How “extreme” is opposing abortifacient contraception?


A look at extreme deviations from sound principle and clear logic.

Too often, political debate resembles nothing so much as King of the Hill, a mad dash to see who can claim for themselves the coveted label of “mainstream” and condemn his or her foes to the “fringe.” Activists and partisans almost value the perception that their views are “safe” more than they value actual moral correctness or intellectual consistency.

Case in point: on Sunday, the Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore warned that pro-life activists are more extreme than an unsuspecting public would ever imagine:

[M]ost of them want to ban not only every single clinical abortion, but also devices and medications that most Americans consider contraceptives.

That’s most obvious with intra-uterine devices or “Plan B” pills, which the Catholic Church, among others, have long labeled as “abortifacients” because they operate to prevent implanation of a fertilized ovum in the uterine wall. But for a growing number of anti-choicers, “abortion” includes any oral contraceptive that might affect post-fertilization implantation.

Notice anything missing? Like, say, an explanation for why it would be incorrect to classify implantation-effecting contraceptives as abortive? Kilgore avoids going there simply because the difference is semantic, not substantive. Despite the conception-vs.-fertilization shell games pro-aborts try to play, preventing a fertilized egg from implanting kills a live human being just as surely as vacuum aspiration.

You can argue pro-lifers’ case against abortion, of course, but you can’t argue that one is abortion and the other isn’t, or that our motivation and logic aren’t equally valid in both cases. Why is it “extreme” to be honest about multiple procedures doing the same thing?

This convergence helps explain the ferocious assaults on Planned Parenthood, which was promoting contraception long before it operated abortion clinics.

Um, if the whole “operated abortion clinics” thing is right there in Kilgore’s own sentence, then what’s there to explain? Isn’t his whole point that pro-lifers are becoming more extreme by conflating abortion with birth control? If Planned Parenthood also engages in the practice that it’s presumably less extreme to oppose, then opposing Planned Parenthood can hardly be evidence of pro-lifers’ lurch to the far right.

And it also contributes to the willingness of conservative evangelicals to work hand-in-glove with the Catholic bishops,on a “religious liberty” campaign which draws much of its heat from the claim that religiously-affiliated organizations are being forced to subsidize or provide “abortifacients” that most Americans just consider birth control.

Or it could just be that evangelicals and Catholics honestly – and correctly – believe that the Obama administration’s contraception mandate really does infringe on their religious liberties. But then, that would require admitting that it’s possible for pro-lifers to have sincere, well-intentioned disagreements with their liberal betters. Crazy, I know…

Beyond their slippery definitions of “abortion,” such allies are also inclined to associate all forms of contraception with a sexually permissive culture that they deplore as corrosive of the proper “biblical” patriarchy, and/or as a “secularist” assault on the very legitimacy of religion.

This is a very, very popular talking point among abortion apologists, but over the years I’ve found that they can never sustain it in the face of a very simple follow-up: what pro-life politicians, activists, or organizations have proposed any sort of legislation to prohibit or punish the sale and/or use of non-abortive birth control?

Usually I get one of two answers: crickets or name-calling.

“Extreme” is a word with very different implications depending on what definition you’re using. If we’re simply talking about the gulf between pro-lifers and majority opinion, then sure, pro-lifers can be seen as “extreme” in the strategic sense on some things (but not as many as pro-aborts would tell you). But when it comes to any meaningful sense of the term – extreme deviations from sound principle and clear logic – then Ed Kilgore and his allies are the only extremists in the game.

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