Final Thoughts on the Culture of Life (for now)

For the last week or so, I’ve tried to explain why the “culture of life” ideology is not particularly conducive to building a society that encouraging human flourishing. My basic stance is that banning contraception and/or abortion does not lead to a culture that values human life, but one that simply values giving birth for the sake of giving birth. Banning abortion does not reduce the actual rates of abortion, but merely drives it underground:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/12/world/12abortion.html?_r=1&

http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/unsafe_abortion/magnitude/en/

As the above article from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates, 47,000 women die every year from unsafe abortion, mostly in the developing world, where decent healthcare in general is difficult to obtain. The graphic in the WHO article shows that most of the unsafe abortions are occurring in Latin America, the so-called “heartland of Catholicism,” as well as in sub-Saharan Africa, where Catholicism is growing rapidly. Clearly, the presence of a strong Catholic culture isn’t diminishing the demand for abortion.

The best way to reduce the abortion rate is to support access to contraception:

http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_IAW.html

The part of the world that has the lowest abortion rate is western Europe, where contraception is freely available and sex education is based on medically accurate science. I think many conservotrad Catholics would take exception to my using the Guttmacher Institute as a source, since they are affliated with Planned Parenthood, but the fact of the matter is that the Catholic church doesn’t do research on reproductive health topics. And even if it did, it would just ignore the findings, which is what happened when Paul VI wrote Humanae Vitae contra the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control.

One problem with “culture of life” rhetoric is that it assumes that most, if not all, social problems can be solved if everyone is safely ensconced in a nuclear, patriarchal family, which is in turn ensconced in a disciplined, theologically conservative religious body. However, history tells us a different story. The fact that the Catholic church ran all of the social services and educational institutions in Ireland, for example, didn’t prevent the emergence of a deep-seated culture of abuse (for more information, see An Irish Tragedy: How Sex Abuse by Irish Priests Helped Cripple the Catholic Church by Joe Rigert). Trumpeting “family values” is fine, but what if you have the misfortune to be born into a rotten family? Merely being in a “traditional family” or being a member of an “orthodox” religious sect isn’t going to protect one from abuse, addiction, or other forms of dysfunction.

To conclude, I feel that there is not much room for dialogue between proponents of the “culture of life” and individuals with a more secular outlook. When I have tried to bring up some of the issues that I have covered in this “culture of life” series to conservotrad Catholics, I’ve consistently gotten the brush off, because this information doesn’t compute with the Casti Connubii/Humane Vitae/Evangelium Vitae narrative that there’s never a good reason to use birth control or not to have a child. While both sides might agree that reducing the teen pregnancy rate, for example, is a desirable public policy goals, there is no agreement about how this should be accomplished. If one side doesn’t believe in contraception, abortion, medically accurate sex education, or even increasing spending on after school programs to reduce the number of kids with too much time on their hands, then there’s really not much to talk about.

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