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The Conservative Case for Contraception and Abortion

(This is a guest post by Thomas Buonomo. He is a geopolitical risk analyst with expertise in international political economy and Middle East affairs. His views are his own.)

Self-described conservatives have long attacked women’s reproductive rights as established by Roe v. Wade based on the belief that the government’s responsibility to provide for the basic security of its citizens begins at the point of conception-i.e. when a sperm fertilizes an egg.

The staunchest opponents of women’s reproductive rights base their position on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. This constituency would more appropriately be described as ‘theocratic’ rather than conceded the political cover of “conservative”.

Conservative philosophy limits government to providing basic security for its citizens and maintaining the proper functioning of the free market, while it abhors government interference on broader socioeconomic issues. True conservatives should view government imposition of religiously motivated laws on its citizens as anathema.

Theocrats, in contrast, believe that government should make policy based on religious justifications.

While some within this constituency may be genuinely concerned about the lives of the unborn, their underlying fixation is sexual control-i.e. they believe that sex should remain within their religiously defined confines of marriage and that abortion (and for many, contraception) violates divine statutes that they consider superior to state and federal law.

If this were not the case, they should have no moral reservation about a sentience threshold for abortion based on scientific consensus.

It should be apparent to genuine conservatives that government should have no business controlling people’s sexual activity so long as it is consensual. The more complex questions are at what threshold or under what circumstances human life should be protected and how policy can maximize the greatest good for the greatest number. At this point some empirical analysis might be useful to temper ideology.

The first point one might make is that there are an estimated 7.3 billion people (and counting) populating our planet and that as long as we continue striving to build modern, industrial economies, our planet will no longer passively accommodate us unless we take global measures to address the climate and related security consequences of our collective activity. Increasing access to contraception and abortion globally would significantly help to address these problems, providing greater quality of life for this and future generations.

A second point one might make is that one of the major structural drivers of political instability and violence in the world-one thinks of the Middle East in particular-is the gap between job and population growth.

This problem has several causes, including corrupt, authoritarian governance, but one of the long-term solutions is to address the demand side by providing greater access to contraception and abortion as well as education to challenge the religious and other cultural barriers to family planning.

Although conservatives by definition would tend to oppose public funding of these measures, the question is whether the cost to taxpayers of not providing them would be more. This question should be answered with proper economic analysis rather than starting with one’s ideologically motivated conclusion. It should include the cost to taxpayers of funding welfare benefits, police departments, and prison systems-three variables strongly correlated with unplanned pregnancies.

Although reasonable people can disagree on the threshold at which abortion rights should be limited, this debate should be framed in utilitarian rather than religious fundamentalist terms in which theocrats start with their conclusion and construct arguments based on what they presume to be divine will. The moral questions associated with abortion and contraception are in reality more complex and multidimensional.

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