“Face it, blacks. Michael Brown let you down.”

Does that headline get your hackles up? It got mine up. But then I read the article, and it was devastating. The author describes the experience of hoping that this time, someone would care that an unarmed black kid had been killed by the police. Maybe this time, someone would think that Mike Brown — and his community — had gotten far worse than they deserved. Until people went looking for reasons why he must have brought it on himself.

For a moment there, things were looking pretty good. A boy shot multiple times with his hands up. College bound. Poor. Innocent. And in response: helicopters and tanks. Maybe this time, we thought, they would believe us.

But that’s all been ruined.

We now have all sorts of reasons to make us doubt Brown’s humanity. He may have stolen some cigarillos. He may have been facing the officer when he was shot. He got shot in the top of the head, which might mean that he was surrendering, or might mean he was being defiant. He made amateur rap songs. Perhaps worst of all, he’s been caught grimacing at a camera making a contorted peace sign, and it turns out that he was pretty tall.

And Fox News has been trying to cast doubt on whether he was actually going to go to college in the first place.

All signs that his life was worth less than we might have hoped.

The inevitable had happened. Apologists for police violence had successfully painted Mike Brown as a “thug” who deserved what he got. If the question is “what could a black person do that would make their death not their own fault?”, there’s no answer. The question should be “why are black people required to prove — over and over again, in a rigged game — that they don’t deserve to be killed?”

Remember literacy tests for voting? They were ostensibly in place to ensure that applicants were educated enough to qualify as voters. But in reality:

Determination of who “passed” and who “failed” was entirely up to the whim of the Registrar of Voters — all of whom were white. In actuality, whites almost always “passed” no matter how many questions they missed, and Blacks almost always “failed’ in the selective judgement of the Registrar.

If you don’t want to grant someone a status in the first place, any excuse to revoke it will do. So it is with the right not to be killed. If people wanted to see an 18-year-old black man as a fully human person deserving of the right to life, then video of him allegedly swiping a handful of cigars and shoving a store clerk wouldn’t change that. Photos of him making a hand signal wouldn’t change that. Rap lyrics wouldn’t change that. That he was tall and heavy wouldn’t change that. How do I know? Because white people miss those questions on the humanity test, as it were, all the time without being dismissed as thugs who need killing.

For obvious reasons, nobody who considers themselves pro-life should embrace an ideology that requires human beings to pass tests to be considered worthy of living.

And speaking of pro-life, consider this: In the United States, the abortion rate is highest among black women. Black women in America have 40 abortions per 100,000 women — almost 4 times the rate among non-Hispanic white women. That’s 360,000 black lives ending in abortion every year. That’s who knows how many black women ending up in clinics like Kermit Gosnell’s. How many of those abortions would have been avoided if black Americans, on average, had the same healthcare, access to resources, and life prospects as white Americans? If we acted like black lives, born and unborn, really matter?

In countries where there is a vocal, well-funded minority against contraception, stereotypes against women who use it abound.

In the United States, for example, women who use contraceptives–the overwhelming majority of women, by the way–have been derided as feckless, irresponsible, selfish, monstrously unnatural, man-hating, child-hating sluts who want to live parasitically off hard-working, moral-paragon taxpayers, and who automatically have abortions without a thought if they become unintentionally pregnant. Women who do not use contraceptives, on the other hand, are praised as spiritually superior, virtuous, man-loving, child-loving, fruitful Good Girls who know their ordained place in G*d’s Order of Things.

What a different, and much more flattering, much more accurate picture emerges from a new Guttmacher Institute study, Reasons for Contraception: Perspectives of US Women Seeking Care at Specialized Family Planning Clinics, which is forthcoming in the journal Contraception.

From a release about the study:

“Women value the ability to plan their childbearing, and view doing so as critical to being able to achieve their life goals,” says study author Laura Lindberg. “They need continued access to a wide range of contraceptives so they can plan their families and determine when they are ready to have children.”

Few studies in the United States have asked women directly why they use contraception and what benefits they expect or have achieved from its use. To fill this gap, the authors surveyed 2,094 women receiving services at 22 family planning clinics nationwide.

The majority of participants reported that contraception has had a significant impact on their lives, allowing them to take better care of themselves or their families (63%), support themselves financially (56%), complete their education (51%), or keep or get a job (50%).

When asked why they are seeking contraceptive services now, women expressed concerns about the consequences of an unintended pregnancy on their families’ and their own lives. The single most frequently cited reason for using contraception was that women could not afford to take care of a baby at that time (65%). Nearly one in four women reported that they or their partners were unemployed, which was a very important reason for their contraceptive use. Among women with children, nearly all reported that their desire to care for their current children was a reason for contraceptive use.

Many women reported interrelated reasons for using contraception, suggesting that the complexities of women’s lives influence their decision to use contraception and their choice of method. Other reasons for using contraception, reported by a majority of respondents, include not being ready to have children (63%), feeling that using birth control gives them better control over their lives (60%) and wanting to wait until their lives are more stable to have a baby (60%).

The release also includes this commentary.

“Notably, the reasons women give for using contraception are similar to the reasons they give for seeking an abortion,” according to Lawrence B. Finer, author of a previous Guttmacher study on that topic. “This means we should see access to abortion in the broader context of women’s lives and their efforts to avoid unplanned childbearing, in light of its potential consequences for them and their families.”

What does this study mean from an All Our Lives sort of perspective? For one, it fits well with what we already know experientially about the critical reasons why women need and want access to the full range of pregnancy prevention methods. Reasons that have nothing to do with the abovementioned belittling stereotypes.

For another, any serious effort to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions must include expanded access to the full range of methods and understanding and alleviation of any problems that might hinder their effectiveness.

We do not advocate this course because we equate contraception with abortion, let alone believe the hype about some foreordained, inevitable “contraceptive mentality.” We advocate it because it works best in the real world, honors most women’s preferences to avert rather than interrupt unintended pregnancies, and does not involve the taking of prenatal lives. In other words, it evinces the most respect for human beings and universal human rights.

For yet another–the study findings call into question the sharp division between women who use contraception and those who do not. All Our Lives has long questioned this as just another brutal variant on the sundering of womankind into Madonnas and Whores. We assert the right of all women to use/not use any particular method of pregnancy prevention in accordance with their own preferences, values, and circumstances.

Thanks, Cristina Page, for bringing the Guttmacher study to our attention.

One of the arguments contraception opponents commonly make is that the acceptance of contraception leads to abortion. For a good debunking of that argument, read "Examining the argument that provision of contraception leads to increased abortion rates".


What leads to increased use of both contraception and — especially when contraception is unavailable or inadequate — abortion is the desire for relatively low fertility. Contraception and abortion are going to be much less of an issue when people fully expect to have six or eight or ten kids. Those days are over for most people in the developed world, for complex social and economic reasons. What we have to decide now is whether we're going to deal with that reality in an evidence-based manner, or pretend it's not happening (or that it shouldn't be happening, and therefore people who want to have sex but not have a lot of babies are just immoral).

Today is the 46th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Griswold v. Connecticut, which held that laws criminalizing the provision of contraception were unconstitutional. Unfortunately, even though it is no longer against the law to sell or use birth control, anti-contraception lawmakers are still trying to undermine access to it.

If you live in the United States, we urge you to contact your members of Congress to let them know that you're pro-life and pro-contraception. Ask them to resist further efforts to defund Title X family planning — most Title X recipients don't perform abortions, so don't let them claim otherwise. Remind them that evidence from around the world indicates that access to modern contraception reduces abortion, and that women are more likely to use contraception consistently (and avoid unintended pregnancy and abortion) if they are ensured an adequate, affordable supply. Let them know that existing evidence does not support claims that either hormonal methods or the IUD prevent implantation. Finally, remind them that opposition to contraception is simply one viewpoint, held by a small minority of Americans, and that the rest of us deserve representation too.

Some who conflate contraception with abortion and oppose both are gloating over a study from Spain. It reports that as contraceptive use increased, the abortion rate went up.

The researchers concluded only that the reasons for the increase in abortion await further investigation, which is the responsible thing for scientists to say when they do not know yet.

However, the conflaters quickly decided that it must be because people were having more feckless, casual, irresponsible sex; because they can't be trusted to learn how to use family planning methods effectively; and of course because so many of those contraceptives are really abortifacients.

Other hypotheses are far more plausible.

The bulk of the available evidence shows that in almost all situations worldwide, contraception reduces abortion rates.

One observed exception: if contraceptive services are increased, but they do not keep pace with people's desire & need for smaller family sizes, the abortion rate may go up, temporarily, and then finally decline when programming catches up. Scaling up family planning programs in anticipation of such an increase can help prevent it. In other words, more contraception does result in fewer abortions.

The bulk of the scientific evidence also shows that IUDs and hormonal contraceptives truly prevent conceptions rather than implantations. Please read this report from Family Health International, as well as this testimony from the World Health Organization from the debate in the Philippines over reproductive health legislation. The International Consortium for Emergency Contraception publishes this informative fact sheet on EC.

Other possible factors for the increased abortion rate in Spain merit investigation. For example, how prevalent were reproductive coercion and other forms of violence against the women studied? Women who are subjected to gender-based violence are far more likely to experience contraceptive sabotage, unintended pregnancies, and abortions.

And how did providers and communities educate, motivate, and support contraceptive users? Were they advised on how to share decisionmaking about family planning with their partners? On how to close the gap as much as possible between common use and correct and consistent use effectiveness rates?

These factors are harder to research than rates of contraceptive prevalence and abortion, but such research could boost the lifesaving effects of more family planning access.

Thanyarat Doksone of the Associated Press reports from Bangkok, Thailand about the discovery of thousands of illegally aborted fetuses awaiting cremation at a Buddhist temple. The article remarks: "Although Thailand is home to a huge and active sex industry, many Thais are conservative on sexual matters, and Buddhist activists especially oppose liberalizing abortion laws."

But is there really a contradiction here?

I am someone who attempts to practice Buddhism. This religion like any other is divided between prolife and prochoice, and All Our Lives as an organization is open to people of all faiths and none. But Buddhist ethics do call for respecting both the unborn child's and the pregnant woman's lives.

Buddhist qualms about abortion generally have to do with reverence for life, not with sexual repression. Buddhist values call for sexual responsibility, to be sure, but modern understandings especially take such responsibility to include comprehensive sex education, the practices of contraception and safer sex, and LGBT rights.

And how is "a huge and active sex industry"–treating sex like a commodity marketed through a labor-exploitative industry–not simply the flip side of being "conservative on sexual matters"?

More to the point: many abortions worldwide, including those in Thailand, in places where abortion is legal and in places where it is not, are driven and historically have been driven by the intense shaming and ostracism forced upon single women and their children. At the same time that nonmarried women and any children they might conceive are subjected to these injustices–women's abilities to make their own choices, and informed choices, about having sex and preventing unintended pregnancies are often undermined by conservative sexual beliefs.

As a Buddhist I pray daily to relieve "suffering and the causes of suffering." I am praying for all who belonged in those small bodies– and for the women in whose larger, hopefully still living bodies these unborn children grew. For the unmentioned men who were partners to these pregnancies. For all who inflict miseries on women with "unauthorized" pregnancies, miseries so intense that abortion appears the only way out of being slut-shamed and trampled upon. For countries and cultures worldwide to learn, as quickly as possible, what precisely it means to respect the two profoundly interconnected human lives and bodies who are involved in each and every pregnancy, before, during, and ever after birth.

No doubt there are people of all faiths who pray for and nonreligious people who intend something very similar through their thoughts and deeds.

 

All Our Lives needs your voice and your wisdom! 

What can prolifers and prochoicers do together to expand women's alternatives and help reduce the 42 million abortions worldwide each year? 

We seek perspectives from as many countries and regions of the world as possible.

 Please send your ideas in the body of an email to:  commonground@allourlives.org

 We are writing a proposal for Common Ground Work, a new, results-oriented initiative that will launch later this year.

At least 200 million women globally want family planning but lack access to knowledgeable, equipped health workers. 50 million women worldwide have abortions every year, and the number of unintended pregnancies is even higher. You can make a difference with as little as USD 10. That's the cost to donate one copy of the acclaimed Family Planning: A Global Handbook for Providers–available now in at least 10 languages.