President Obama’s health care legislation that requires employers to provide health insurance to women that provides free (no-deductible) contraceptives look like legislation written by someone who wanted fewer abortions. And the strongest opponents of this legislation are (for the most part) the pro-life people who want fewer abortions. Fox News reports (along with nearly every other news institution) that a number of Catholic institutions and at least one evangelical college are suing the Obama administration over it. They think that it’s infringing on their ability to exercise their freedom of religion.
In part one, I will argue that contraceptives advance the policy that pro-lifers desire, namely, fewer abortions, without the consequences that they claim. In Part 2, I will deal with the freedom of religion argument. In part 3, I will deal with the playing God objection to contraceptives. I conclude my argument that the pro-free-contraceptive position that President Obama has taken really is a pro-life position in the post-script.
Part 1: How Contraceptives Really Do Cause Fewer Abortions
Now, there are two main reasons that pro-life people should be in favor of providing free contraceptives:
1. This article (and countless others) describes a study that shows that when woman have access to free contraceptives, they have fewer abortions.
2. This blog post crunches some numbers about the way The Pill actually works compared to, well, not using The Pill. Summed up simply, on The Pill, fewer fertilized eggs get ejected, err, “aborted,” than with no pill and with intercourse. (Seriously. Read it. I’ll wait).
My argument in 8 points:
1. The pill causes fewer zygotes to die.
2. Access to the pill free-of-charge leads to fewer abortions than non-use.
3. President Obama wants to make employers pay for the pill so that their employers can access the pill free of charge.
4. Therefore, President Obama wants to make employers do something that will lead to fewer abortions and “lost” zygotes.
5. The position described in (4) is a pro-life position.
6. Therefore, President Obama is pro-life.
7. To work to oppose legislation that would result in fewer abortions is to be not-pro-life.
8. Therefore, the churches that are outright fighting this legislation – on pro-life conscience grounds, no less! are opposing legislation that would lead to the very thing they most want: fewer abortions!
Part 2: Freedom of Religion
Now, I understand that there are complex issues at work here in this debate. First, there’s the freedom issue: It looks on the surface like there are two parties who both want freedom to choose, and one will have to give up that freedom:
1. Employers want to be free to choose what their insurance dollars pay for.
2. Employees want to be free to access what their insurance dollars pay for.
The only problem is that (1) is misleading. When employers provide health insurance to their employees, it is really the employees’ compensation, not the employers‘. In essence, the money paid to the insurance company already belongs to the employee. The employer simply gives it to someone other than the employee on the employee’s behalf, but it isn’t theirs.
Besides, if the employee shares the employer’s religious beliefs, the employee will not use their insurance to pay for birth control, and the employer will not actually be paying for contraceptives anyway. Besides all this, for religious institutions concerned with being pro-life, providing free birth control is the pro-life position anyway (as argued above), and they should support it.
Now, all of that said, there is at least one final argument put forth by those arguing against contraceptives:
Part 3: “It’s playing God.”
Put simply, no it isn’t.
To the point: it’s no more playing God than taking ibuprofen when I get a headache is playing God, or taking anti-biotics when I get sick. It gives relief from unwanted symptoms. And Libby Anne over at Love, Joy, Feminism has already explained, in exceptional detail, that fewer zygotes get rejected with the pill than without it.
Furthermore, this argument relies upon a God-of-the-gaps theology: We don’t understand how something works, therefore God did it. If babies got made, it was God’s will. If rain fell, it was because God willed it. This theology is problematic because, as the gaps close (that is, as scientific understanding increases), the gaps that God controls shrink. Today, we understand how babies get made. There are fewer gaps in the process. We know (more or less) why rain falls, and can predict it with some small degree of accuracy. We know what causes pregnancy.*
More disturbingly, this worldview, taken to its natural conclusion, leads to a sort of fatalistic lifestyle in which its practicers refuse to wear fall protection while climbing or seat belts while riding in a car, because if it’s God’s time for them to die, then they will. Even pastors who advocate praying for work also advocate seeking employment – and regard failure to do the latter as foolish. The argument that “If God wills it to happen, then it will; if not, then it won’t, so we aren’t going to do anything about it” leads to all sorts of devastating conclusions: If God wills me to be fed, then I will be, if not, then I shall starve, but I’m not going to go to work today because I don’t want to interfere with God’s will.
God’s will is for you to do something.
If you don’t want to be unemployed, go look for a job. If you don’t want to starve, spend your money and buy some food. And if you don’t want to be pregnant, use contraceptives. There’s a simple cause-and-effect relationship at work here. It’s not playing God to wear fall protection or a seatbelt, to look for a job, or to buy food. And it’s not playing God to use contraceptives. It’s just not.
My intensive research on the subject has shown that no woman ever wants an abortion. None. Ever.
Okay, that was a lie. I didn’t do any research. Women have abortions because they don’t want to give birth to a baby. If they weren’t pregnant in the first place, they wouldn’t need an abortion in order to avoid giving birth to a baby, now, would they? And abortions are far less convenient than using birth control, or so I’ve heard. So you see, I didn’t need to do any research after all.
Speaking of which, I think on this same basis that nobody wants to think they need to take the morning after pill to avoid giving birth either. I understand evangelicals’ desire to not be required to pay for the morning after pill – but let’s be honest: if they pay for other forms of birth control, nobody is going to need the morning after pill to avoid giving birth anyway.§
So let’s stop the whining about contraceptives and get about the business of actually being pro-life and the business of opposing abortion and things that are likely to lead to abortions. Like religious employers who are fighting to avoid providing their female employees with contraceptives, for instance. Based on their pro-life stance, of all things.
* This is not to say that babies are not gifts from God, or miracles. I still believe that they are both, but not because of any apparent randomness in the timing of their births.
** Second note: I just read this Washington Post blog and am now aware that President Obama is definitely in favor of allowing abortions. I wrote this blog because it struck me weird that legislation that would lead to fewer abortions is being opposed by pro-life groups.
§ Third note: I read this blog and watched the accompanying video a while ago and discovered that the Plan B (Morning After Pill) doesn’t actually cause abortions. Oops.