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Thursday, October 27, 2016

WASHINGTON — It is becoming difficult to escape the conclusion that conservatives would rather fight about abortion than reduce it.

Candidates in this month’s Republican presidential debate tripped over themselves to display their pro-life extremism, disavowing exceptions that would permit abortion in cases of rape, incest, or even to save the life of the mother — non-starters all in American public opinion.

Next month, when Congress returns from recess, some Republicans are threatening to shut down the federal government in order to defund Planned Parenthood’s offering of contraception and other women’s health services — to punish the group for the abortions it provides without federal funds.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that if Republicans succeed in their effort, and thereby reduce women’s access to birth control, the likely outcome will be more abortions. This expanded on an earlier column noting the hopeful signs that the use of long-acting, reversible contraceptives such as new-generation IUDs can reduce abortions.

Anti-abortion conservatives reacted with grace and goodwill — by telling me I have blood on my hands. “Spare me,” wrote Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist for the New York Times. “Tell the allegedly ‘pro-life’ institution you support to set down the forceps, put away the vacuum, and then we’ll talk about what kind of family planning programs deserve funding. But don’t bring your worldview’s bloody hands to me and demand my dollars to pay for soap enough to maybe wash a few flecks off.”

But halfway through his 1,973-word takedown, which included no fewer than three references to crushing fetuses, Douthat acknowledged the truth of the argument that wider use of long-acting, reversible contraception — LARC is the unfortunate acronym — could reduce abortions:

Does all of the foregoing mean that no contraceptive-oriented public policy can possibly reduce the abortion rate? No, probably some can, and do: You can find evidence, when other variables are screened out, that certain discrete measures — including the oversold but still noteworthy recent Colorado experiment with long-acting contraception, which I promise to give longer treatment at some point — can in some cases have an impact on abortion rates on the margins. The overall evidence here isn’t quite as straightforward as liberals insist, but it’s stronger than some social conservatives want to believe…

Just on a lark, let’s give “longer treatment” right now to the supposedly marginal Colorado experiment with LARCs.

The state in 2009 launched a privately funded Family Planning Initiative that provided 30,000 IUDs and other implants at zero or little cost to low-income women at 68 family-planning clinics. The teen birth rate fell 40 percent between 2009 and 2013 — and the teen abortion rate fell by 35 percent between 2009 and 2012 in the counties where the program was in place.

Colorado attributed three-quarters of the decline in the teen birth rate to the initiative. The office of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper said the state saved $42.5 million in health-care costs associated with teen births — almost double the $23?million anonymous donation that funded the program.

So how did Republicans in the state Legislature respond to this extraordinary success? A Senate committee this year voted along party lines to postpone indefinitely consideration of funding the initiative.

Even anti-abortion forces didn’t dispute the eye-popping statistics — they merely tried to cast doubt on the (obvious) cause. National Review acknowledged that “indicators are improving dramatically in Colorado” but argued that “to say the program directly caused the huge decreases” in teen births and abortions “is a simplification that overstates the complicated relationship between contraception, abortions, and births.”

But even if the huge success is a “simplification,” isn’t the idea at the very least worth further study?

Douthat says he wants to talk about funding family planning programs only after abortion providers cease and desist. But such refusal to compromise only perpetuates the abortion wars. If, alternatively, anti-abortion conservatives were to make a serious step toward reducing abortions with long-acting contraception, they would find less resistance on the left to reasonable abortion restrictions, and abortion overall would be less common.

Douthat says I and others on the center-left would have more “moral logic” if we were to argue that “abortion is morally necessary and praiseworthy” and that “a fetus is just a clump of cells and that pro-lifers are all unhinged zealots.”

Sorry, but I don’t think that way. If I did, I would be just as uncompromising as the anti-abortion right. I’d prefer to find common ground.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank. © 2015, Washington Post Writers Group

Photo: Jason Taellious via Flickr

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Copyright 2015 The National Memo
  • Dominick Vila

    The first thing that will happen, if the GOP gets control of the White House in 2016, besides mass deportation of illegal immigrants and putting boots on the ground in Iraq, will be a concerted effort to replace retiring Justices with ultra-conservative Justices to ensure Roe V Wade is overturned, and constitutional values are interpreted in accordance with GOP dogma. After that, every single social program, from Social Security, to MEDICARE, MEDICAID, ACA, Affirmative Action and others will be gutted, privatized, or simply repealed. My opinion is not based on guesses, it is based on the statements and promises articulated by Republicans running for President, and by the Republican party. They are neither shy nor embarrassed to promote the virtual destruction of social programs, guaranteeing the demise of millions of seniors, making it impossible for students to seek a college education, making it impossible for 15 million Americans to continue to enjoy preventive medical care for the first time in their lives, and ensuring minorities do not enjoy the same rights and privileges as everyone else. Like they say, they want to take America back, way, way back to the good ole days when everyone knew their place in society and our choices were limited to the company store.

    • Grannysmovin

      Republican motto: “There’s been a lot of progress in this country over the
      last 75 years, and we’ve been against all of it.” by Poster Hillbilly Dem

      • Dominick Vila

        Good one!

  • charleo1

    Can we start out on this very complex issue by being clear on the point, that for the vast majority of Republican politicians, the closing down, or defunding of PP Clinics, has a lot more to do with state of their politics, the political landscape, and the necessary holding together of the fragile coalitions within the Republican Party, that make their electoral numbers work? Than protecting the fetus by outlawing, and/or criminalizing abortion, based on any morally based aversion to the procedure, or the dubious State interest in doing so. Because, if the State’s interest in the unconditional protection of the unborn needs to be absolute, as some contend. Then the mere closing down of a regimen of clinics designed to provide a means of access to abortion services to the poor. That would mean, by and large the segment of the population overwhelmingly effected by this elimination of access, would logically be the poor. Creating several Constitutional problems relating to equal protection, as it relates to the application of the law. So, in order to pass Constitutional muster, the State’s powers to limit, regulate, and if so decided, to criminalize the procedure in protection of citizen fetus. Would need to be widened to much broader extent, than the simple denial of abortion services to the low hanging fruit. Those women with the fewest of options to begin with. And so it follows, that many who have sincerely held beliefs that life begins at the moment of conception, would have no other moral choice but to make it their next mission to extend the scope of prohibition by denial, to address the expanded access available to those higher income, Middle Class, and wealthier women. Who could afford to travel out State, or if the ban came to be nationwide, out of the Country to Canada, Mexico, Europe, or Asia. Where abortion is both safe, and readily available for a very modest price. And could procure the killing of the State’s, or U.S. Citizen Fetus there. A situation that would be undoubtedly be seen as entirely unacceptable to the now energized pro-life faction. First the Nation, and now the World would become the new battlecry. Still a powerful political motivator, still an issue they would insist Conservative politicians push. Still more laws to be enacted. Should all unborn be appointed advocates? Yes they will say. Social workers, lawyers? Absolutely! The sanctity of life after all, is paramount! And what about medical oversight? Too many unborn are being mistreated in the womb. But what of the poor in all this? How are they fairing after a decade/two decades of strictly enforced anti-abortion laws? That have had their access to not only abortion cut, but to contraception, and tests for STDs, cervical, and breast cancer as well? As basic food assistance for the poor, and free school lunch programs are continually some of the first budget items on the Conservative’s chopping block. As are child welfare, and protection services. Head start programs, after school programs, affordable housing, and job training, and, on and on. All we must suppose as moral issues, fiscal issues, don’t give a damn once the child is born, issues.

  • Grannysmovin

    I don’t get the “Forced Birthers”. If a woman in New York wants to have an abortion, what right does a person in California have to object? How does that abortion impact their life, family, finances or their faith? If you don’t believe in abortion than do not have one, but strangers and politicians have no right to force a life altering experience on to another human being. Forced Birthers know nothing about these women who make this difficult decision, they don’t know or care how conception occurred or what the financial, mental or emotional stability is; yet they feel they have a right to force their beliefs on every female in the United States. God gave us free will and strangers and politicians want to overrule God and take away a woman’s free will. God gave us that free will to choose to come to him rather than be forced to embrace him, because it wouldn’t be sincere.

    • FireBaron

      Let’s add to that, Granny. These “forced birthers” also want nothing to do with the child after it is born. They do not want to provide money to social services departments to find adoption placement, they do not want to provide money for health care, they do not want to provide money for education. Technically, once the kid is born, as far as they are concerned, it could die and reduce the surplus population, to paraphrase Dickens.
      As has been stated in many other forums, these individuals who call themselves “pro-life” are unconcerned with what happens after the infant cries after delivery. So, more rightly the “forced birther” appellation is significantly more appropriate than “pro-birth”.

  • palsifar

    Mealy-mouthed moral cowardice like the last three paragraphs of this article are precisely why women’s reproductive freedom is so rapidly being eroded nationwide … there is no common ground, only an unrelenting effort on the part of the right to circumscribe and control women’s lives …

    Here’s how this article *should* have ended … if the conservative right believes the state can hijack a woman’s body and force her to give birth against her will and irrespective of the consequences to her health and well-being … all in the service of protecting “life” … then it stands to follow that the state has the right to hijack *anyone* where protecting life is involved and can compel forced blood transfusions, organ donations, onerous tax rates and even control over personal lifestyle choices … such as prohibiting the possession of firearms in households where children are present …

  • Daniel Jones

    There is no common ground with an institution that prefers moralizing and stirring problems than solving them. So many problems, the Republican Party has backed away from solutions and preached to remain above having to do the work.
    They don’t want to solve ANYTHING. They just want power and money, and want the rest of us to have neither, end stop.

  • elw

    None of this is about abortion, abortion is the excuse and the tool being used by the Republican Party and their Candidates. Take a fanatic (like the anti-abortion groups) give them fuel for their fire and your are giving them permission to double down and who they are. Same applies to racists, anti-immigrations and anti-GLBT groups. The GOP has built its base on hate and can only survive with their votes and they can only get those votes by saying what the haters want to hear. The GOP has come to represent the worst of the United States and I do not see that changing anytime soon.

  • Insinnergy

    These idiots are mindless, single-hot-button political-meth-heads.
    They can only see one “fact”… and one “Action” to take.
    Nothing else sways them… not facts… not logic… not even less abortions.
    They are ideal for some religion to scoop up into their ranks…