Abortion-rights supporters are making contraception a key issue in the 2008 election. Just last week, Planned Parenthood ran an ad in six battleground states showing a clip of Republican presidential nominee John McCain, in which he is unwilling to respond to a question about whether insurance companies should be forced to cover contraceptives in their policies. Pro-choice advocates are also pushing Sen. McCain to denounce the Bush administration’s proposed Health and Human Services hiring and grant-making regulations. They claim these new regulations would make contraceptives less available by providing legal protection to federal employees and grant recipients who have moral objections to contraceptive use.
Pro-lifers typically respond to these sorts of attacks by invoking the conscience rights of insurers and health-care professionals — a reasonable response. But pro-lifers should think harder about how to best handle the politics and policy of contraception, an issue that is unlikely to go away. Many abortion-rights activists think pro-lifers are vulnerable on the contraception issue. They argue that if pro-choice Democrats support the wider availability of contraceptives, they can claim to be pursuing a policy to reduce the number of abortions — and in this way appeal to moderate and conservative voters.
How successful will this political gambit be? It is certainly true that most Americans support the use and availability of contraceptives. That said, the conscience rights of doctors and nurses enjoy broad public support; and many Americans are skeptical about distributing contraceptives to minors.
From a policy standpoint, it is important that the pro-life movement oppose governmental efforts to encourage contraceptive use — particularly among minors. Indeed, the aggressive promotion of contraceptives would shift cultural norms in ways that would do considerable long-term damage to the pro-life cause.
Building a Culture of Life
Many supporters of legal abortion sharply criticize the pro-life movement for not promoting the sale, use, or improvement of contraceptives as a means to reducing the incidence of abortion. What these pro-choicers fail to understand is that the pro-life movement is actually trying to achieve two separate goals: first, preventing abortions in the short term; and second, creating a culture of life in the long term — instilling the values and attitudes in people that will make abortions less likely in the future.
Most of the time, the twin goals of protecting the unborn and building a culture of life reinforce one another. On occasion, though, they appear to contradict each other.
For instance, pro-lifers are very willing to provide medical, emotional, and even financial assistance to women facing crisis pregnancies through the thousands of privately funded crisis pregnancy centers throughout the country. But pro-lifers typically do not offer large cash bounties to women facing crisis pregnancies in exchange for carrying their baby to term. The costs aside, if pro-lifers bribed women to continue their pregnancies, they might encourage unmarried women to become more sexually active in the hopes a conception might result in a large payoff. Such an incentive would further undermine societal mores against premarital sex, cause more unplanned pregnancies, and fail to advance the goals of the pro-life movement.
Similarly, most pro-life groups do not call for dramatic increases in welfare payments. Again, it is certainly possible that the prospect of higher welfare benefits might persuade some women facing crisis pregnancies to keep their baby. However, the high welfare payouts might further encourage or at least enable sexual activity before marriage. This would again undermine social mores against promiscuous behavior and result in even more crisis pregnancies and possibly more abortions.