Converts or Heretics?
by Rachel MacNair
We recently got a note asserting that one of our member groups had published a blog post which the note writer understood to be pro-abortion. The note-writer said: “This is the most shameful way to illustrate why CLE [consistent life ethic] can cover for abortion rights supporters.” He wanted to know if we would remove the member group from our list.
The post in question never actually mentions the consistent life ethic. It doesn’t use our reasoning. It’s from someone claiming to be pro-life but making a case against legal bans. It’s based on reasoning common to abortion-defending circles, which is probably part of the reason the note writer understands it as pro-abortion (though I object to the term “abortion rights supporters,” since abortion isn’t a right).
A blog post isn’t a group’s position. Blog posts explore individual opinions and ideas. That’s true of all CLN blog posts as well, including the one you’re reading now; what’s below is my opinion.
Arguments on Legal Bans
Claim 1 in the post: “ I think most in the pro-life movement have failed to accurately identify those who really are the so-called ‘baby-killing politicians.’ Consequently, Christians keep giving their support to the ones who refuse to support policies that actually reduce abortions, even as they claim to be pro-life.”
My response: Some politicians give only lip service against abortion. They aren’t merely bad at supporting programs to prevent poverty or domestic abuse, thereby indirectly preventing abortions. They aren’t even good at policies tackling abortion directly. They give lip service to get votes, then rather than introducing or supporting any kind of abortion legislation, turn their attention to far more trivial matters.
But if the post-writer asks who “really” are baby-killing politicians, we can’t ignore people directly advocating policies pushing abortion. George Will in the Washington Post and Ross Douthat in the New York Times recently made excellent remarks about how extreme Democratic Party politicians are.
Claim 2: “The fact is that banning abortion is not the best way to safeguard the unborn. Three of the five nations with the lowest abortion rates are nations where abortion is legal. Further, the regions of the world where abortion rates are the highest are where abortion tends to be illegal. No doubt many factors account for this fact. Regardless, all in all, there is no correspondence between the legality or illegality of abortion and abortion rates.”
My response: All the evidence this author cites comes from the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), the research arm of Planned Parenthood. AGI has a strong interest in abortion being legal. Citing them is like citing the tobacco industry on the safety of cigarettes. The source doesn’t lend credibility to the assertions.
Furthermore, as I detail in Chapter 15 of Peace Psychology Perspective on Abortion, laws that offer various “restrictions” on abortion – no Medicaid funding, informed consent, parental notification – all seem to mainly lower the abortion rate dramatically. Even distance from the clinics has an impact, with lower abortion rates in locations further from a clinic.
The studies showing this abortion-reduction effect come from people who oppose the legislation. They don’t want the laws to have that effect. This adds credibility to the findings.
If the abortion rate is lower in places several hours’ drive away from the abortion clinic, does it really makes no difference in the abortion rate if there’s no available abortion clinic at all?
Claim 3: “The desire to control and punish women seems to be over-riding the desire to reduce abortions. This is deeply misguided.”
My response: This is a stereotype. It has the same function stereotypes normally have: defining the in-group and the out-group. It’s also an ad hominem argument – “against the person” rather than against ideas.
And since it’s a common idea in the pro-life movement that abortion itself is punishing to mothers, as documented by the many post-abortion women active in the pro-life movement, the concept that banning abortion might be punishing women is not merely inaccurate but puzzling.
Claim 4: “But when coupled with sex education, contraceptives will more consistently prevent abortions. . . . This is particularly true of long-acting reversible contraceptives . . . Conservatives continue advocating for abstinence-only programs, but the success of these efforts is poor.”
My response: There is indeed quite a substantial amount of literature on how poorly abstinence-only education works. There’s also substantial literature on how well it works. And there’s evidence both that other sex education works well and that it doesn’t. In the studies I read, I could predict 100% how the study would come out by noting the predilection of the researchers.
In the studies that say abstinence-only doesn’t work well, there’s also no consideration of how different programs operate. Scolding people, for example, may be less effective than reasoning with them, yet the programs are all lumped together.
In this case, taking the word of one side over the other is taking the word of abortion promoters.
As for contraception, when researching the scholarly literature I anticipated I’d find the same pattern: how effective contraception is found to be would depend on what the researchers wanted to find. Surprisingly, I found no such thing.
For regular contraception, some programs pushing it were associated with increased abortions, even when researchers really wanted to find otherwise. For documentation and reasons, see Chapter 16 in the book I edited, Peace Psychology Perspectives on Abortion.
But there is one exception: long-acting reversible contraception (LARC). Some studies show them to be effective in lowering pregnancies and abortions. I have statistical criticisms of those studies, as I explain in Chapter 16.
But I hope everyone can catch this point: LARCs work by messing up women’s bodies.
If that’s what the woman wants, justice requires only that she be aware of this
But when we have a world of domineering men, statutory rapists, and incest perpetrators, do we really want to push for such men to presume they’re entitled for women to be sexually available? Isn’t that a major reason there are so many abortions? Can we ever lower abortions if we ignore this?
One study found that strict enforcement of child support payments by fathers was associated with a lower abortion rate. Yet the same proportion of pregnant women was having abortions; the assurance of child support was apparently not changing many minds. The rate went down because fewer women were pregnant. Perhaps men were taking more care about impregnating them.
Consistent-lifers have a variety of views on contraception. But if we push contraception without doing anything about equality in sexual relationships, it would be very easy to do more harm than good. Contraception is mere technology. Social relationships are more complicated.
Heretics or Converts?
Getting back to the question: will we drop a member group from our list for publishing such a post?
We’ve certainly had times when we felt the need to remove people from our endorsers list. In one case a woman signed on to our Mission Statement yet turned out to be on Planned Parenthood’s board. We figured she didn’t quite catch the point. Another former endorser was quoted in a newspaper saying he favored aborting children with disabilities, though he opposed other abortions. Another publicly made a case in favor of the latest US war. Here the problem is whether they oppose violence, rather than a question of the best strategy to oppose violence.
Here’s a basic strategic question: if people have misunderstandings, is it better to work on dispelling the misunderstandings, or the people? We don’t “cover for” people when we’re carefully explaining to them some thoughts they may not have considered.
This comes down to a question of whether we’re seeking converts or hunting heretics. Movements that seek converts grow. Movements that hunt heretics shrink.
Many single issue pro-life voters have made a severe compromise in their own principles with Donald Trump. Trump is someone who’s made pro-abortion and contradictory remarks and doesn’t seem to understand the issue. He has a well-deserved reputation for turning on his friends.
But, many pro-lifers argue, we get anti-Roe v. Wade US Supreme Court judges appointed. But do we? The latest appointment, Neil Gorsuch, wrote an excellent book on euthanasia (which I highly recommend), but he explicitly stated in that book that the principles he was expounding didn’t apply to fetuses. He reiterated this in his Congressional hearings. And he has a strong position for keeping legal precedent. So, setting aside how he might rule on all other issues, there’s no assurance whatsoever that he’ll vote against Roe.
If we were to apply strict pro-life standards to either Trump or Gorsuch, neither one would pass the test. Nor would many of the other politicians or Supreme Court judges pro-lifers have worked so hard for.
Babies need to be saved. There are different ways to save them. All activists work on methods they understand to be effective. Working together will mean working with people with whom we still need to have discussions to make their thinking clearer, rather than rejecting those people, especially when they agree with us that killing is wrong.