Why is the pro-life movement going after contraception?

Back in November I watched a documentary on the pro-life movement in the United States called Unborn in the USA (Rent it on Netflix). It is nothing more than video footage of various interviews with those who are against abortion along with footage of demonstrations, rallies, and confrontations. On Netflix, I rated the documentary 3 stars out of 5.

One thing that is evident in the documentary is what those on both sides of the issue think will work in getting their point of view across to the point where it is the dominant point of view. It should be self-evident by now that shouting down your rival in an argument will not succeed, but aggravate.

I am what would be called “pro-choice”, only because I do not feel abortion should be proscribed by law. I do agree with “pro-life” organizations in that government money should not be subsidizing elected abortions. I certainly would like to see the downward trend in the per-year incidence of abortion continue, but along with that, I also want to see the downward trend in the per-year incidence of unwanted pregnancies continue.

I do not feel that abortion should be proscribed at all, actually. I feel that women who become unexpectedly pregnant should be educated on all available options – abortion included. But the education needs to be fair and balanced, providing information that is accurate instead of information blown out of proportion.

What many in the pro-life movement are doing is not education, but sensationalism. It is gaining them attention, but it is not producing the results they would like to see. In ironic contrast to the pro-life movement, the results the pro-life movement desire are being generated by some of the groups they most detest: family planning clinics, including Planned Parenthood.

And family planning clinics are producing these results by going after the number one cause of abortion: unplanned, unexpected pregnancies.

By distributing birth control, allowing free and readily available access to condoms, and disseminating comprehensive information on female reproduction and pregnancy, family planning clinics are helping women to prevent pregnancy in the first place, which in turn reduces the number of abortions sought each year.

To accelerate this effort, many States through their Medicaid programs give women access to birth control, health exams, and counseling at little to no out-of-pocket cost.

Yet the pro-life movement is now turning their attention toward contraception, the very thing that is continuing to reduce abortion numbers.

“By outlawing contraception, you’re closer to outlawing surgical abortion. So if, as the pro-life community, you’re trying to outlaw surgical abortion but the court has told us its legal basis is founded on the necessity of abortion, shouldn’t the pro-life community begin to take a look at contraception? We’re trying to overturn Roe v. Wade, but the court is pointing us over here.”

— Matt Sande, Director of Legislative Affairs, Pro-Life Wisconsin 1

In 2005, Pro-Life Wisconsin pushed a bill that would have allowed pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraceptives the pharmacist believes could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting into the uterus, forwarding a belief that pregnancy begins at conception, not implantation.2 This bill would, in short, allow a licensed pharmacist to refuse an order from a physician purely because the prescription alone might offend the pharmacist.

There have even been protests outside family planning clinics that do not even provide abortions. In Wausau, Wisconsin, pickets by pro-lifers, most of whom are Catholic, are apparently a daily sight outside that city’s family planning clinic.

The fight against contraceptives, however, is facing conflict from within, as other pro-life organizations do not feel that going after contraceptives is the right way to go. But it would be in the courtroom where they would face their biggest challenge.

In the landmark case Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 US 479 (1963), the Supreme Court of the United States overturned a Connecticut law that legally proscribed contraceptives by a 7-2 vote:

Any person who uses any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception shall be fined not less than fifty dollars or imprisoned not less than sixty days nor more than one year or be both fined and imprisoned. 3

The Court reasoned that the law, “in forbidding the use of contraceptives, rather than regulating their manufacture or sale, seeks to achieve its goals by means having a maximum destructive impact upon [a marital relationship].” (381 US at 485) The Court then put the nail in the coffin:

Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship.

The Court in this decision chiefly applies the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Ninth Amendment basically says that just because a right isn’t specifically stated in the Constitution does not mean it does not exist. It is with this Amendment, among others, that have allowed the Supreme Court to declare “rights” that otherwise would likely have not been recognized. Griswold is the first case to declare an express right to privacy, albeit a right of marital privacy.

The decision is also uncharacteristically short. The decision itself is only 7 pages (381 US 480-486). But in this short decision, it basically puts a golden nail into the coffin of legally proscribing contraception.

The decision in Griswold, however, was limited only to married individuals. The ruling would be expanded in the 1972 case of Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 US 438, by a 6-1 ruling, striking down a Massachusetts law proscribing the distribution of contraception to unmarried individuals.

There have as of yet been no direct challenges to Griswold or Eisenstadt.

Other sources:

United States Supreme Court cases:

References   [ + ]

1, 2. Davidoff, Judith. (2005, August 1). “Abortion foes take aim at contraceptives“. The Capital Times.
3. General Statutes of Connecticut, 53-32 (1958 rev.)