This piece originally appeared on The Huffington Post.
Christianity and contraception have had an interesting relationship
with each other over the centuries. Prior to the 20th Century, most
Christians would have condemned contraception outright. At the dawning
of the 21st, Catholicism is still holding out on condoning birth
control and even non-Catholic Christians ascribe high value to
childbirth. Add to this the Christian prohibition of sexual promiscuity
and it is easy to understand why many pro-life Christians oppose
increased access to contraception.
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Perhaps that is about to change.
A new study by the Guttmacher Institute
reports that as global access to contraception has improved, the
international abortion rate has significantly declined. From 1995 to
2003, estimated global abortion rates dropped from 45.5 million to 41.6
million. Why? According to the report, it’s because the number of women
using contraception worldwide increased during the same period. The
Alan Guttmacher Institute is a non-profit research center that holds a
pro-choice position but is widely quoted both by conservatives and
Not everyone is convinced. Steven W. Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute,
has called the Guttmacher global estimates "simply bogus." He claims
that no one — including Guttmacher — knows how many abortions are
performed worldwide since abortion statistics are reliable in only a
few developed countries.
Yet, the underlying claim of the report deserves attention. After
all, Guttmacher is not the only research organization to make such
claims. The report argues that increasing access to contraception will
lower the number of unintended pregnancies, and ipso facto, the number
of abortions. If this claim is correct, access to contraception
arguably becomes a pro-life issue and a place of common ground for both
sides of the debate.
Even in the face of such research, many pro-life Christians would
still likely oppose distribution of contraception claiming that it will
promote sexual promiscuity. There are at least two problems with this.
First, there is no guarantee that decreasing access to contraception
will restrain individuals from sexual activity. Second, Christians
should not expect non-Christians to adhere to Christian principles for
healthy living. While one might wish that our culture would accept the
proven wisdom in remaining abstinent before and monogamous after
marriage, we also realize that most will not. Therefore, we provide
access to contraception for those who cannot afford it. (I wish
everyone on the road would drive safely, but I know that many will not,
so I support seat belts.)
Even George W. Bush — hardly a compromiser by any reckoning —
understood that access to contraception played a role in reducing
abortions and promoting a stable society. During his Presidency, he
consistently proposed funding for Title X
of the Public Health Service Act, the only federal program that
provides contraception to low-income women. Today, the Obama
Administration has promised to do the same through an "abortion reduction" platform, which couples increased access to contraception with sexual education with an abstinence emphasis.
One does not have to compromise his or her beliefs in order to
support increased access to contraception. Pro-choicers can still
support a woman’s "right to choose" and pro-lifers can still support an
"unborn child’s right to life." If the Guttmacher numbers stick and a
direct relationship between access to contraception and declining
abortions is established, the two sides of this debate may finally have
found some common ground. In the midst of highly-polarized debate,
contraception may be one of the few things people can agree on.