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

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.'"

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The Pro-Lie Movement Targets Hillary

One woman is a victim of daily defamation from the right: Susan B. Anthony. The name and image of the iconic suffragist have been used to promote the anti-woman, anti-choice campaigns of a group that calls itself the "Susan B. Anthony List." Clearly, they hope that co-opting the name of the famous woman's rights leader will camouflage their anti-woman agenda. It should then come as no surprise that the same group is now maligning and defaming (though not yet co-opting) the name of another woman's rights leader, Hillary Clinton.

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White House Tries to Define Contraception As Abortion

In a spectacular act of complicity with the religious right, the Department of Health and Human Services Monday released a proposal that allows any federal grant recipient to obstruct a woman's access to contraception. In order to do this, the Department is attempting to redefine many forms of contraception, the birth control 40 percent of Americans use, as abortion. Doing so protects extremists under the Weldon and Church amendments. Those laws prohibit federal grant recipients from requiring employees to help provide or refer for abortion services. The "Definitions" section of the HHS proposal states,

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The Real Pro-Life Candidate

Obama has a huge opportunity to win over an unlikely voting bloc: Pro-life voters. The debate over reproductive rights has for decades existed in the abstract; it's been a back and forth volley over "values" that's heavy on emotion and light on fact. But the facts reveal surprising truths and they ought to be hammered home by Obama. The data show that the pro-choice approach is more effective at achieving what the American public views as "pro-life" goals -- i.e. reducing the number of abortions, preventing late term abortion -- than the so-called "pro-life" approach.

McCain may campaign on the "immorality" of abortion but the policies he supports seem to lead to lots more of them. Isn't it time to turn the tables? Obama should hold McCain and and other anti-choice leaders accountable for their failure to find solutions to the high rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion. He has the opportunity to change the debate. It's not about abortion; it's about preventing unwanted pregnancy.

And it is the pro-choice movement that is finding effective ways to do that. This is the unacknowledged fact that should be broadcast loud and clear during this election campaign. Here's the message: It's pro-choice policies that result in dramatic declines in the need for abortion. That's a truth both pro-choice and pro-life voters would be interested to know.

The pro-choice movement, and pro-choice politicians, alone champion wider access to birth control, and birth control is the only proven way to reduce unintended pregnancy and abortion. Obama shouldn't get sucked into the silly debate about whether the Pill is an abortifacient since even the anti-abortion movement's most respected physicians agree there's no scientific evidence that it is. He should ask why McCain hasn't championed campaigns to reduce unwanted pregnancies. The electorate should be reminded that it's the pro-choice movement and pro-choice elected officials that have fought for health insurance coverage for contraception as well as to bring new and more effective contraceptives to market. (Emergency contraception, for instance.) Also, let's not forget that the birth control pill itself is available to Americans entirely because of the efforts of the pro-choice movement.

Check out any NARAL affiliate's agenda and you'll see that most pro-choice work is devoted to increasing access to prevention. Up until Bush ordered it removed, the Centers for Disease Control's website had a "Programs that Work" area for sex education programs that quantitative data showed resulted in reductions in the teem pregnancy and STD rates. Every program was comprehensive sex-ed, the kind promoted by the pro-choice movement. Not one was abstinence-only, the program that preaches that teens simply shouldn't have sex, which "pro-life" forces favor. Obama supports the comprehensive sex-ed programs that have been proven to work, McCain supports no-sex-until-marriage programs which have been proven to fail.

Obama could remind the voter that only 11% of sexually active women don't use contraception and from this 11% comes 50% of the nation's abortions. Ninety-one percent of the American public strongly favors contraception because of this very reason. Very few voters are aware, however, that not one pro-life organization in the United States supports contraception. Or that instead, pro-life groups have been spearheading campaigns to prevent Americans from accessing birth control. No less than 80% of self-described pro-life voters strongly support contraception. Few know that McCain has a long legislative resume devoted to voting against access to contraception and prevention.

McCain and the right to life movement may have sanctimony on their side but, so far, sanctimony has proven ineffective in preventing abortion. Study after study suggests the right to life approach, which McCain has helped execute for decades, is actually the root of the problem: leading to more abortions and later ones too.

Obama should pose this question to McCain: Do you support couples having access to safe and effective birth control options, including emergency contraception? When questioned about his position last year McCain told a reporter: "I have to find out what my position was. Brian (a campaign staffer), would you find out what my position is on contraception...I'm sure I support the president's policies on it." (No president has led more attacks on the right to use contraception than Bush has.) Birthcontrolwatch.org, a group that alerts the public to attacks on the right to contraception, offers more questions Obama could ask McCain--many would be devastating bombs to lob during, say, a televised debate.

Not only would it be refreshing to see Obama go on the offensive, it would be wise. Scanning the globe we discover the countries where abortion is most rare have the strongest pro-choice policies. The countries with the strongest "pro-life" policies are the ones with the highest abortion rates, often twice our national average. These are the nations that have implemented what our "pro-life" movement strives to: banning abortion, making contraception hard to come by, and preaching abstinence-only to teens.

The "pro-life" paradox appears everywhere its policies are in place. School districts in the conservative South are almost five times more likely than in the liberal Northeast to teach abstinence-only. Southern states also have the highest rate of new HIV/AIDS infections, the highest rate of STDs, as well as the highest rate of teen births. Whereas new cases of AIDS decreased or remained constant in the Northeast, Midwest, and West, the South alone experienced an increase.

Results should matter. The electorate, bamboozled and misled by the Bush administration on so many issues for so long, is hungry for fact, proof, and truth. Obama should not skulk and apologize for agreeing with the majority of the American public on reproductive rights. Allowing Americans to make their own important life decisions is a core conservative ideal. Not only is McCain mucking around with Americans' most important decisions, he's imposed policies that result in outcomes that, even by his own measures, should be considered disastrous.

If Obama takes the gloves off he will discover a much larger cheering section. When the discussion is about prevention, contraception and results, the pro-choice candidate wins big. Obama should reveal to the American public that the pro-choice approach, his approach, is effective, safe and working wherever it's been tried.

The War On Sex

The architects of the South Dakota ban on abortion have a bold plan for our country. Certainly, they have already given a jolt to the majority of Americans, or at least the 66 percent who want Roe v. Wade to remain law of the land. But there's a great deal more the American public should know about these legislative campaigners. Especially since there's a lot more of their agenda they hope to realize.

They have a plan for you, and if you are anything like the 85 percent of American couples who have sex once a week, you're not going to like it. The pro-life groups who are the most committed to ending legal abortion -- and gotten the furthest in their goals -- are also leading campaigns against the only proven ways to prevent abortion: contraception. Shocking as it may be, there is not one pro-life organization in the United States that supports the use of contraception. Instead the pro-life movement is the constant opponent of every single effort to provide Americans with the ability to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

If the South Dakota ban is upheld and Roe v. Wade is toppled, it's safe to say the pro-life movement is not going to send out a brigade to furnish Americans with the most effective contraceptives. In fact, pro-life groups' most recent activities suggest the exact opposite.

Take Leslee Unruh, the South Dakota native considered the primary force behind the near-total ban on abortion in her state. Unruh is, in many ways, the perfect representative of the modern pro-life movement. She is lauded in pro-life circles as the president of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, a group that promotes abstinence-until-marriage. Under Unruh's leadership, the Abstinence Clearinghouse has spearheaded campaigns to stop people from using the condom. On the organization's website, supporters of family planning are derided as the "safe sex cartel" and "condom-pushers." Her medical advisory board consists of physicians who pledge not to prescribe contraception to sexually active teens. The group's new project, "Abstinence Africa," discourages condom use in African countries like Zimbabwe, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho where, on average, one in three adults is infected with HIV.

Unruh and her pro-life colleagues have moved beyond attacking the condom, too. For example, when pharmacists refuse to fill birth control prescriptions, the pro-life movement has responded with a favorite tactic: it has moved aggressively to welcome their deeds as acts of "conscience."

The movement has helped pass laws allowing pharmacists to refuse on moral or religious grounds to fill birth control prescriptions in South Dakota -- no surprise there -- as well as Arkansas and Mississippi. Additionally another 19 states have moved to protect anyone who decides to stand in the way of a woman getting birth control; this conceivably includes cashiers who could choose to refuse to ring up your prescription.

Over the past decade, pro-choice groups have tried to get contraception covered by health insurers as a sensible way to stop unintended pregnancies. Nearly every time, these initiatives have provoked intense battles in state legislatures. Right to Life chapters in Ohio, Delaware, Illinois, Oregon, Wisconsin, Nevada and Missouri all fought against state legislation to get birth control covered. Year after year the Pro-Life Caucus of Congress defeats federal legislation to require health insurers to pay for birth control.

President Bush has complied with almost all the requests of his pro-life, anti-contraception base. He's attempted to revoke contraception benefits to federal employees, slashed U.S. foreign aid programs that distribute birth control and appointed anti-contraception ideologues to the expert panels charged with approving new contraception methods. He's also appointed an abstinence-only-until-marriage crusader to direct the Title X program which delivers contraception to the nation's poor -- the majority of Title X clients are not married. It should come as no surprise that Title X's funding has remained flat, while its clientele has swelled. What's also not surprising is that the abortion rate among the most indigent in our country has been increasing.

Today, pro-life groups in the United States are reclassifying the most common contraception methods, including the birth control pill, the patch, the IUD, and the Depo-Provera shot, as "abortifacients" by claiming, with no scientific backing, that they cause abortions.

The American Life League explained, "We have been working to prove that prescription contraceptives have nothing to do with woman's health and well-being but are recreational drugs that prevent fertilization and abort children." 

Some groups will use legal means to put pressure on candidates to adopt their anti-contraception view. For example, Northern Kentucky Right to Life will only endorse candidates who believe the use of the standard birth control pill constitutes abortion.

While the more extreme side of the pro-life movement hasn't yet advocated violence against those that distribute birth control, they do agree with the concept of "contraception=abortion." Most chillingly, Army of God, a pro-life organization that honors those who murder abortion providers as "heroes," also classifies birth control as an abortion method. On the "Birth Control is Evil" section of their website, they explain, quite threateningly, "Birth control is evil and a sin. Birth control is anti-baby and anti-child…Why would you stop your own child from being conceived or born? What kind of human being are you?"

Cloaked in the heated rhetoric of the abortion debate, an entirely new pro-life agenda is taking shape. Most Americans don't know about this yet. But the Right to Life movement, which is now rewriting the country's laws on abortion -- of which South Dakota is clearly just a first target -- has a broader and, for most of us, a disturbing plan. If this powerful movement succeeds, Americans will require safe abortion services more than ever.

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