(A recent article by the wellknown antiabortionist Lila Rose has frustrated our board members, some of whom campaigned for contraception before she was even born. We privately and publicly asked Rose several times to engage with us on this matter, but have to date gotten no response from her. Thanks to Fem 2.0 for publishing our response.)
Lila Rose, founder of the controversial anti-abortion group Live Action, recently penned an article on Politico entitled “Battle Hymn of the Anti-Abortion Feminist.” As board members of All Our Lives, an unapologetically feminist organization whose (interfaith, nonsectarian, secular) mission is to alleviate the societal problems responsible for so many abortions, we are outraged by Rose’s presumption that she speaks for us. Starting with that militaristic title…
(Read the rest at Fem 2.0…)
22 thoughts on “Why Lila Rose Doesn’t Even Speak for Pro-Life Feminists”
You don't know what you are talking about. Because every method of contraception has a failure rate (you can look these up), the widespread availability of contraception actually fuels the demand for abortion. It leads many more people than would otherwise do so to have sex in situations where they cannot possibly accept a child. If you do the math (and look up the relevant data), you will find that contraceptive failure can account for all unplanned pregnancies in the U.S. About half of these unplanned pregnancies currently end in abortion. Further promotion of contraception only leads more people to believe that they can (and should!) separate sex from procreation, and therefore to have sex in situations where they cannot possibly accept a child. But since this "separation" fails at a predictable rate, having more people believe in it and act accordingly only leads to more abortions, not less.
We don't know what we're talking about? Did you read the complete article at Fem 2.0? Have you read blog posts on the All Our Lives website, along with our slide presentation "Family Planning Freedom Is Prolife," which are thoroughly based in scientific findings?
What gives you the impression that we don't know every method has a failure rate? No method, even surgical sterilization, is 100% effective, but one reason birth control is so popular around the world is that it really does significantly boost people's odds of realizing their preferences.
Failure rates are *not* reasons to throw all methods out the window. They are reasons to:
–Educate contraceptive users how to use their methods as effectively as possible.
–Abolish reproductive coercion such as domestic violence, sexual assault, and contraceptive sabotage, and promote male responsibility.
–Research new methods and improve the effectiveness of existing ones.
–Educate people that no method, no matter how correctly and consistently used, will be 100% effective and so if they engage in penis vagina sex, there is a chance however miniscule of conception.
–Educate people about forms of sexual expression that have no risk of conception.
–Provide a complete safety net for families who experience unintended pregnancies, which will also benefit those who intentionally seek out conception.
So how do you explain the half of unplanned pregnancies that women *don't* abort? I bet more would go to term if they had more substantive assistance during and ever after pregnancy, and if the prolife movement as such embraced all methods of family planning, instead of stigmatizing and demonizing people who use contraception.
One can use contraception *without* thinking automatically, "Oh, if I get pregnant, I'll have an abortion." Millions around the world do just that. And if abortion opponents were not so hostile to family planning rights, perhaps millions more would not have abortions after unintended conceptions.
The problem is not people having more sex, or separating sex from procreation. In fact, the more safely and effectively that they can be separated, the fewer unintended pregnancies and abortions.
"So how do you explain the half of unplanned pregnancies that women *don't* abort?"
Because some people still accept that there is a connection between sex and children (ie. that one causes the other) with or without contraception. You can influence the probability distribution by using contraception, but not the range of possible outcomes. People who understand this take sex seriously and do not engage in it unless they have decided a priori that they are prepared to accept a child should one arise from their union.
"In fact, the more safely and effectively that they can be separated, the fewer unintended pregnancies and abortions."
This is precisely the liberal fallacy that I am attempting to correct, but apparently you missed that point. So, here it is again: even if everyone uses contraception all the time, there will still be unintended pregnancies, and these will occur at a rate that you can predict a priori using available data.
First of all, CDC data (see http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/ad/ad350.pdf) indicates that:
"Contraceptive use in the United States is virtually universal among women of reproductive age: 98 percent of all women who had ever had intercourse had used at least one contraceptive method."
We will need the distribution of contraceptive usage by method in the United States:
We will also need data on the failure rates of various methods of contraception:
(these numbers mostly agree with the numbers listed by the CDC, but the CDC web site gives wider ranges, and they seem to err on the side of higher failure rates).
Combining the data from the above sources to obtain a weighted average failure rate, I obtain 5.9% for "typical use". Available demographic data indicate that the U.S. population includes roughly 50 million women between the ages of 20 and 44. If all of them were using contraception, this would imply close to 3 million unwanted pregnancies per year resulting from contraceptive failure.
Interestingly, even the data published by the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute (see http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/psrh/full/3809006.pdf) says that:
"In 2001, 49% of pregnancies in the United States were unintended. The unintended pregnancy rate was 51 per 1,000 women aged 15–44, meaning that 5% of this group had an unintended pregnancy."
This lines up pretty well with my quick estimate above.
The same paper lists the number of unintended pregnancies in the U.S. as 3.1 million in 2001, which again lines up pretty well with my estimate above.
The main take-away message here is this: promoting contraception will *not* bring down the rate of unintended pregnancies from what it is now. It will, however, further entrench the "contraceptive mentality" which says that one can and should separate sex from procreation. This leads more people to have sex in situations where they are not remotely prepared to accept a child. When those people have unintended pregnancies, they typically resort to abortion as a "solution". More people behaving that way means more abortions.
I will grant you that this would not be the case if people behaved logically. Behaving logically in this context would mean 1) understanding what every modern embryology textbook tells us, namely that the life of a human being begins at fertilization; and 2) understanding that, although one can influence the probability distribution by using contraception, one cannot make the probability of fertilization arbitrarily small, and certainly not zero. From this it follows that no one should have sexual intercourse unless they are prepared to accept a child.
But if people were that logical, they would also realize that contraception is almost always superfluous, because one can still influence the probability of fertilization using natural methods, and one can make that probability as low as with hormonal methods, but without negative health effects for the woman.
Because someone disagrees with you about how a particular problem should be addressed does not mean they don't know what they're talking about. Please don't come into this conversation acting like you're the only one who knows anything. It's both untrue and insulting, and leads to an immediate degradation of the quality of the conversation. We have often found that people accuse us of 'not knowing' things when it turned out that our information was more up-to-date and accurate than theirs — just the other day I had someone attempting to school me on the 'fact' that Plan B prevents implantation despite the best evidence showing that this is simply not the case. So please be aware that you are dealing with well-informed people here, who do not take kindly to condescension.
Right now, the only people actively promoting the use of contraception are the same people saying that abortion is OK. If couples got a consistent message that 1) you have a right to attempt to control when and whether you conceive, and we will help you do so as effectively as possible; and 2) if you conceive anyway, you have a responsibility to the child you have created — what do you think the effect would be on unintended pregnancy and abortion rates? I think this approach is likely to be far more successful than discouraging contraception would be! But instead, anti-contraception pro-lifers (who are only 20% of self-identified pro-lifers) continue to dominate pro-life organizations, shut down everyone who might want to try that approach, and ensure that people who believe in the humanity of the unborn child have nothing to say to people who use contraception except "Stop having sex (or, maybe, if you're married, use NFP)." We think that is, to say the least, self-defeating.
In most countries in Western Europe, where sex education and contraception are common and well-accepted, the rates of unplanned pregnancy and abortion are far lower than they are here. So surely it is possible to do much better than we are doing now. There certainly are ways to get the "failure rate" down with improved access and education (see this post for more).
Also, that you find fertility awareness methods to be the only logical method of family planning does not mean that everyone does. Not everyone has negative health effects from other method of birth control, and indeed many women experience health benefits. In addition, many women are willing to accept slight health risks in exchange for the ability to have unscheduled sex, or to have a method that doesn't require the full cooperation of a partner — sad to say, not all men respect the rights of their partners or even wives to decide when to try to conceive. You may say that women shouldn't be in those relationships, or that men should be more respectful, and we're working on that! But in the world as it exists, many women need contraception options that they, and they alone, control. I would also add that it is very common for people to accept health risks in exchange for the ability to participate in activities that make them happy — it's only when the activity is sex that this seems to be considered suspect.
"1) you have a right to attempt to control when and whether you conceive, and we will help you do so as effectively as possible"
OK, agree with the first part, but who is the "we" that you think has an obligation to help?
"2) if you conceive anyway, you have a responsibility to the child you have created"
"– what do you think the effect would be on unintended pregnancy and abortion rates?"
To get an effect that is different from what I described above, you would need to overcome what is now a very well entrenched connection between contraception and the ideology that says one can and should separate sex from procreation. By promoting contraception, you actually end up promoting that ideology, whether you like it or not.
"…a method that doesn't require the full cooperation of a partner — sad to say, not all men respect the rights of their partners or even wives to decide when to try to conceive. You may say that women shouldn't be in those relationships, or that men should be more respectful, and we're working on that!"
Please explain how you are "working on that". In fact, you seem to be agreeing with Lila Rose when she says:
"We have also noticed that while contraceptives and legal abortion promised to eliminate the exploitative attitude of men toward women, they have had the opposite effect."
"But in the world as it exists, many women need contraception options that they, and they alone, control."
How meaningful is that control if they can't even control when and with whom they have sex? Aren't you aiding and abetting men who treat women as sex objects? And when contraception fails, those same men are the ones who coerce their partners into having abortions.
I don't agree with Lila Rose on this at all. The availability of contraceptives doesn't make men treat women like sex objects. That's an absolute fallacy. Men's disregard for women's full humanity makes them treat women like sex objects. Before modern contraception, feminists campaigned for the right of women to refuse their husbands intercourse (because that was the most reliable way they had to prevent pregnancy). They had to campaign for it because too many men simply did not care that their wives risked more and more dangerous pregnancies and death — they wanted the sex they felt was their due. Back before modern birth control supposedly destroyed men's respect for women, marital rape wasn't a crime in this country. Men had every legal right to force themselves on their wives. And of course we all know, or should know, what slave masters did to the women under their control; that was legal as well. I'm not really feeling the respect there. It is still the case in some countries that husbands don't want their wives to use birth control because they think it demeans their manhood not to father as many children as possible.* Birth control did not bring about these attitudes, and it doesn't solve them (and if anyone actually claimed it would, which I am not stipulating, then they were naïve), but it at least gives women a better chance of protecting themselves.
Currently, we're working on helping women in these situations by working for the reauthorization of VAWA (to help women escape domestic violence) and by raising awareness of reproductive coercion. Women who are alerted to the fact that their partner's control over their reproduction is abusive and not something they should have to put up with are more likely to leave those relationships.
* Edit: I'm sure there are some people like that in every country, but it is a more widespread problem in some places than in others.
I know that contraception sometimes fails, as my birth was the result of an unplanned pregnancy. However, I think that pro life advocates support the use of contraception without advocating that people disregard responsibility toward any children that are concieved. For instance, as a Christian I would use contraception within a marital relationship without worrying that I was doing something wrong. In terms of abstinence, I feel that I should be abstinent until marriage and I have been, but not everyone shares this perspective on sex. Some people are going to have sex outside of marriage because this does not conflict with their moral precepts. I would much rather that such people have access to contraception then have unprotected sex that leaves them more vulnerable to pregnancy then sex with a condom or the pill. And, as other posts on this site discuss, some women have health risks that require the use of contraception. The attitude you discuss can lead to abortion, but it is possible to support and use contraception without imbibing that attitude.
"I would much rather that such people have access to contraception then have unprotected sex that leaves them more vulnerable to pregnancy then sex with a condom or the pill."
That is fine for those people who would be sexually active anyway. But the fact is that the availability of contraception affects behaviour, and it influences many people to become sexually active in situations where they would not have considered becoming sexually active without contraception. For those people there is a net negative effect from contraception, and this would be the case even if unwanted preganancies were the only negative effects. And we know there are quite a few other negative effects from casual sex… see the link to Dr. Miriam Grossman above.
"And I would argue that it is a larger proportion of men now than before the widespread use of contraception."
You can argue that, but I know when I would rather live as a woman, and it's not 1912 or 1812 or 1512. And may I ask where you get your information that the scenario you propose is "typical"? I'd like to see some data on that (not anecdotes or theories, but data). You seem to be starting from a baseline scenario that women don't really like sex all that much, and that for a lot of them, it's just something they do to keep boyfriends. I'd agree that this is true in some cases (and certainly women don't like bad sex with selfish partners all that much), but "typical"? Prove it.
In any event, taking away contraception from women so that they'll have an excuse to refuse sex in that situation is a terrible, nonsensical "solution" to that problem. First of all, you do realize you'd have to make it unavailable in general; I guess the women in healthy and respectful relationships would just be out of luck. They shouldn't want sex anyway, right? Second of all, you're assuming that guys wouldn't put pressure on anyway. Maybe you want to look into the history that I mentioned in my previous comment. Third, do you honestly think it's right to take an option away from women because some men are selfish jerks who pressure their partners into sex? Attack the real problem.
I find it chilling that you think women are somehow empowered by not being able to prevent pregnancy. That the only leverage we can reasonably expect to have in a relationship is the fear of pregnancy, and so we need to constantly be under that fear. For our own good! I'm not being a bit hyperbolic; that mindset is genuinely frightening to me.
Apologies for the late reply…
"Men's disregard for women's full humanity makes them treat women like sex objects."
Yes, but… it's a little more complicated than that. First of all, we are talking about some men, not all men. And I would argue that it is a larger proportion of men now than before the widespread use of contraception. Here is a typical scenario (plays out on university campuses all the time): man and woman go on a date, man pressures woman to have sex, woman doesn't really want to, but neither can she come up with a really convincing reason not to (such as "I might get pregnant") because birth control pills are freely available from the university health centre, and almost nobody ever thinks about the odds of getting pregnant while on the pill (and those odds actually are pretty low when you look at only one individual– it's only when you consider a large population that the effect becomes really significant). Suffice it to say, she eventually gives in. Remember that this is a typical scenario, not meant to be representative of everyone. However, the amount of pressure on a young woman to give in to a man's sexual demands is huge, because she knows she is competing with other women who are making themselves sexually available, and this is the case precisely because of the widespread availability of contraception.
Helping women to escape domestic violence is commendable and necessary (and I personally support some similar initiatives) but it doesn't address the far more common situation I described above, which is where our young men and women are learning attitudes and behaviours that will affect their relationships later in life.
Are you familiar with the work of Dr. Miriam Grossman? If not then I would encourage you to take a look:
This article is particularly relevant:
–But the fact is that the availability of contraception affects behaviour, and it influences many people to become sexually active in situations where they would not have considered becoming sexually active without contraception. For those people there is a net negative effect from contraception, and this would be the case even if unwanted preganancies were the only negative effects.–
No, it is not always and everywhere a net negative effect! Case in point: many women have disabilities/health conditions that make pregnancy risky or even quite dangerous for themselves and for any children they might conceive. Far more women than most people are aware of! Modern contraceptive methods make choices like, oh, heterosexual marriage more open to women with such conditions than ever. The effect is *positive* for them–and for men who love and want to spend their lives with them.
And who gets to decide whether the net effects of contraceptive availability are positive or negative? At the societal level, there is plenty of scientific evidence to suggest that the effects are *positive* especially in terms of maternal and child health. But at the individual or couple level–it's up to the people involved to decide whether the net effects are positive or negative *for them.*
Dan, that may sound like "anything goes" to you. But it is inaccurate to associate this stance with an automatica, by-definition belief there are no ethical boundaries in sex.
"Case in point: many women have disabilities/health conditions that make pregnancy risky or even quite dangerous for themselves and for any children they might conceive."
In that case they should not have sex (at least not sexual intercourse), because, as I took great pains to point out several posts ago, every method of contraception has a failure rate, and for a large population that failure rate adds up to a very large number of unwanted pregnancies. This is very straightforward logic, unless your aren't really pro-life, or you don't believe that human beings possess free will (ie. the ability to choose whether or not to have sex).
"The effect is *positive* for them–and for men who love and want to spend their lives with them."
A man married to a woman who has a such a condition would show his love for her by abstaining from sex. This is the only logical conclusion.
Dan, this may be an abstract discussion and an "only logical conclusion" for you. But it is *not* –it is very personal and real-for women with disabilities. Like me.
There is such a long history, rooted in eugenics, of other people dictating to women with disabilities what is and isn't sexually and reproductively appropriate for us. When we should be free as anyone to decide what pleasures and risks we should take regarding *our own* bodies.
Yes, I believe human beings possess free will and should be able to exercise it. Free will can be exercised *to* have sex or use contraception as well as refraining from them.
You have absolutely no idea what love is and isn't for (among many other human beings) me and my husband of a long, loving, and happy marriage. And even if you did, it wouldn't be your call.
And if you think my spouse and I "aren't really pro-life," well, then, surprise! we did not abort our one child, who was unplanned and conceived despite careful efforts to minimize the odds of conception. We went through things many people with cushy lives can't imagine to bring her into the world and raise her to adulthood.
I know what love is. I have given and received it. I only wish this society would love women with disabilities enough to not sabotage our freedom to make our own nonlethal choices about sex and reproduction.
"Perhaps you haven't spent as much time on university campuses as I have."
About 20 years, between my degrees and various jobs.
"The fact that many people fail to see this is a phenomenon that Mary Eberstadt calls "the will to disbelieve"."
And now we're done. When you're accusing people of being willfully intellectually dishonest because they disagree with you on a matter of social philosophy, there's no further conversation to be had.
I'm going to address you personally, as a Christian: While I agree that God wants Christians to be abstinent until marriage, I definitely don't think He expects married couples to be abstinent. And, even the Pope has recently said that condom use is acceptable if one of two married people has AIDS or an STD. The same should be true for any other kind of health problem. It's easy to say "don't have sex" when you're not in a marriage with that person. Can you imagine going through the process of considering engagement and having to say, "Uh, sorry, but if you marry me you'll have to be abstinent for the rest of your life." I'm not saying that the other individual should abandon their gilfriend or boyfriend at that point, but a lot of people would. That's a heck of a burden to put on someone with a health problem prior to or during a marriage. I think you should consider how you would feel/deal with the situation if you or your wife had a serious health problem and you guys could never have sex again. Maybe you would become celibrate, but that would be your mutual burden to bear. I don't think it's fair for you to suggest that other people be forced to accept it. We at All Our Lives oppose abortion because it takes an unborn child's life. But, prior to conception, there is no child. Just the woman, her partner, and their God.
Perhaps you haven't spent as much time on university campuses as I have. Sorry that I can't point to any definitive study that "proves it". Well, maybe this:
But in fact I don't dispute that women like sex. What I'm saying is that they would (mostly) save it for an appropriate situation (ie. one where both partners are prepared to become parents) if it were not for the pressure put on them by their boyfriends and the entire sexual culture, particularly at North American universities.
And I'm not saying we should ban contraception. I am saying that further promoting it only makes things worse.
"…you're assuming that guys wouldn't put pressure on anyway."
They wouldn't if they had to face up to the very real possibility of becoming a parent. They way things are now, they are led to believe that only "unprotected" sex leads to babies… and when their girlfriends get pregnant they feel that an injustice has been done to them, and they pressure her to get an abortion.
"Attack the real problem."
The real problem is the sexual revolution. The fact that many people fail to see this is a phenomenon that Mary Eberstadt calls "the will to disbelieve".
The collective effect of many people making poor sexual choices is to undermine marriage, the family, and ultimately all of society: millions of abortions, millions of babies born outside of marriage, millions of divorces, and tens of thousands dying from incurable diseases. The personal, social, and economic costs are truly staggering.
I obviously hit a raw nerve here, possibly because I misinterpreted what you said earlier. I thought you were referring to a situation in which the risks would be too high to go through with a pregnancy…
"And, even the Pope has recently said that condom use is acceptable if one of two married people has AIDS or an STD."
If the pope really said that, I would have to say that I disagree with him on this point, at least when it comes to something lethal like AIDS.
"The same should be true for any other kind of health problem."
Unless the health problem is so severe that the woman cannot survive the pregnancy.
I know that this is difficult to accept, but it is still the logical conclusion.
"…had a serious health problem and you guys could never have sex again."
Well, isn't that what "…in sickness and in health, until death do us part…" means? What would you do if your spouse were in a coma? Get a divorce? Be unfaithful? Or be abstinent?
By the way, if the health issue relates specifically to pregnancy, it's not going to be forever. But there certainly are other health issues that may very well be forever.
"About 20 years, between my degrees and various jobs."
Curiously, has any of this been within the last 10 years?
If you disagree with Eberstadt, please feel free the refute her arguments.
Dan, a lot of times with pregnancy risks, one is dealing with probabilities rather than absolute certainties. All the more reason not to dictate the choices of others, especially others like women with disabilities who have so often been told what to do and not do with our own bodies.
You did hit a nerve, and not just because I'm arbitrarily touchy! Yoy are encroaching on matters that you do not sound too knowledgeable about, that are not yours to decide anyway–and yet you are dictating "logical conclusions"!
I really am done. You think I am willfully refusing to see the truth. I see no reason to believe that I can change your mind on that. You haven't actually listened to anything anyone has said to you in this conversation; hell, you came in here certain that you were the only one who knew anything. The stuff you cite as "evidence" for your claims that the sexual revolution is the problem — when you're not disdaining the concept that evidence is even necessary because you're so obviously right — is either irrelevant data or no data at all. Good day, sir.
What would we do without uninformed, uninvolved people dressing their preferences about the world up as "logic"? Why, we might have women deciding for themselves what risks they consider worthwhile in their own lives! Again, I can't help noticing that this "the only logical choice is zero risk" stance doesn't seem to apply to other activities that human beings find pleasurable and fulfilling, such as sports or travel.
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