Why don't "pro-lifers" support birth control?

There has been a lot of commentary this week about the GOP-led proposal to de-fund Planned Parenthood. Commentators such as Ezra Klein note the irrationality of this stance, since Planned Parenthood itself estimates it prevents more than 620,000 unintended pregnancies each year, and 220,000 abortions. Why wouldn't the anti-abortion crowd support this increase in contraception, and subsequent prevention of abortions?

What's missing in this rationale is that many on the far right perceive most forms of contraception *as being equivalent to abortion.* So by their logic, Planned Parenthood isn't "preventing" these abortions--it's just doing them another way, via the Pill, IUDs, etc. instead of drug-induced or surgical abortions. To many who view the world this way, Planned Parenthood *is* using tax dollars to fund abortions, because they're using tax dollars to help provide patients with oral contraceptives and other means of birth control. After all, while the Pill mainly works to prevent ovulation in the first place, there is some evidence that a secondary action may prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. If you're of the mindset that a fertilized ovum is the equivalent of a "person", then it becomes outrageous to allow the prescription of a product that will "kill" that egg, and it becomes more reasonable to protest organizations like PP which provide women access to such medications (or, public schools which educate our children about such alternatives--hence their opposition to comprehensive sex education as well).

Do I agree with this position? Hell no, but I think it's necessary to understand and acknowledge it--and as such, to see why articles like Klein's above (and many others which I've seen appear in the past week or so) only serve to stoke the fires for those on the extreme right, rather than making them jump on the PP bandwagon.

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Depends what kind of birth control you wish one to use, if one is to use ones thoughts alone, well then thats ok, if one was to use a tool of propaganda to fit an illusionary agenda one would look with open rolled eyes, thinking wtf, you think ones stupid.

Bear in mind that "abortion" is one of the absolute top red-meat issues to keep the Base in line. Throw them a number about "abortion" and they quit worrying about things like, oh, employment and other trivialities. It's quite possibly the #1 glue holding the Reagan Coalition together.

So things like abstinence-only sex education and reduced access to contraception increase the rate of abortions? Just more raw red meat to keep the proles in line.

By lumbercartel (not verified) on 10 Apr 2011 #permalink

The considerations you lay out certainly play a part in "pro-lifer" opposition to Planned Parenthood/contraception, but I think two other factors are actually more central to it:

- Most of the opposition to abortion is religiously motivated, and the conservative Christians who form this largest part of the "pro-life" movement already oppose contraception on the very same grounds they oppose abortion: the strong focus on procreation in their religious morality. Independent of the alleged 'personhood' of a fertilized ovum, many of them oppose contraception simply because in their eyes it 'promotes' irresponsible sex - or because sex should never be engaged in without procreative intent.

- Considerable parts of the "pro-life" movement get their information from severely biased, intentionally misleading sources. Many "pro-life" pamphlets describe Planned Parenthood as nothing but an abortion mill - an organization that offers and actively promotes abortion for (depending on pamphlet) profit, racism or sheer evil.

By Phillip IV (not verified) on 10 Apr 2011 #permalink

An interesting question is why they have so little concern for the multitude a human zygotes that naturally fail to implant in the uterus. If the zygote is a person, then that is the #1 cause of death, exceeding abortion by far.

In republicanworld, life begins a ejaculation.

By Greatbear (not verified) on 10 Apr 2011 #permalink

Please do not use the phrase "pro-life" to describe those people, even when quoting someone else. I am pro-life. I believe all people have the right to adequate food, shelter and health care from the moment of birth. I believe all people have the right to live free from the threat or fear of sexual violence from the moment of birth. I believe all people have the right to safe and affordable contraception. I believe all people have the right to make choices about their own bodies, including choosing abortion. I believe in the value of human life, from the moment of birth. I am pro-life. Those people do not value life.

By ImaginesABeach (not verified) on 10 Apr 2011 #permalink


Russell, pro-lifers don't claim a zygote is a person...only an embryo.

The Catholic Church teaches that a person starts when sperm fertilizes egg. Many others in the pro-life camp have a similar view, even if they aren't Catholic. There no doubt is a range of opinion. But that view represents a large share.

I was under the impression that there is not actually any compelling evidence that oral contraceptives cause failure of implantation.
Have there been new studies? What is this evidence? The last set of analyses I read actually showed that when emergency contraception is used, the distribution of of pregnancies resulting (or contraceptive success, to look at it the other way) is consistent with EC working ONLY by preventing ovulation if it has not already occurred.

This issue frustrates me hugely, because so far as I know the pharmaceutical companies started making that claim ("may cause non-implantation") based on in vitro studies, but there's no evidence that it does really work that way in vivo - yet people keep talking about it as though it does. Which allows the crazies a lot of ammunition that we'd be better off if they didn't have. Sigh.


I agree that what I describe above aren't the only issues; they are part of the bigger picture. What I think some people don't understand is that when people are shown media that contradict the Fox News/WorldNetDaily stories they've been exposed to, that they don't just throw up their hands and say, "you know what, you were right."

Imagines--I agree, that's why it's always in quotes.

Thisbe--the implantation research isn't my area, so I"m not sure of the state of the literature. That's why I put that there is "some evidence." If you want to link or reference the study/ies you mention, you're definitely welcome to.

Perhaps the issue isn't ideology, perhaps it is money and who the Federal Government, which is bankrupt, should be sending money to. Just because nice liberal minded faculty members think that Planned Parenthood is a GOOD THING, does not mean that 1) everybody agrees with them, and 2) does not mean that it is a budgetary priority.

Allow me to suggest, that before this is all over. lots of Good Things will no longer be taxpayer funded. Planned Parenthood, from the evidence of my junk mail stream, has a well developed private funding mechanism. They will survive as an organization.

It has nothing to do with life or babies and everything to do with turning women back into controlled breeding chattel. The "pro life" brand of anti abortionists are plain ole misogyny.

Fat Man, when the right wing singles out a small number of programs that represent minute portions of the budget, they are not doing so for budgetary reasons. It is nothing but deceit when they use that as an excuse. It would be much like you telling your wife that she has to give up chapstick, because it costs $1.23 a month. If you don't want her using chapstick, figure out why, grow a pair, and discuss it. Or forget it. But don't pretend it's a budgetary issue.

Tara -
1. The endometrial mechanism of hormonal contraceptives is theoretical at best - there is no direct evidence of this effect in vivo.
2. As an addendum, another method of birth control often accused of being an abortifacent is the IUD. It appears that it is only when the IUD is inserted into an already pregnant uterus that this effect is important. The copper IUD actually prevents fertilization, and the levonorgestrel IUD acts like hormonal birth control.
3. Traditional Catholic Church teaching prohibits all forms of birth control, even condoms or diaphragm, because they violate natural law, which states that the purpose of sex is procreation.

Rest assured that if the so called anti-abortion crowd were to succeed in making hormonal contraception unavailable, the next battle would be over barrier contraceptives.

Dr. Smith, I think you are being too generous in your description of the motives of the so called "pro-life" crowd. I think their fundamental belief is that sex outside of the framework established by their religion is a sin and that this sin should be punished. It is particularly important to them that women be punished for this sin, and being forced to carry an unwanted child and suffer the pain of labor, against their will seems, to them, an appropriate punishment. I think they know, instinctively, that to be honest about their motives for being against contraception and abortion would sound ugly and unacceptable to most Americans and would quickly be shot down in any court. They've chosen the dishonest approach of stating their position as being one about the sanctity of life, when that really has nothing to do with their motives. They are against contraception because it allows women to escape their punishment for their sins. All this talk about when life begins is just a smokescreen.

Just to be clear: the majority of zygotes fail to implant in women not using any kind of contraceptive. That's just the natural odds of (against) the zygote successfully planting an anchor in the womb. It may seem a waste, but humans are quite efficient compared to many other animals. Zygotes are just cheap, and there is lots of psychological reward built into the making of them.

The question isn't why nature doesn't care about these wasted zygotes. It's why pro-lifers seem not much to, given that their common rhetoric is that they are people. Seems the least they could do is research methods that makes it easier to detect a zygote in menstrual flow, so that they can perform a proper burial.

Adrian, I completely agree that this is the case for many of the leaders of the movement (and especially the politicians and evangelists pushing these ideas), but for many (the majority?) of the average joes (and particularly the average janes), their beliefs are more sincere. Unfortunately, they're being used and exploited by the people on the top of the pyramid.

Peggy, if you also have any links to papers I can add to the main post that would be helpful. Looking on Pubmed gives me some seemingly contradictory papers just on the first few pages, and I'm unfortunately not at a place where I can access the full text papers at the moment.

Note to self: Never interupt folks when they are having their ten minutes of hate.

I take a fairly cynical view--that the opposing camps on the abortion debate are so deeply entrenched in their positions, that there's no benefit to them to promoting any program that might actually reduce the need for abortions, because that would reduce their political influence. Sure, rationally, we could argue that better access to contraceptives, better educational programs, better prenatal and postnatal care options, so on and so forth, would all be good, but these changes would enhance the ability of individuals to make their own choices, and have more control over the processes. But nobody with any political influence wants that--their political influence depends on being able to manipulate others.

Fat Man, you must admit that the fight over PP (and Sesame Street, etc.) has nothing to do with the gov't budgetary deficit. The costs of these things are peanuts. Instead it's pure politics... defunding anything that has previously enjoyed any support from Democrats, and anything that doesn't fit the Republican agenda of increasing the gap between rich and poor. And also, of course, making sure that a woman's punishment for having sex is carrying to term (as others noted above). If the Right were truly concerned about the deficit, they wouldn't have forced through their big tax cuts for their rich friends. Their $30 billion, or even $60 billion, in spending cuts this past week pail before the $100B tax cuts (this year alone) they passed in December. Their policies thus drove up the deficit. But it made their rich benefactors happy.

And while you are sitting around after you ten minutes of hate, reflect on this about the object of your affection:


Xray: Every penny the US government spends is a penny that it does not have and that it must borrow from China. It is bankrupt. There are no expenditures that are too trivial to object to.

Tara, I suspect you underestimate the lack of introspection that the rank and file anti-choice people show. Adrian is right; their main motive is to insure that women who have sex are punished. This is why they are so dead set against sex education of any kind. They want not only teens, but also single adult women to lack knowledge of, and access to materials for, contraceptive methods of all kinds, including those which do not kill a fertilized egg. You will not find these folks encouraging non-genital sex, or condom usage, for example.

This is why when their own kids have sex and get pregnant, it's often OK, because the girl marries her boyfriend of the moment, or if he skips town, she goes ahead and has the baby by herself. Either way, she does not "get off, scot free".

The fact that these folks are unable to reason and disinclined to look at data only helps them maintain this facade. They pretend to love babies, while taking grim satisfaction in seeing single moms suffer.

@22: The US government is not bankrupt. Indeed it cannot go bankrupt due to dollar liabilities, since the US government has monopoly power on the issuing of US dollars (unless you believe that the Federal Reserve will ever bounce a Treasury cheque, and even then the Treasury can always issue coins instead - formally speaking, it has that power).

The United States can go bankrupt, of course, but the sovereign deficit has no direct bearing on this question. A systemic bankruptcy is the result of total private and public liabilities exceeding total private and public assets, and the sovereign budget is mainly a question of redistribution between purely domestic economic actors - the military is pretty much the only US sovereign function to impose a serious direct foreign trade cost (due to the hard currency expense of maintaining the empire).

Unless you're labouring under the delusion that the private sector is inherently virtuous, and thus can never cause a ForEx run. In which case I would suggest seeking professional help for your serious case of disassociation between your view of reality and the world as it is observed through empirical experience.

- Jake

Most pro life people don't have anything against most forms of birth control, just the ones that kill babies. In a sane world, this would be considered reasonable and proper.

CT @ 24:

Most pro life people don't have anything against most forms of birth control, just the ones that kill babies just want to control the sex lives of those nasty sluts. In a sane world, this would be considered reasonable and proper they would be regarded as theocratic authortarians and ignored.


The previous comment is commercial spam made up of snippets from the comments before it. Please delete.

Contraception would allow women to avoid sex, and woman-hating religions can't abide that.

Dr. Smith,

Sorry about the late reply. Fundamentally, I agree with the point I think you are trying to make about the difference in the level of repugnance between the self-proclaimed "Pro-Life" leaders and the masses who follow them.

But, I think we all have more of a capacity for self-deception than we'd care to admit to deceive ourselves. While I think few of those in the "Pro-Life" masses really believe are pro-punishment rather than Pro-Life, it's interesting to note the kids of anti-abortion bills that have succeeded in getting passed. Most of those laws offer some sort of escape clause for women who are victims of rape or incest. We don't normally limit the rights of born children who were conceived in rape or incest, so my question is, why would someone who says a fetus should have the same right to life as a born child support an escape clause like this in an anti-abortion law? On the other hand, if we assume that the law is about punishment, it makes perfect sense to provide an escape clause for those who are perceived as being less to blame in the "sin" that resulted in pregnancy.

I fear, Dr. Smith, that even the less repugnant masses are motivated, more than they'd care to admit to themselves, by the urge to punish sin and not so much by the sense that a fetus has the right to life from the moment of conception.

There truly is something good about efforts such as yours to see the opposition as human and to try to understand their motives. But when their words are fundamentally inconsistent with their actions, I just don't think we can take what they say at face value. Our opponents are not unique in their capacity for such self-deceptions; We can all fall into such habits, too, if we are careless. We should not be too quick to accuse our opponents of deception, whether it's willful or unconscious. But in this case, I think the evidence makes it hard to escape the conclusion that our opponents statements of their motives are false, even in the case of the less repugnant masses who have supported successful anti-abortion bills.


@Adrian, you will find that the Catholic Church is quite consistent--abortion is not okay even in cases of rape and incest, because the baby is still an innocent life. IME, it's only Catholics and maybe Eastern Orthodox churches which are consistent in this way. Most conservative Protestants (fundamentalists and evangelicals) support the escape clause which you mentioned.

@Evelyn, that's what I thought, but thank you for pointing that out.

Now, if I could only embed the audio for Monty Python's "Every Sperm is Sacred" into this comment....



I support PRO LIFE ( Im a Bio Tech)

Pro lifers - stand for life , by doing so they are stopping immoral sexual acts. ie extra marital as well pre marital .

Life is a gift of God's , its a part of power of THE MIGHTY GOD in us.

Even if fertilized egg is destroyed its equivalent to destroying life . so its a sort of killing.

What if no Pro Lifers :
- without any value for humanity people would just be Fucking around people they get
- more sins , illegal sex
- more Sexual diseases .
- in a an abortion you might be killing an Einstein.

Its God who has given us the knowledge so lets not talk against Him. Our God is Mighty One , You will have to answer every single deed you did against Him. Repent and turn to Jesus.


I think most pro-life people, accept birth control, the one that doesn't cause abortion. You can see in some christian websites that they are all for condoms and other things that prevent conception.

Gee, I hadn't realized that this old thread had been necromanced by some anti-abortion types.

Alen J @ 32 is of course just another theo-bot, complete with random capitalizations and adherence to grammatical rules while bypassing a discussion of the post in favor of prozelytizing.

Samanta @ 33 commits the all too typical fallacy of commenting on the title of the post without actually having read it. If she had bothered to do so, she could have found the referenced information that supports the premise of the post.

Plus ça change...