Birth control is the key to the abortion debate

Opinion

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If there is anything the pro-life and pro-choice sides of the abortion argument should agree on, it's that abortion is a lousy way to conduct birth control. It's reactive, i.e. after-the-fact, and implies a fundamental disrespect for life.

One would think, then, that both sides could also agree that pro-active/preventive/pre-emptive birth control is morally superior. In fact, if all sexually active couples were properly educated, had access to reliable forms of birth control, and could be counted on to practice safe, responsible sex, it stands to reason that the demand for abortion would eventually drop so low that the moral civil war we've been waging in this country for the past 32 years would become virtually irrelevant.

But many pro-lifers, especially those guided by Catholic teachings, oppose preventive-conception measures almost as ardently as they oppose abortion. But by failing to promote?#34;and even obstructing access to?#34;responsible forms of birth control, they unintentionally inflate the number of abortions performed each year.

If that isn't immoral, it's certainly ironic.

Even those pro-lifers who silently use and/or approve of contraception oppose promoting its use, especially for the unmarried, because that might be seen as fostering promiscuity or pre-marital sex.

They would say this is morally consistent. Many pro-choice people see it as a profound moral contradiction.

Here's the way it ought to work:

The pro-life movement and the Catholic Church would begin to recognize that abortion is a much graver "sin" than contraception and pre-marital sex. They would also recognize that giving couples as much control as is humanly possible over whether and when they conceive a child is something God would approve of. When used properly, birth control is a moral "good." Eventually, I believe, the Catholic Church will change its teaching on birth control.

Admittedly, this represents a major theological step for many religious conservatives. It changes procreation to a "partnership" between God and human beings?#34;rather than viewing the human womb as a passive, welcoming receptacle of God's will. Given modern realities like overpopulation, poverty, widespread hunger and global epidemics, I believe a loving God would approve of human beings taking more responsibility for procreation.

Once birth control is sanctioned for married couples, of course, the next step is educating?#34;and making birth control available to?#34;those who choose to be sexually active outside of marriage. If adult society could present a united front on the importance of?#34;and the means of achieving?#34;safe, responsible sexual activity, many unwanted pregnancies could be prevented.

But how do you encourage responsible pre-marital sexual activity if you don't approve of any pre-marital sexual activity?

Religious conservatives want "abstinence" to be the only message adults preach to the young. But realists point out that a large percentage, probably a majority, of young, unmarried couples in every generation choose to disregard that advice.

I contend that both the "abstinence" and "responsible birth control" messages can co-exist?#34;if the pro-life and pro-choice movements first bridge their ideological divide. That's asking a lot, but it's possible nonetheless.

The societal message would go something like this: "There are many solid, compelling reasons to abstain from sexual activity until you're married. But surveys indicate some of you will be sexually active anyway. Although we don't approve of that activity and urge you wait, we also know that unwanted pregnancy at an early age can wreck your life and possibly your child's. We don't want you to have to face the ugly reality of resorting to abortion out of desperation or the heartbreak of giving a child up for adoption. Therefore, if you insist on rejecting our advice, be responsible enough to use birth control. Though it isn't foolproof, birth control not only helps prevent conception and sexually transmitted diseases, it also helps prevent abortion."

We're still much too divided to present this united front, but if we ever do, I believe the abortion numbers will fall significantly.

You can say another approach might work better, but you can't dismiss this idea as unworkable because it's never been tried?#34;at least not on a society-wide level.

People at both ends of the spectrum, however, will immediately dismiss this notion because mistrust of the opposition runs so deep. But the two extremes in this debate are morally compromised, so it's up to those of us in the middle to break the standoff. A coalition of pro-choice people who object to abortion and pro-life people who realize birth control is a good thing when used responsibly can move this issue forward.

In fact, we're the only ones who can do it.

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