August 17, 2015 by Devin
Now, before any of you make any judgment on me or have any reaction at all to this title, I want to implore you to read my post, all of it. The conversation I am seeking to engage in today is often vitriolic and prone to screaming and gnashing of teeth, and I really want to be able to have a nuanced discussion here where everyone is willing to talk to each other and be willing to hear all sides.
So can everyone at least read all of this before calling me names and such? Cool.
When it comes to any issue where there is heated discussion, whether that be with taxes, schooling, or any other political issue, the conversation can usually be broken down into a problem and possible solutions. For example, when it comes to economics, we might be having a discussion about how to solve unemployment. One person might say that the best way to solve unemployment is to support businesses with tax breaks and lax laws so that they are able to create more jobs. Another person might say that the best way to solve unemployment is to support unions and increase the minimum wage so that people have more disposable income to put back into the economic system.
Now, we can argue the efficacy of these solutions all day, but at the very least, we are agreeing to basic conversational terms. The problem: unemployment. Possible solutions: tax breaks for businesses, union support, etc. And the conversation can go from there.
Now let’s talk about abortion.
Right from the beginning, it is obvious that this issue is different. When small-government people and large-government people talk, they at least agree that they are discussing the role of government.
But pro-lifers and pro-choicers? What problem are they talking about? For pro-lifers, they will say that the problem is the life of these unborn children. For pro-choicers, they will say it is about the autonomy a woman has on her own body being restricted by other people’s religious beliefs.
This is honestly why I think the discussion has been so toxic. These people are talking about two different things, which means little ground can be made when they come together. It is like if you had a checkerboard with checkers on one side and chess pieces on the other.
But I want to attempt to reframe this conversation into something a bit more productive. What is the problem right now that people are trying to solve? For now, let us say that the problem is abortion.* After all, nobody wants more abortions.
As crazy as it is to think, pro-choice does not equal pro-abortion. Nobody wants women to have to have an abortion. Even though most women do not regret having an abortion, it still is a difficult process.** And hey, dealing with an unplanned pregnancy is something I wish no one had to experience.
The problem with abortion is that abortion is not the problem: unplanned pregnancies are.*** Abortions are a symptom of this problem. The best way to reduce abortions is to reduce the need for abortions, which means decreasing the factors that lead to women getting pregnant who do not want to be pregnant.
Simply outlawing abortion does not do this. I mean, increasing the consequences for abortion instead of trying to solve the root problem would be like trying to decrease crime by making punishments harder and ignoring the social and economic problems that cause crime in the first place.
Wait, maybe that was a bad example.
So if this is our problem, what are the solutions? Well, a good place to start would be sex education. After all, teenagers make up about 18% of abortions, and young women in general make up more than half of all abortions, so teaching students while they are young could have a huge effect on reducing abortion rates.
There are two main schools of thought when it comes to sex education: abstinence-only and comprehensive. The former emphasizes waiting until marriage and the dangers of having sex with anyone but your committed partner. This approach commonly only refers to birth control methods with skepticism, pointing out, oftentimes erroneously, how often they fail in order to scare kids from having sex at all. Comprehensive, on the other hand, teaches kids how to have safe sex and avoid STI’s and prevent pregnancy assuming they will have sex, or at least acknowledging that many will.
The big argument against comprehensive sex education is that by providing students with this knowledge, you are encouraging them to have sex. I can definitely see where this critique is coming from. After all, one of the reasons the D.A.R.E. program was not effective and may have actually increased student drug use was because it exposed kids to drugs they had no idea they could take. I remember in school hearing a police officer going, “Don’t huff paint by spraying it in a toilet and taking a whiff,” and I thought, “People do that?”
But while that argument may sound compelling, ultimately there is a pretty big difference between sex and drugs. Mainly, kids are going to want to have sex without anyone telling them about it, because it is sex. And kids are not going to want to have sex any more because they are taught how to do it safely. They are going to want to do it because it is sex. Arguing that learning proper condom use increases sexual appetite is like arguing wearing a lifejacket encourages swimming.
Even worse, disparaging the safety restrictions that are already there will not make people less likely to have sex, but just less likely to care about being safe about it. If you had told me as a kid that riding my bike without a helmet was just as dangerous as riding it with a helmet, do you think I would avoid riding a bike? I would just go bare-headed, and I do not think I would be the only one.
This is not just me talking, by the way. We do have data that supports these points, and more importantly, even goes further. Teenagers who go through comprehensive sex education not only have safer sex, they are more likely to wait to have sex in the first place and have fewer sexual partners.
Which means abstinence-only education is worse at keeping kids abstinent than comprehensive sex education.
And yes, kids who go through comprehensive sex education are more likely to use protection, less likely to have unplanned pregnancies, and thus less likely to need or want an abortion.
But that is not even the most effective way at curbing abortions.
Access to contraception has been the key factor in preventing abortions all around the world. This should not really be a surprise, after all. Lowering the barriers to safe and protected sex lowers the amount of unintended pregnancies and thus the need for abortions in the first place. Thus, if we want to lower the amount of abortions, we need to increase the access people have to contraception.
To sum up, if we want to fewer abortions, we need to have more comprehensive sex education and more access to contraceptives. The data behind it is pretty conclusive.
The Republican party, a party so tied to pro-life that candidates are tripping over themselves to talk about how much they do not like Planned Parenthood, has only made abortions more in-demand.
(Speaking of Planned Parenthood, the rush to defund it is incredibly silly. For one, no government funds are being used for abortion. Second off, abortion is only 3% of what they do. 80% of clients who come in to them get help for preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place, thus lowering the need for abortions. In other words, Planned Parenthood by itself is more responsible for decreasing the abortion rate than the entire Republican party)
I framed this conversation earlier as, “We have a problem, now here are some solutions.” The solutions for this problem are so dramatically obvious, yet the pro-life movement completely ignores them.
That is, ultimately, why I cannot be pro-life. As a movement, it is not helping solve anything. While it may claim to be trying to prevent abortions, it is encouraging the conditions that lead to abortions. This movement is like a vegan with stock in McDonald’s.
You may have noticed that during this entire post, I have not brought up the issue of the personhood of a fetus even once. That was on purpose. This is a conversation we should definitely have. We should discuss what makes a human a human and where those limits are. We should discuss the role of personal convictions in grander lawmaking. This is, in many regards, an issue of separation of church and state, but if you believe people are literally dying, then it is a lot harder to say, “Well, those are just my beliefs.”
And at the same time, we should talk about the autonomy that women have over their own bodies. I heard an interesting argument that talked about how doctors need permission even from the deceased in order to use their body parts to save a life, so saying a woman has to go through with a pregnancy, even if we consider the baby a person, is literally treating her with less autonomy than a dead body.
I do not think I fully buy or am fully comfortable with that argument, but again, this is something that I feel like we should talk about.
But if you are claiming that people are literally dying from abortions and ignore the most effective ways of preventing this and thus saving lives, I do not think you would be a productive member of that conversation.
If we are going to try and solve this problem, we have to be able to look at the efficacy of our solutions and compare. If you are not willing to do that, you do not get to talk.
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*As I referenced above, there are many more dimensions to this, but I am trying to just focus on this for now.
**Though “difficult” in no way means, “mental disorder creating.”
***I know people will bring up how great people were the result of unplanned pregnancy, which is fine, and there are many people in my life who I value who were probably from an unplanned pregnancy, but that argument is besides the point. After all, think of all the people who were not able to achieve their full potential in life because they were born to a mother who could not adequately take care of them then but might have later.