Center for Ethics and Leadership

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Abstinence, Abortion, and Other Inflammatory Issues

I have not been here for nearly three weeks, but a few of you have been active in response. The college presidents got us started on the drinking age, and Gov. Palin has reminded us of other issues. So how do we discuss these things that we like to consider private if we are involved, but are also public policy issues when we consider the wider society?

Bristol Palin's pregnancy unfortunately brought out the worst in those who oppose abstinence-only education, who were only too happy in their blogs to make cutting remarks about the governor's position. Here's a lesson in logic, or perhaps it's child-rearing: they don't always do what you tell them to do, even if you think you have drilled it into their heads. That's the child-rearing. Here's the logic: that the statistics on abstinence-only education are bad does not mean that comprehensive sex education has worked. American women still abort about 25 percent of their pregnancies, very rarely because of fetal indications (defects) or health concerns to themselves. Again, that you tell sons and daughters "not to do anything stupid" doesn't mean that they won't.

Abortion, which played a small role in both parties' primaries, seems to have returned as an important issue. (See my August 20 post, "Catholics, Democrats, and Abortion.) As John Kavanaugh implied, the court will not overturn Roe, and a constitutional amendment is unlikely. Neither has occurred in 35 years, nor is this post a plea that either should. Rather, other solutions must be sought. Again, can we get beyond the shouting match of "life-choice"?

The discussion I point to is not simply a discussion of sexuality and reproduction as matters of autonomy. Our legal system has framed the debate along those lines, as I think it should. But there is much more to a public policy discussion than a narrow legal framework. And I think most Americans agree but want the government's power limited in this area so that they can find meaning, secular or religious, in this most profound of human experiences, which should be viewed holistically as sexuality and reproduction. Unfortunately, we seem reluctant to engage each other in what that meaning might be, but are instead suspicious of of each others' remarks.

As for lowering the drinking age, well, that suggestion got no traction. Correction: even the suggestion to have the discussion got no traction.


  • I can’t argue with the phrase “that the statistics on abstinence-only education are bad does not mean that comprehensive sex education has worked” but the statement forces one to ask the questions, ‘What exactly was either educational program supposed to do?’ If the goal is to reduce either unwanted pregnancies or abortions, then perhaps a focus on abstinence is important, but perhaps there need to be other options available, like low cost birth control – few could argue that birth control pills are less costly to society than children.

    When parenthood and poverty interact individual opportunity for both the parent and the child(ren) there are public policy issues that need to be discussed and addressed. Perhaps the issues need to be framed in terms of autonomy first, then sexuality autonomy and then reproductive autonomy. When one takes personal responsibility for having or not having children, what is the role of public funds should play in guaranteeing an individual and/or their offspring a reasonable standard of living? Should there be limits on those guarantees? With Roe abortion is an option for any woman, without Roe it was a dangerous route chosen by the desperate. Given our financial affluence and our medical care system, I agree that expanding the debate beyond to pro-life v. pro-choice dichotomy would seem to me to be in everyone’s better interest.

    By Blogger kobe2, At September 11, 2008 1:22 PM  

  • To my mind the question of abortion comes down to this:
    People are going to have sex
    People are not going to want to have/raise all the children that will result from the sex they will have
    The only real solution to the abortion problem is cheap, easy, readily available contraception with no social stigma.

    I am radically pro-choice, but I am also sure that people of the future will look back at our practice of abortion with horror, just as I'm sure they will view our reluctance to provide everyone with effective contraception and comprehensive sex education.

    The church and the religious right cannot honestly press for a true moral issue (abortion) until they are willing to let go of the false moral issues (sexual abstinence, sex only within marriage, contraception). The church abdicates it's position on a true moral issue by holding fast to silly positions on the issues of sex and contraception.

    If the church was truly interested in limiting abortion - they would embrace contraception and comprehensive age appropriate sex education.

    By comprehensive age appropriate sex education - I mean that all children capable of engaging in sexual activity (and contracting STD/conceiving a child) will be provided with the information and the means to protect themselves.

    It's as simple as that - either you are interested in solving a real moral problem, or you are interested in clinging to a false morality - you can't have it both ways.

    The church's unwillingness to support contraception and education in the fight against abortion is like someone refusing to stop the killing of a person because they won't utter a swear word. You can argue the morality of of the actions - but not the moral equivalence.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At September 11, 2008 7:48 PM  

  • Why does the discussion of Pro-life/choice rear its head as a political platform every 4 years? We are 35 years into Roe/Wade and the discussion is always the same...tempers flare...politicians are questioned continuously on their stance on this issue. This questioning really means nothing, as nothing changes, and so my question remains.This is not a political platform topic, and although everyone has their personal belief, including politicians, there are probably just as many that have an opposing belief. The beauty of this country is that everyone is entitled to their individual beliefs. Furthermore, the thought of our male dominated congress and house, under the helm of any president, attempting to amend the constitution and determine what women are, or are not, able to do with their own bodies is not an acceptable consideration, regardless of my personal beliefs for choice or life.

    By Blogger Tammy Gore, At September 13, 2008 7:04 PM  

  • thanks for the article

    By Anonymous live naakt, At August 22, 2009 7:46 AM  

  • Parents and the society should really do something is regards to this issue. We may not stop this young people to have sex, at least we can guide them and make them a responsible person.

    By Anonymous Abot, At October 31, 2009 5:12 AM  

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