abortion virtually never centers on this most obvious and available remedy, which is the widespread, careful use of contraception –what I often call, “old-fashioned family planning.”  Instead, we are presented with personhood propositions.  Or the harassment of frightened, upset women at abortion clinics.  Or severed public funding for birth control. Or lawsuits. Or murder.  

How can this be? Are we to conclude from this deeply perverse state of affairs that that those who oppose abortion see contraception as equally repugnant?   Isn’t it clear and obvious that contraception is preferable to abortion? That it presents far less of a moral challenge (perhaps no moral challenge at all) than abortion?   

The notion that opposition to abortion should translate into deep support for contraception is a widely shared point of view.  For example, my group is about to release results of a public opinion poll showing that over eight in ten (85 percent) unmarried young adults agree that policymakers who are opposed to abortion should be strong supporters of birth control; sixty-two percent strongly agree.  Opposition to abortion is a defensible position; it has roots in faith and feeling, and reasonable people can see that it poses important questions.  But what is the logic that leads those who oppose abortion down the personhood path rather than the prevention path?  

Sarah Brown is director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

About

  • cricket44

    THANK YOU! But you are speaking sense and using facts. This never flies with the anti-choice contingent.

  • WmarkW

    A person’s position on abortion rights is going to be highly correlated with their general attitude toward non-marital or non-procreative sex. It’s not that surprising that some people oppose both abortion and contraception, they just don’t think people should be having sex if they’re not open to procreation.

    I don’t agree, but don’t think they’re necessarily hypocrites.

  • lifeisbeautiful88

    There is a difference between birth control which prevents conception and birth control which causes an abortion after conception has taken place.

    Maybe you can explain why even though the eagle is no longer an endangered species, its eggs are still federally protected while they’re still in the mother eagle; once they are laid; through the 35-day incubation period and beyond through hatching. In fact, even the nonliving eagle egg shell is protected by the federal law. We’re talking a $100,000 fine! Shouldn’t a human baby have at least the same protection under the law?

  • ccnl1

    The question is Sarah Brown in this for the money as her salary including benefits at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy is $277,830/yr. Nine of the other managers of said “non-profit” make over $100,000/yr . (www.guidestar.org)

    Hmmm, it would appear that the following facts could easily replace said group:

    o Bottom Line 1: The failures of the widely used birth “control” methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and STDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and STDs.

    Bottom line 2-
    Currently, a perfect barrier system does not exist. Time to develop one! In the meantime, monomasturbation or mutual masturbation are highly recommended for heterosexuals who need a contraceptive. Abstinence is another best-solution but obviously the sex drive typically vitiates this option although being biological would it not be able to develop a drug to temporarily eliminate said drive?

    From the Guttmacher Institute:

    FIRST-YEAR CONTRACEPTIVE FAILURE RATES
    Percentage of women (men) experiencing an unplanned pregnancy (a few examples)

    Method Typical
    Pill (combined) 8.7 ( ~1,000,000 unplanned pregnancies)
    Tubal sterilization 0.7
    Male condom 17.4(~1,000,000 unplanned pregnancies)
    Vasectomy 0.2

    (Abstinence) 0

    (Masturbation) 0

  • ccnl1

    The Guttmacher Institute also notes that the perfect use of the pill should result in a 0.3% failure rate (35,000 unplanned pregnancies) and for the male condom, a 2% failure rate (138,000 unplanned pregnancies).

  • david6

    So, are you going to be there with the distraught woman who has to suffer through an inquest which will decide if the abortion was spontaneous, a so-called Act of God, or she had something to do with it? Are you going to be the cold-hearted prosecutor who takes every single woman with a miscarriage through an inquest and prosecution if she cannot persuade you that the spontaneous abortion really was?

    Remember that roughly half of all pregnancies result in spontaneous abortions. Should God be prosecuted for those?

  • desertlady1

    Excellent article! Education is the key!

  • desertlady1

    Excellent article! Education and planning are the key!

  • bluegreen1

    Thank you for being a voice of sanity here. I would have more respect for pro-lifers, if they were advocate family planning, increased funding for adoption, a realistic (eg non abstinence) approach to sex education, and increased funding for maternal and infant health care and nutrition services for poor women. Then, I might truly consider them to care about those potential persons. But sadly, what we see is the obsession with carrying the fetus to term. What happens after…that’s not their concern. Even what happens during, in terms of prenatal care, is not their concern.

  • paul65

    Ms. Brown,

    I respectfully with the main premise of your post, namely, that people who oppose abortion should (but are unwilling to) focus on pregnancy prevention.

    In fact, within the context of the national debate on abortion and personhood that is taking place this week, I’m tempted to view that argument as a red herring.

    2 facts:

    1. Many if not most people who oppose abortion also support pregancy prevention. Check the polls. Obviously, one can cite the Catholic bishops as major exceptions to this statement, but I’m a church-going Catholic, and I can tell you that the VAST majority of American Catholics support birth control AND oppose abortion. Indeed, many people in the Church are working actively to change Church policy opposing contraception (which is dead wrong), and we are winning; that policy will change, the same way many bad government policies change over time.

    2. Regardless of one’s views on contraception, it is still principled to oppose abortion. Is a proper response to the travesty of genital mutilation to say that opponents should focus on preventing pregnancy? (Don’t laugh — the comparison is valid.) Abortion opponents consider themselves to be defending children, just as opponents of genital mutiliation. And they are right to attack the problem itself in both cases, rather than only focusing on contributory factors.

  • paul65

    Ms. Brown,

    I respectfully with the main premise of your post, namely, that people who oppose abortion should (but are unwilling to) focus on pregnancy prevention.

    In fact, within the context of the national debate on abortion and personhood that is taking place this week, I’m tempted to view that argument as a red herring.

    2 facts:

    1. Many if not most people who oppose abortion also support pregancy prevention. Check the polls. Obviously, one can cite the Catholic bishops as major exceptions to this statement, but I’m a church-going Catholic, and I can tell you that the VAST majority of American Catholics support birth control AND oppose abortion. Indeed, many people in the Church are working actively to change Church policy opposing contraception (which is dead wrong), and we are winning; that policy will change, the same way many bad government policies change over time.

    2. Regardless of one’s views on contraception, it is still principled to oppose abortion. Is a proper response to the travesty of genital mutilation to say that opponents should focus on preventing pregnancy? (Don’t laugh — the comparison is valid.) Abortion opponents consider themselves to be defending children, just as opponents of genital mutiliation. And they are right to attack the problem itself in both cases, rather than only focusing on contributory factors.

  • RedVox

    So basically ccnl1 you just want people to stop having sex.

  • ccnl1

    RedVox,

    Reread my comments i.e. “some examples of birth control”,

    Added information from the Guttmacher Institute as to the safety of the various birth control methods:

    “FIRST YEAR CONTRACEPTIVE FAILURE RATES
    Method Perfect use Typical use
    Pill (combined) 0.3 8.7
    Tubal sterilization 0.5 0.7
    Male condom 2.0 17.4
    Vasectomy 0.1 0.2
    Three-month injectable 0.3 6.7
    Withdrawal 4.0 18.4
    IUD (Copper-T) 0.6 1.0
    IUD (Mirena) 0.1 0.1
    Periodic abstinence – 25.3
    Calendar 9.0 –
    Ovulation method 3.0 –
    Symptothermal 2.0 –
    Post-ovulation 1.0 –
    One-month injectable 0.05 3.0
    Implant 0.05 1.0
    Patch 0.3 8.0
    Diaphragm 6.0 16.0

  • tfrsypm

    I think lifeisbeautiful will be holding the coats while the pharisees throw stones.

  • cricket44

    No, Paul, it isn’t principled to oppose abortion, it’s ignorant. You’ve obviously done NO research on the risks of pregnancy and childbirth. Funny you should mention genital mutilation. When you gave birth did you have tearing AND get cut?

  • AgentG

    The answer is that there is no logic. The true answer is that the personhood and other violent and oppressive paths are only explainable by the logic one who is in possession of (what they believe to be) the absolute truth regarding faith and creation, and by virtue of this absolute faith, see themselves justified to take any action in this world to uphold that faith, and in particular, to compel others and society in general to adopt those same views. This is religious fascism. This is oppression by virtue of fiat, without any regard for science, reason, democracy, outcomes, individual rights, and, in fact, theology. Such positions are not reflective of an educated or spiritual perspective on life and existence. Neither do such positions ever arise when people engage in extensive deliberation and weighting of all the questions involve, in view of established facts.

    That is why the personhood amendment, which can only be supported from a position of unenlightened faith and willful ignorance, is dangerous not only to women’s health, but is fundamentally dangerous to the idea of democracy itself. The political and intellectual leaders in Mississippi who brought forth such a law, without first doing everything else possible to avoid and prevent abortion and making social policies promoting welfare of families, will deeply come to rue this action, for it will have profoundly negative consequences for their state and will drive them further away from modernization and back to the middle ages.

  • AgentG

    Here is one simple fact that cannot be disputed by any rational argument:

    embryos and zygotes are not human babies.

    Anyone who asserts otherwise is speaking from a position of ignorance or deception, and neither is an acceptable basis for policy-making in a democracy.

  • lifeisbeautiful88

    When abortion was illegal, women were not arrested or investigated for miscarriages. It’s because a miscarriage is not a criminal act. Police need probable cause and won’t waste their time investigating non-crimes. The same would be true after 26 becomes law.

    Not every parent whose child dies of SIDS is prosecuted. There has to be probable cause for criminal intentent.

  • lifeisbeautiful88

    There is no sane reason why people can’t enjoy sex without doing harm to other human beings.

  • lifeisbeautiful88

    If you are having sex. with the use of birth control, then you are open to procreation, because as the facts printed above show you are in risk of procreating.

  • ccnl1

    The question: Is Sarah Brown in this for the money as her salary including benefits at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy is $277,830/yr??? Nine of the other managers of said “non-profit” make over $100,000/yr . (www.guidestar.org)

    Hmmm, it would appear that the following facts could easily replace said group:

    o Bottom Line 1: The failures of the widely used birth “control” methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and STDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and STDs.

    Bottom line 2-
    Currently, a perfect barrier system does not exist. Time to develop one! In the meantime, monomasturbation or mutual masturbation are highly recommended for heterosexuals who need a contraceptive. Abstinence is another best-solution but obviously the sex drive typically vitiates this option although being biological would it not be able to develop a drug to temporarily eliminate said drive?

    From the Guttmacher Institute:

    FIRST-YEAR CONTRACEPTIVE FAILURE RATES
    Percentage of women (men) experiencing an unplanned pregnancy (a few examples)

    Method Typical
    Pill (combined) 8.7 ( ~1,000,000 unplanned pregnancies)
    Tubal sterilization 0.7
    Male condom 17.4(~1,000,000 unplanned pregnancies)
    Vasectomy 0.2

    (Abstinence) 0

    (Masturbation) 0

  • dennisr1

    Definition of Abortion: A legal, contract killing of a living human being sought by one or both people who created the living human being.

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