Blame birth control for ... well, everything

Conference activists: "Contraception ushered in widespread promiscuity, divorce, sexually transmitted diseases, single parent households and abortion."

Published September 27, 2006 7:52PM (EDT)

We'd like to ignore them, but it's getting tougher all the time. Last weekend, a merry -- and not as fringey as we might like to think -- band of activists and academics convened 250 people for a conference outside Chicago titled "Contraception Is Not the Answer."

As the Chicago Tribune reports, "Experts at the gathering assailed contraception on the grounds that it devalues children, harms relationships between men and women, promotes sexual promiscuity and leads to falling birth rates, among social ills." (Who says we can't have it all?)

And don't forget everyone's favorite social ill. According to Joseph Scheidler, head of conference sponsor the Pro-Life Action League: "Contraception is more the root cause of abortion than anything else." Such statements are themselves the root cause of rampant wisecracking analogies, such as "That's like saying 'food causes famine,' or 'proofreading causes typos,'" or ... honestly, it's hard to stop.

To be fair -- which the Tribune really is in its coverage -- such charges are made most often against "chemical contraception," such as the Pill, the patch and so on, and the possibility that they can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting. (The Tribune adds: "Scientific evidence suggests that this occurs infrequently, if at all, and that birth control works primarily by preventing a woman from ovulating.") (See, being "fair" doesn't mean failing to place claims made in an appropriate/accurate context.)

The Tribune also notes that this anti-everything approach is not exactly a slam-dunk. "The same strategy that anti-choice groups have used to undermine the right to abortion, they're going to use to try to restrict access to birth control," said Ted Miller of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "But this time I think they're over-reaching. The public isn't going to buy this." Some stats from the Guttmacher Institute on that very public: Ninety-eight percent of women 15 to 44 who have had sex report using at least one method of contraception; meanwhile, according to a new Harris poll, 91 percent of Americans agreed that couples should "have access to birth-control options."

You're going to tell women they can't try to prevent unwanted pregnancies, they can't take steps to make sure they're economically and emotionally ready to have a child? No way," said Kirsten Moore, president of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project.

"Women and men [have] sex only within marriage and only for the purpose of procreation" would basically be a challenging ad campaign, suggested Steve Trombley, president of Planned Parenthood of Chicago. "I don't think that's sellable in any corner of America."

Even some hard-line antiabortion advocates are not signing on. "I'm here to stop abortions ... and we're coming close to winning on this issue," said John Willke, head of the International Right to Life Federation. "If we take up an anti-contraception agenda, we won't win the abortion fight in the foreseeable future."

But still. Yes, there's a cuckoo factor here -- Scheidler calls birth control supporters "contraception buffs," though I'm not sure I know anyone who collects IUDs on eBay or boasts in UseNet forums about owning rare mint-in-box discontinued styles of Trojans -- as well a reasonable question about whether this conference itself will have any serious impact. (RH Reality Check's "spy," whose colleague did a nice background check on the presenters, reports that the Saturday morning news conference was canceled for lack of attendance. Hee.) But there's a continuum here, too. How different are these folks, really, from their cohorts in Congress, whose campaigns against reproductive health care and comprehensive sex ed have, frankly, gone pretty well? Even if that 91 percent from the Harris poll rises up and votes some of those guys out, that'll just offer more troop-rallying evidence to its opponents that birth control Armageddon is upon us. In which case, maybe we should start collecting.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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