Thursday, November 1, 2012

Not convinced

I've seen an article passed around this week from Patheos blogger Libby Anne called How I lost faith in the pro-life movement. It presents itself as a character arc from a liberated woman who was born into a far-right family and has come to terms with her own beliefs, but instead it's a weak argument that insists no one really opposes abortion because they don't support a hodgepodge of left wing political positions. She concluded:

The reality is that so-called pro-life movement is not about saving babies. It’s about regulating sex. That’s why they oppose birth control. That’s why they want to ban abortion even though doing so will simply drive women to have dangerous back alley abortions. That’s why they want to penalize women who take public assistance and then dare to have sex, leaving an exemption for those who become pregnant from rape. It’s not about babies. If it were about babies, they would be making access to birth control widespread and free and creating a comprehensive social safety net so that no woman finds herself with a pregnancy she can’t afford. They would be raising money for research on why half of all zygotes fail to implant and working to prevent miscarriages. It’s not about babies. It’s about controlling women. It’s about making sure they have consequences for having unapproved sex.

Well, there's some big assumptions here. Her conclusions far outpace the arguments she attempts to use as a foundation.

The theme reminds me of a series I did back in 2010 about simplistic arguments where people assume their opponents secretly agree with them, but have hidden motives. It's a lazy way of thinking in black and white terms to avoid seeing a world of gray.

Anne does make a strong point that people who are opposed to abortion should support birth control because it stops fertilization from happening. She then makes a few assertions that those in the pro-life movement are universally opposed to birth control. There were no citations to back this claim up.

She does not make it clear the extent is she talking about the people who actively campaign against abortion and the people who say they are morally opposed, but are not politically active. The most charitable reading is that she is referring to those who are activists, but her failure to distinguish will leave some readers misinformed.

Data from a Gallup poll released in May revealed 50 percent of Americans identified themselves as pro-life (compared to a mere 41 percent who said they are pro-choice) while only 8 percent of Americans said they are morally opposed to birth control. With 3 percent of responders in between, that left 89 percent of Americans who reported no moral objection to birth control.

I will write a correction if someone can show that I'm wrong to assume the entire group of people who do not support birth control are also opponents of abortion. That means that the overwhelming majority of abortion opponents, 78 percent, have no moral objection to birth control and a mere 16 percent of them fit the image Anne painted.

Anne repeated a ridiculous argument that one can tell the pro-life movement isn't serious because it doesn't finance itself with 5K fundraising events. Clownish statements like this both clutter up the essay with junk and erode her credibility.

Then there's the barrage of left-wing assumptions. Merely supporting birth control isn't enough; to meet the unrealistic standard she has set to prove moral motivation one has to adopt left wing economic policies like increasing welfare for mothers and government funding of birth control.

It runs through the entire checklist of cliche progressive birth control misdirection. Use of the word "access" to dodge public vs. private debates; check. Assertion that President Obama's gave everyone birth control out of the aether, instead of mandating health insurance companies provide it by raising rates, and labeling the whole thing free, check. Assuming opposition to any of these means of paying for it is the same as opposing the legality of birth control, check.

She also quotes a study that insists this method of forcing private health insurance companies to provide birth control without a co-pay (mistakenly referred to a "free") is going reduce three-quarters of abortions in the country. I wanted to see if any of the anti-abortion folks have come up with good counter arguments and I found this piece by Ben Domenech.

What Libby Anne completely ignores is that the majority of abortions are sought by women who are the least likely to have employer-based insurance – namely, the poor. While the vast majority of insurance plans prior to the contraception mandate already covered abortion and contraception services (with co-pays), according to the Guttmacher Institute, only 13 percent of abortions are charged to insurers. These employer-covered women aren’t the ones who are seeking more abortions. While abortion rates are trending down overall, they are increasing among the poorest Americans – 42% of all abortions were from American women below the federal poverty line in 2008. 

 For these women, the likeliest to seek out and obtain abortions, Obama’s contraception mandate for employers will make no difference whatsoever.

The whole thing reminds me of the essays written by former atheists who have seen the light of God, where its clear that they were so easy to convert because their now-discarded views were primitive and shallow. In both cases, we would learn much more from someone who had a deep understanding of the issues and has shed strong arguments in favor of superior ones.

1 comment:

  1. In my first year of university, I met a pro-life atheist. He felt that women, outside of rape, had already made their choice: They could have used birth control.

    The argument isn't necessarily persuasive and says nothing about the morality and permissability of abortion per se, but it's a line of thought completely ignored by Libby Anne. It doesn't seem to have crossed her mind that people like him could exist.

    Because she didn't crunch the numbers and realize that that's actually the majority of those who self-identify as pro-life, she just alienates a lot of people unfairly and for little gain.