WISHING CONFLICT AWAY.

I certainly respect E.J. Dionne far more than I do Will Saletan. But it must be said that his new column has a pretty strong whiff of the "originating policies pro-choicers have been advocating for many decades" routine that Saletan has patented. Apparently, the solution to ending the conflict over abortion includes "contraception programs, even if these are a sticking point for some social conservatives, along with 'programs that are going to encourage women to bring their children to term.' Among them: expanded health coverage for women and children, more child care, adoption help, and income support for the working poor." Since pro-choice liberals have pretty much always supported these policies and they don't seem to stop the anti-choice minority from supporting criminalization (as well as opposing most or all of these programs, almost as if reducing abortion rates isn't a terribly important goal for American "pro-lifers"), it's not clear what's actually supposed to change about the abortion politics here.

Of course, if a fine old wine can broaden the coalition for reproductive freedom if we dust off the bottles with some rhetoric that appeals to some members of the softer side, what's the harm? Well, I worry about defending good policies with such justifications as "encouraging women to bring more pregnancies to term," justifications that can pretty quickly end up in arguments for burdensome abortion regulations. But the real problem with Dionne's argument is his apparent belief that enacting this (as stated) worthwhile program would somehow "make cultural warfare a quaint relic of the past." This won't happen, simply because anti-abortion politics tends to be bundled up with an array of other reactionary attitudes about women and sexuality that undercut support for other policies that will reduce abortion rates. Some examples from Margaret Tabot's superb new article:

But, according to Add Health data, evangelical teen-agers are more sexually active than Mormons, mainline Protestants, and Jews. On average, white evangelical Protestants make their "sexual d├ębut"--to use the festive term of social-science researchers--shortly after turning sixteen. Among major religious groups, only black Protestants begin having sex earlier.

Another key difference in behavior, Regnerus reports, is that evangelical Protestant teen-agers are significantly less likely than other groups to use contraception. This could be because evangelicals are also among the most likely to believe that using contraception will send the message that they are looking for sex. It could also be because many evangelicals are steeped in the abstinence movement's warnings that condoms won't actually protect them from pregnancy or venereal disease. More provocatively, Regnerus found that only half of sexually active teen-agers who say that they seek guidance from God or the Scriptures when making a tough decision report using contraception every time. By contrast, sixty-nine per cent of sexually active youth who say that they most often follow the counsel of a parent or another trusted adult consistently use protection.

Read the whole etc. It would be fine if Democrats passed legislation funding contraception and rational sex-ed, as well as assistance for young mothers (not to mention legislation recognizing a federal right for a woman to choose an abortion.) But even the Democrats pass only the first two sets of policies, it's not going to magically end conflicts over abortion or take the issue off the table. You'd thunk contraception use would be an issue on which it's easy to build consensus, but it's not.

--Scott Lemieux

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