Anti-abortion groups routinely—yet selectively and strategically—conflate contraception and abortion as part of more wide-reaching agenda to curtail reproductive rights overall, according to a new policy analysis by Joerg Dreweke for the New York-based Guttmacher Institute.
The article, "Contraception Is Not Abortion: The Strategic Campaign of Antiabortion Groups to Persuade the Public Otherwise" (pdf) appears in the fall issue of the Guttmacher Policy Review, issued quarterly by the research and public education firm.
The analysis suggests that a coordinated misinformation campaign, spearheaded by conservative groups like the Susan B. Anthony List, Americans United for Life, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Heritage Foundation, is part of an underlying right-wing attempt to chip away at access to commonly used contraceptives such as Plan B or IUDs.
Birth control is very much in the movement’s crosshairs, and antiabortion advocates are working to stigmatize contraception by blurring the lines between contraception and abortion. Yet, the movement is doing this in a strategic and deceptive way. Rather than applying the claim that some contraceptive methods in effect cause abortion consistently to all aspects of their advocacy, antiabortion groups ignore and often contradict their positions when it might hurt them politically.
...The influential organizations behind this anticontraception agenda have compartmentalized the debate, which allows them to pick and choose when contraception should be viewed as abortion and when it should not. They are essentially able to pursue a "personhood" argument in areas where doing so is politically feasible, but at the same time feign moderation by keeping the full-fledged, politically toxic "personhood" agenda at arm’s length. This deception is part of a deliberate, long-term strategy to limit women’s access not only to safe and legal abortion, but to common methods of contraception as well.
"The campaign to conflate contraception with abortion is based on the assertion that certain methods of contraception actually end—rather than prevent—pregnancy," Dreweke writes.
Of course, such assertions are bunk. But that matters little, Dreweke says, to those organizations spreading bad science: "The antiabortion movement has a long history of strategically using outdated information and outright junk science to restrict access to reproductive health care, from the supposed mental health impact of abortion to discredited assertions that abortion causes breast cancer."
The anti-choice movement recognizes that its attempts to define human personhood, with all its attendant legal rights, as starting at fertilization is a "political non-starter," Dreweke notes. Still, in objecting to the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive coverage guarantee, for example, the movement has essentially embraced the core of the personhood argument—that pregnancy begins at fertilization.
And it applies this standard in a "wildly inconsistent and cynical" manner, Dreweke adds, pursuing such claims only when politically expedient. While groups that oppose women's rights maintain that emergency contraceptives and IUDs constitute abortion in the context of the healthcare debate, they "simply pretend in other contexts that they hold no such views," he writes.
If the myriad hardships and indignities to which U.S. women who obtain abortions are often subjected were applied to IUD and emergency contraceptive users, the effect would border on the bizarre. A woman seeking to purchase emergency contraceptives in Mississippi, for example, would need to make an initial trip to the provider to first undergo mandatory in-person counseling, as well as a mandatory ultrasound exam. She would then have to wait a minimum of 24 hours before making the second trip to obtain the emergency contraceptives. If she were insured through Medicaid, her insurance would be prohibited from covering the cost of the method. If she were a legal minor, she would need the consent of both parents.
"Contraception is not abortion," Dreweke concludes. "But when antiabortion groups assert otherwise, then the media, reproductive health and rights advocates and the public should take their position seriously. Doing so will quickly expose just how extreme they truly are. Tens of millions of American women and couples use contraceptives to prevent a pregnancy, not end it. Those who claim IUDs and emergency contraception constitute abortion are well outside the American mainstream, which is why they are cynically hiding their anti-birth control agenda by conflating contraception with abortion."