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Why aren't pro-lifers and pro-choicers pro-contraception?

On one side of the walkway to a Georgia Avenue clinic less than a mile from the U.S. Supreme Court, men and women surge forward with full-color photos of aborted fetuses. On the other side, women join hands in a human shield, blocking the pamphleteers. Threading her way between these two factions this chilly Saturday morning is a lone woman-make that girl-wearing sweat pants, a hair ribbon, and braces.

Both camps on the sidewalk claim they care deeply for this young woman. The anti-abortion "counselors" say they want to prevent her from committing an act that will plague her the rest of her life. Members of the "clinic defense force" say they are protecting her fundamental right not to carry an unwanted child.

But both sides have already failed this woman. In this age of scientific technology, an era in which birth control should be cheap, effective, and widely used, she shouldn't be here in the first place.

The recent Supreme Court decision forbidding family planning organizations using federal money to advise clients on abortion illustrates a truth that has existed quietly ever since Roe v. Wade: the selling out of contraceptives in the battle over women's wombs and fetuses' futures. Anti-abortion forces would rather refuse the underprivileged millions of dollars for birth control counseling than allow such advice to include abortion. Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its pro-choice supporters may choose to forgo $34 million-and, perhaps, the contraceptives that money would buy for low-income women-instead of adjusting their counseling protocol.

While judging the merit of the high court decision involves more than an opinion on abortion-restricting doctors' ability to advise their patients raises important ethical and constitutional issues-the current controversy reveals something both sides would rather not admit. While European countries press ahead with aggressive contraceptive research and education, contraception in the United States has devolved, since the advent of the pill, from a critical end in itself into a mere accessory in the abortion debate. As a result, the United States today has one of the highest abortion rates in the industrialized world. Yet the number-1.6 million each year-is only part of the story. Seventy-five percent of the women who choose abortion do so, according to their own assessments, out of financial and personal convenience-to avoid interference with school, work, or other activities. And half of them say that they were using no contraceptives at all.

Logic suggests that pro-life and pro-choice activists would hail new technology like Norplant that makes it easier and safer to prevent pregnancy; that they would put aside their differences to make contraception available to teenagers, to teach its proper use; that they would speak up to assuage the anxiety that still clouds our thinking about contraception. Instead, obsessed with abortion, they have forgotten a critical corollary of the cause: ensuring that most American women never face the decision to abort at all.

Anti-abortion protests have gone further than scuffles on abortion clinic sidewalks. There have been torchings at dusk and bombings at dawn. The seven million or so members of the nation's far-flung pro-life movement claim to be driven to action by one principle: to preserve the new life inside a mother's womb. To abort a fetus, whether it's 1 or 45 weeks old, they say, is to murder.

So when it was announced in February that Norplant, a convenient form of contraception expected to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies by hundreds of thousands, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), one might have thought the news would be met with jubilation from those struggling to prevent abortion: Anything that reduces unwanted pregnancy, after all, reduces the motive for murder. Yet instead of praising this abortion preventative, many anti-abortion groups oppose it. Martin Luther called contraception homicide. John Wesley promised that those who used contraceptives would lose their souls. Judie Brown's take is more or less the same. Sex exists for one purpose only, she argues: to initiate life.

Brown is the founder and president of the American Life League (ALL), one of the least conciliatory of the anti-abortion groups. ALL's primary goal is the passage of a constitutional amendment to ban all abortions except those to save the life of the mother (with the stipulation that equal effort be made to save the life of the fetus). But the 259,000 "member families" of ALL have another, less publicized goal: to pull the pill and the IUD, two of the most popular contraceptives in America, from the market. ALL considers these methods "abortifacients" because they prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.

Yet ALL doesn't find just abortion, the pill, and IUDs morally offensive. It denounces the diaphragm, the condom-"any kind of artificial jam, jelly, anything you want to call it," says Brown-except what she calls "natural child spacing," or what was once known as the rhythm method. "Anything that interferes," she summarizes simply, "is a bad thing."

Of course, every movement has its extremists. But in this case, one of them is the powerful National Conference of Catholic Bishops, which last year launched a multimillion-dollar anti-abortion campaign with the aid of Hill & Knowlton, one of the most sophisticated PR firms in the country. And make no mistake: To the Catholic hierarchy, anti-abortion is also anti-contraception. "God created us body and soul together," says Helen Alvare, director of campaign planning and information. To use contraception, she says, "is to say the body and soul are two separate beings." With contraceptives, "a man and a woman are not coming together completely."

Unlike ALL and the Catholic Church, the nation's two largest pro-life groups, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and the Family Research Council (FRC), don't oppose contraception outright. They say they simply have no opinion. (Except, of course, when unmarried teenagers are involved. Despite the fact that the U.S. has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the First World, they disapprove of even teaching young people about contraception.)

Although ardently opposed to abortion, the FRC "doesn't really get into contraception very much," says Charmaine Yoest, public policy analyst for the influential evangelical group. "We think it is a personal decision for people, particularly when you are concerned with adults."

"We don't have a position on it," echoes Nancy Myers, communications director of the mammoth NRLC. "We don't have a position on breast cancer or a variety of other medical issues either."

Yet NRLC is not a single-issue lobby. It also fights for the rights of handicapped infants and opposes euthanasia. "We believe it is the same life at either end of the alimentary canal," says NRLC's legislative director, Doug Johnson. Contraception, however, "is an entirely different question. It is not a right-to-life issue."

Though you won't hear it from the principals, one reason for NRLC's silence is politics. What with all the differing views about contraception on the right, any policy could reduce the strength of NRLC's 3,000 member-organizations across the nation. Besides, the number 1.6 million turns a lot of heads. That's why right-to-life groups consider the sheer quantity of American abortions a major weapon in their campaign.

For instance, to counter 1989's pro-choice march in Washington, the American Coalition for Life created a "Cemetery of the Innocents" on Capitol Hill, erecting 4,400 white crosses-one for every abortion that takes place each day. As the press flocked to the scene, pro-lifers invoked the number@,400 a day-like a mantra. Reducing the number of abortions through more effective contraception could reduce the potency of campaigns like these.

Yet the explanation NRLC and FRC give for refusing to promote contraception-and that ALL gives for opposing many forms of contraception-is the fear of "the contraceptive culture." The theory is simple: The availability of contraceptives leads to promiscuity leads to abortion. ALL's Judie Brown explains, "The contraceptive mentality suggests that man and woman have absolute and total control over their reproductive lives. Once you have that mindset and the contraceptives fail, then you can eliminate that problem [the pregnancy] as well."

To prove this wanton, careless "culture" exists, NRLC's Johnson points to an Alan Guttmacher Institute study showing that half of all women seeking abortions were using no contraception at all. "Why is this? It's because they know abortion is readily available," Johnson says.

Of course, the highest abortion rates in the world are not in "contraceptive cultures" like Sweden, but in the Soviet Union, where contraceptives are scarce, and Romania, where for years they've been illegal. Perhaps a better theory-one most right-to-lifers have ignored-is that contraception in the U.S. isn't as accessible as we'd like to think. And that's not right-to-life's fault alone. Condom minimum

Over the Anacostia River in Southeast D.C., Ballou High School serves one of the city's poorest and most isolated neighborhoods. The teen pregnancy rate there is the highest in the entire metropolitan area, yet in the eighties not a single public clinic in the area dispensed birth control. And while a 10th-grade crack addict can easily be referred by a Ballou nurse to a drug treatment clinic in the city, his sexually active classmate seeking contraception can expect to get little help.

Several years ago, concerned school administrators and PTA members tried to start a school clinic that would provide contraception to students. Today, the clinic is open-but there's not a condom or a pill-pack in the place. For in the interim, ministers and right-to-life activists besieged the school board, wrote The Washington Post, preached from the pulpits, turned out at hearings, and pushed the school system into a complete reverse. Daunted by the Ballou case, administrators in neighboring Hyattsville, Maryland, decided not even to raise the issue of contraception when opening a school health clinic there a year later.

Where was the powerful National Organization for Women (NOW) during the critical skirmish at Ballou? Nowhere, concedes Paula McKenzie, president of D.C. NOW. "We don't have much contact with that part of the community," she says. "No one called us about that."

"What's Ballou clinic?" asks a spokesman for D.C. Planned Parenthood.

The National Abortion Rights Action League NARAL) has no D.C. chapter, but there's a Virginia affiliate a few miles away, run by Executive Director Jennifer Carley. We primarily deal with abortion," she explains. We would like to be able to fight more for contraception and family life issues," but beating off restrictive abortion bills is all the chapter can handle. Last year alone, five were introduced in the Virginia statehouse.

In America, presumably a land of contraceptive plenty, the number of abortions has doubled since Roe v. Wade. U.S. rates are now three times as high as those in Canada, which boasts aggressive contraception campaigns. While surveys indicate that U.S. teens are more sexually active than ever, only 13 states require local school systems to provide sex ed-let alone pass out condoms. "It is a much more complicated picture than making sure there are condoms in every drug store," says Lisa Kaeser, senior associate for policy analysis at the Guttmacher Institute. "What we've learned in the last 25 years is that it is baseline critical to make contraceptives available, but you have to combine it with education and encourage people to use contraceptives well."

To be sure, Planned Parenthood has been advocating contraception for years-launching drives to cut teen pregnancy rates in half by the end of the decade and mandate sex education in every state. It convenes policymakers and scientists to discuss improving contraceptive methods, and its affiliates distribute free or low-cost contraceptives across the land. Other groups not commonly associated with abortionChildren's Defense Fund, the Urban League, the Center for Population Options, the National Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenting-have also fought quietly to expand contraception education.

Yet compare these efforts to the vocal, headline-grabbing campaigns pro-choice has mobilized on behalf of abortion-or RU486, a pill that produces an abortion in the privacy of one's home. NOW sent thousands of postcards to the manufacturer, RousselUCLAF, urging it to fight the FDA:s import ban. For its part, the Fund for a Feminist Majority delivered 800 pounds of signatures to Roussel. The support of the nation's leading science and health organizations has been carefully cultivated.

Pro-choice groups "get really psyched about the sexiest issues-abortion, RU486," says Lisa Kaeser. But when it comes to the plodding school clinic or sex education debates, don't count on them to join the fight. "We can protest against people trying to ban abortion because it's easy," acknowledges Vicky Grand, a young pro-choice activist. You can see them marching in front of the clinics and screaming. But with birth control, you don't see the protesters..."You just can't see the enemy." Especially, it seems, if you're not looking.

In the Philadelphia city schools last month, a plan to provide students with condoms foundered. The city's influential black clergy came out passionately against it. The Archbishop of Philadelphia objected. Dozens of appalled activists packed the public hearings. One anti-condom leader even declared May 13 "Chastity Day" and convened 1,000 students for a rally. Where was pro-choice during all this commotion? According to the Philadelphia Inquirer reporter covering the beat, there was not a single press conference or rally supporting the program.

"We put the majority of our energy into abortion," explains Jennifer Heitler-Klevans of NOW's Philadelphia affiliate.

Representatives of NOW and NARAL become livid at the suggestion that they've given short shrift to contraception. "Contraception is intertwined with abortion.... We are always using our political clout for both," says Renee Cravens, spokeswoman for the 500,000-member NARAL. "We want women to have a choice of options, so they won't necessarily have to choose abortion." That's why NARAL is active on everything from family medical leave to day-care legislation, she says.

Rosemary Dempsey, action vice president for NOW, rejects the notion that her group isn't always on the front lines of contraception. "Birth control is under fire," she warns darkly, reeling off NOW's recent activities-lobbying the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for improved contraception, lobbying Congress for more federal research funds, etc.

And, indeed, it is beyond doubt that pro-choice groups like these support contraceptives and better reproductive education. But if these groups could mobilize more than 300,000 protesters on Washington's Mall to support abortion rights, why not do the same to expand contraceptive education, availability, and research? That's a question Frances Kissling, executive director of the abortion rights group Catholics for a Free Choice (CFC), has had occasion to ask her fellow travelers. The pro-choice movement "is not making as much of [the contraceptive issue] as it should," she says.

The absence of the pro-choice movement in contraceptive conflicts has allowed pro-life considerable freedom in setting the terms of the debate-terms that can be misleading. "You know how the argument goes," says an Alexandria, Virginia, school official who recently weathered the clinic controversy. "First it's contraceptives in the clinic, then it's sex in the gym, and then it's abortions in the cafeteria." Or sometimes-as was the case recently in New York's black churches-the charge is simply genocide: white people trying to stop black teenagers from procreating.

Granted, recent studies show that clinics in schools are not panaceas for teen pregnancy. Before contraception takes root in a culture, people have to be familiar with and open to the benefits of postponing pregnancy. They have to see contraception, talk about it, understand how putting off motherhood is often crucial to staying in school and getting good jobs. It's clear already that teenagers aren't learning that in American classrooms; they sure won't learn it on the radio or TV, either. Pro-life groups have out-yelled pro-choice groups in the boardrooms of the nation's media giants, too.

It's Thursday afternoon at one, and Roman and Isabella on "Days of Our Lives" are making love on the beach. It's nine the same night, and two high schoolers from "Beverly Hills, 90210" bed down in a hotel during the prom. An hour later on "LA Law," Amie Becker is sleeping with another client, a soon-to-be divorcee.

With cable and a clicker, it's possible to watch people having sex day and night. It's much tougher, however, to find a TV ad for birth control. The networks won't take them-afraid they might "offend the moral and religious sensitivities of viewers," as Richard Gitter, vice president for advertising standards at NBC, puts it. "Many see [birth control] as encouraging promiscuity and are against it," he says. "Others see contraceptive advertising as attempts at sex ed by the network, and they are against that

Though Planned Parenthood led a campaign to land contraceptive ads on TV a few years ago, it apparently didn't bombard the networks with as much mail or as many calls as the right-to-lifers. It's pro-life, not pro-choice, that wreaks fear in the hearts of TV executives.

NOW's Rosemary Dempsey explains the pro-choice movement's rationale for not concentrating more of its efforts on contraceptive battles like those. "Unfortunately, attacks on abortion rights have been so virulent that the focus of our energy has necessarily been to fight them." It is, she says, "a crisis situation."

That's the same rationale more moderate fight-to-lifers offer for their passivity on contraception-we would, but we're tied up with the bigger battle. Yet pro-choicers' absence, like that of the right-to-life groups, stems from more than a lack of resources. Although a staunch supporter of contraceptive measures, the pro-choice movement finds it difficult to actively promote contraceptives as a more attractive option than abortion-for that would effectively underscore the other side's argument. One of the obvious reasons for advocating contraception is to reduce the incidence of abortion, but, as Frances Kissling of CFC points out, doing that would imply that abortion is "not a morally good thing," thus eroding the argument that abortion should and must be available. It's a very slippery slope-which is why some pro-choicers have kept their distance. The pickle-juice prophylactic

Much has been made in recent years of studies that show some unwed teenagers want to get pregnant. Lacking self-esteem, lacking options, sometimes just lacking love, they feel they have nothing else in life. For them, the availability of effective contraception doesn't make much difference. But more than a million pregnant American women don't want to be. In 1988, the Guttmacher Institute studied a group of sexually active women who said they didn't want to get pregnant and discovered that I in 10 were using no contraception at all. Such women account for about half of the United States' 1.6 million annual abortions. Of course, that leaves the 9 out of 10 women who were using contraceptives to account for the rest. "This says to me that many women are not using contraceptives as well as they could be, or that the methods themselves are not what we call user-friendly," says Guttmacher's Lisa Kaeser. But you don't have to take her word for it.

Willy, a 25-year-old parking lot attendant, lives with his girlfriend and their child in a small Alexandria apartment. Condoms reduce sensitivity," he complains; he simply doesn't consider them an option. As for birth control pills-they cost $20 a month, not including the cost of the requisite gynecological checkup every six months. His girlfriend tried that once, but when the six-month supply ran out, money was short. She never went back to the clinic. An IUD? You have to have surgery for that, shrugs Willy. He's never heard of Norplant, and nobody he knows uses a diaphragm. So what do they do? "Pull out," he says. Today, his girlfriend's carrying baby number two.

Among the young, the definitions of "contraceptive" can be amazingly creative. A survey of Detroit teenagers a few years ago found that some women relied on high heels when they had sex, believing the pelvic-tilt effect of pumps would make the sperm slip out. Others still think you can't get pregnant the first time. Pickle-juice douches are a popular spermicide-vinegar and salt, it is believed, kill sperm. Willy allows that an ice cube inserted into the vagina will "freeze" the sperm.

Yet when the subject is contraception, knowledge isn't necessarily power. Most of us can remember our first, mortified visit to the drugstore to buy Trojans. And many can also remember times when that Trojan never came out of the wallet-which is one reason methods like the pill and Norplant are more reliable. But few young people take the time and trouble to use these regular, more permanent methods of contraception.

For an appointment to get contraception from a D.C. public clinic, a woman routinely waits four to six weeks; there are waits for private doctors, too. Yet when it comes to sex, few people plan that far ahead-especially when, at least in a young person's mind, there are so many reasons to put a clinic visit off. If IUDs are literally painful to many women, other methods are simply a pain. Properly inserting a diaphragm is difficult for 35-year-olds with engineering degrees, let alone embarrassed I I th graders. "There's all this stuff to worry about-you're not going to do it right, they're going to send a letter to your house with the clinic's name on it, your mother's going to find it," says a young woman who had all the facts but has had two abortions.

Some local family planning clinics are far too busy to mitigate these individual difficulties and fears. Despite all the pro-choice lip service, many clinics are cash- and volunteer-poor. When D.C.'s hispanic women go to the city public hospital for contraceptive advice, they get it in English, whether they can understand it or not. Confounded by the system, many find it easier to get birth control sent to them from Latin America, where it's cheaper and, astonishingly, there are more choices.

Amid so much fear and ignorance, it's taken a deadly disease-not the mere threat of pregnancy, not pro-life or pro-choice activists-to bring the only real advance in the availability of contraception to young people during the eighties. In New York City, condoms are now available in the city's 120 public high schools, not to keep young women out of abortion clinics but to help prevent the spread of AIDS. D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon is leaning toward a similar policy, which is a good start-but handing out condoms is hardly a replacement for school clinics with professional counseling and instruction. Dixon, as it happens, isn't advocating that. And why would she, when there's little political pressure to do so? Blinded to science

CFC's Frances Kissling calls the contraception-versus-abortion debate "the conflict in the pro-choice movement today." And scientist Vernon Stevens thinks it's clear which side is winning.

For years, 90 countries have been using a steroid injection to prevent pregnancy for six months per shot. Stevens, a reproductive biologist at Ohio State University, has received several million dollars over the past 15 years from the World Health Organization to support his research on another contraceptive injection. This year, he'll start testing it in Sweden. But don't expect it here any time soon.

It's a cliche of contraception articles that pro-life campaigns stop pharmaceutical companies from buying new contraceptives. And Stevens, who has received his share of anti-abortion hate mail, has no love for right-to-life. But it's not just groups like ALL he's annoyed with. It's groups like NOW that he claims have failed to come to his rescue. "I said if there was better birth control, there would be less need for abortion," Stevens avers. "They haven't bit much on that because that's not their point. Their point is, Irrespective of whether I'm a responsible woman or not, I have the right to abortion."'

With no political power or corporate sponsor behind him, Stevens is one of the many contraception casualties of the eighties. Carl Djerassi, a Stanford University chemist who helped develop the pill, observed last year in Science that the U.S. and Iran are the only places in the world that regressed in contraceptive research during that decade. If the availability of contraceptives in school clinics matters dramatically today, research will determine the climate of American contraception-and the number of American abortions-long into the next century.

Until Norplant-which was opposed not just by some right-to-lifers but by the pro-choice National Women's Health Network (they said not enough testing had been done)-no fundamentally new contraceptive methods had been approved for use in the United States since the sixties. In fact, only one of the nine companies researching new contraceptives in the seventies is still exploring new technology today. During the same two decades, the United States developed the artificial heart, co-discovered the AIDS virus, perfected the sex change operation, and made babies on slides. But remarkably, the leading method of birth control in the United States is once again sterilization.

In a scathing report last year, the National Academy of Sciences, observing that current methods are ill-suited to the needs of a huge number of Americans, called for major research into new forms of contraception. But while pro-choice was fighting other battles, a stringent regulatory environment, suits such as the 320,000 claims filed against A. H. Robins for the Dalkon Shield, and the mighty anti-contraception forces virtually ensured that research would have to wait.

Of course, most of us would rather have no birth control than dangerous Dalkon Shields. But it's not just the market that senses pro-choice's impotence on this matter. The federal government knows, too. The NIH last year spent only $8.5 million on the development of new birth control. How much is that, in pharmaceutical R&D terms? Ortho Pharmaceutical, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson and the sole remaining corporate researcher in the country, says it costs some $230 million to develop a new birth control technology.

But sometimes the problem's not apathy. On both sides, there's a headstrong refusal to compromise abortion principles to improve American contraception. Last year, when Reps. Patricia Schroeder and Olympia Snowe proposed the creation of three new contraception research centers, the project was awarded a paltry $3 million after right-to-life opposed it, charging that the research would involve RU486. In introducing funding legislation for the centers again this year, Snowe said, "We have proposed a middle ground where individuals, whether pro-life or pro-choice, can meet in support of reaching a positive, important goal."

Yet one reason middle ground-and any legislative headway-are so elusive is that pro-choice groups say access to contraception and abortion are "indivisible" rights of women. Whenever funds for contraception are up for a vote in Congress, pro-choice groups insist that money to counsel abortion be provided as well. That gives pro-lifers an excuse to oppose the measures. NRLC's Douglas Johnson claims his group would rather not oppose legislation that increases the amount and variety of U.S. contraceptives but is often "forced to" because of the abortion provisions included. "These groups profess to be interested in expanding contraceptives," says Johnson about the pro-choicers, "but they are willing to jeopardize the whole program" just so they can continue to include abortion. "We find that a little disingenuous.

Johnson's protest is also a little disingenuousNLRC has hardly been a leading advocate of contraceptives-yet the link pro-choicers forge between abortion and contraception has dealt at least one painful blow to international family planning.

The United States government currently devotes $330 million a year in foreign aid to family planning. In 1984, after pressure from NRLC and other anti-abortion groups, the Reagan administration decreed that none of that money would be provided to groups that offer abortion counseling or referral. Would pro-choice jeopardize that money-in the face of so much human need-on the abortion principle? Perhaps-even if abortion is illegal in the countries in question.

An August 1985 memo written by an AID official describes how the PPFA decided to punish the International Planned Parenthood Foundation-Western Hemisphere (IPPF-WH) for signing the no-counseling policy, even though abortion is illegal in all the Latin American and Caribbean nations the international group covers. According to the memo, PPFA board members condemned the other body (which, despite its name, is a separate organization) for entering into the agreement, and then decided to cut off funding to IPPF-WH altogether. It even threatened to sue the international group if it attempted to raise funds in the U.S. under the "Planned Parenthood" name, the AID memo said.

David Andrews, vice president of the PPFA, disputes the memo. PPFA did object to IPPF-WH's signing of the policy, he says, but no threats about withdrawing money or fundraising assistance were involved.

What is certain is that PPFA diverted some $500,000 it had intended for international programs to sue the U.S. government over the policy-a suit that it lost before the Supreme Court last month. Imagine how many condoms that would've bought in Haiti.

There's moral irony in pro-life's rejection of contraception and in pro-choice's inability to devote more of its resources to promoting it. Focused on fetuses, suction tubes, and coat hangers, we have ignored the needs of millions of women and men. But there's political irony here, too. By failing to endorse contraception over abortion, both sides deny themselves precisely what they've been fighting for for decades: the ability to appeal to middle America.

According to a 1989 Gallup poll, 61 percent of Americans don't want Roe v. Wade overturned. A Los Angeles Times poll the same year confirmed that most Americans think the choice to abort should be left to the woman. Yet the same poll found, surprisingly, that most Americans also take the stance that abortion is "murder."

Polls like these illustrate the public's moral dilemma about abortion, an ambivalence that increases when the primary motive for the procedure is simple inconvenience. According to the National Opinion Research Center, a nonprofit group affiliated with the University of Chicago, a large majority of Americans support abortion only when the woman's health is seriously endangered, when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, or when the baby is likely to be born with a serious birth defect. But if the woman wants an abortion because she is unmarried or does not want more children or is too poor to support them-the circumstances under which most abortions take place-slightly less than half of Americans think a legal abortion should be available. As the public senses, what the 1.6 million abortions performed annually indicate is an inexcusable failure: of responsibility, of education, of bin control.

By helping scientists, governments, schools, and companies make contraception safer, more effective, and easier to use, the anti-abortion movement could claim those undecided on the abortion issue, convincing them that it truly cares about and understands women-sexually active, morally complex women-and doesn't just fetishize the lives within their wombs. Similarly, the pro-choice movement could persuade us that legalized abortion is necessary if it worked harder to make it not an act of convenience but a step of last resort.

As we go to press, it appears that at least one pro-choice group, NARAL, has awakened to that political reality, planning its first-ever TV campaign advocating contraception. While the move is clearly a parry in the national abortion counseling debate, it is also a shrewd political gesture. Yet making both sides embrace contraceptives as a legitimate, integral part of American life isn't ultimately about politics. It's about the women who arrive each Saturday morning on clinic doorsteps, wracked with a terrible choice.
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Author:McWilliams, Rita
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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