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Why the Anti-Choice Movement Is on the Verge of Civil War

When it comes to contraception, anti-chociers are alienating their own kind.

Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH) is, in many ways, a typical pro-life American. He opposes abortion and, because of that, supports every effort to prevent the need for it. Just like most pro-life Americans, Ryan supports contraception -- primarily because it is the most effective way to prevent unintended pregnancy, and thereby abortion. And yet because of this, Ryan no longer qualifies as "pro-life." He was recently banished from the board of a national pro-life group he served on for four years. Ryan, in return, has turned vocal. He's leading the call for common ground and pragmatism, and rallying the no longer silent majority of pro-lifers who support contraception. And he is provocatively trying to fight what he views as an unrepresentative slice of pro-lifers, those who can't bring themselves to support contraception. "The new fault line," says Ryan, "is not between pro-life and pro-choice people. It's within the pro-life community. The question now is: 'are you pro-life and pro-contraception, therefore trying to reduce the need for abortions, or are you pro-life and against contraception and you hope that people's lives improve just by hoping it, wishing it so.'"

Ryan is committed to preventing abortion so much so that he, unlike every other pro-life legislator in Congress, spent the last few years working to identify the policies proven to reduce the need for abortion. This work, which he undertook with The Third Way, a center-left think tank, resulted in the "Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act." It's also called the Ryan-DeLauro bill, named for him and his co-sponsor Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT.) As thanks for his outspoken leadership in trying to make abortion less prevalent, Congressman Ryan was removed from the board of Democrats for Life of America, and with it, disowned by the pro-life movement at large. Pro-life publications have taken to qualifying his pro-life status as "allegedly" pro life or referring to him as someone "who claims to be" pro-life. Because of his support of prevention in 2007-2008 congressional session, Ryan received a "0" rating from National Right to Life Committee. According to the pro-life establishment's new standards, his support for prevention means he no longer qualifies as "pro-life." And that means very few pro-life Americans will either.

It may come as a shock to most pro-life Americans, but there's not one pro-life group in the United States that supports contraception. Rather, many lead campaigns against contraception. As Congressman Ryan explained, "I think the pro-life groups are finding themselves further and further removed from the mainstream; they're on the fringe of this debate." Considering that the average woman spends 23 years of her life trying not to get pregnant, the anti-contraception approach depends on a scourge of sexless marriages or a lot of wishful thinking.

Ryan's legislation increases funding for contraception, expands supports for poor women who wish to carry to term, backs comprehensive sex ed programs that have been proven to work, and creates more incentives for adoptive families. His bill is supported by many prominent pro-life individuals including, Dr. Frank S. Page, Rev. Joel Hunter, and Jim Wallis, and many pro-choice groups including Planned Parenthood and NARAL. Not one leading pro-life group signed onto the bill.

Lucky for Congressman Ryan, his support for contraception places him in a good position with pro-life voters. He is a pioneer in this rich common ground frontier. The vast majority of pro-life Americans, 80%, support contraception. Even among Catholics, followers of the only religion to oppose artificial contraception, 90% support contraception. Of evangelicals, including the most vehemently anti-abortion, the born-again, only 28% support abortion rights, yet 88% support contraception. Indeed, among all religious groups, support for contraception is off the charts: 94% of Baptists, 99% of Presbyterians, 95% of Methodists, 95% of Lutherans, 97% of Jewish want greater access to contraception. And have you ever seen a poll to report 100% support for anything? You can count on the easy-going Episcopalians for that unanimous support for contraception. (Support for puppies and goodness score lower.) Even a cozy majority, 70%, of Republican and Independent voters are strong supporters of expanding access to contraception. What percentage of these voters supports the pro-life establishment's agenda to restrict access to contraception? 2%.

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