Watch out, everybody. You think the Puritans will stop once they reverse Roe v. Wade and outlaw abortion? Nope. The Anti-Fun Police are once again setting their sites on your bedroom. Yeah, sure we all know that the Pro-Lifers think that life begins at the moment of conception. But what about those moments leading up to conception? Surely, nobody cares if the seed never makes it to the egg. Wrong!
In an 8,000-word article for the New York Times, Russell Shorto details the growing anti-contraceptive movement: "We see a direct connection between the practice of contraception and the practice of abortion... The mind-set that invites a couple to use contraception is an antichild mind-set. So when a baby is conceived accidentally, the couple already have this negative attitude toward the child." It's not just hardcore Catholics anymore either.
Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, explains the evolution of modern evangelical thought on contraception this way: "When the pill came out, evangelicals were very much a part of mainstream American culture, and like others they saw technology as a gift. There was a vaccine to fight polio. The pill was seen in the same light. I think evangelicals thought, Catholics can't use it, but we can: aren't we lucky?"Better get it on while the getting's good. Pretty soon, you're going to get struck down like Onan for spilling your seed...
But then, from this perspective, the pill began to do terrible damage. "I cannot imagine any development in human history, after the Fall, that has had a greater impact on human beings than the pill," Mohler continued. "It became almost an assured form of contraception, something humans had never encountered before in history. Prior to it, every time a couple had sex, there was a good chance of pregnancy. Once that is removed, the entire horizon of the sexual act changes. I think there could be no question that the pill gave incredible license to everything from adultery and affairs to premarital sex and within marriage to a separation of the sex act and procreation."
That may be a distinctly minority position, but some who work in the public health field acknowledge that the social conservatives have a point. "I think the left missed something in the last couple of decades," says Sarah Brown, president of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, which positions itself as a moderate voice in the heated world of reproductive politics. "With the advent of oral contraception, I think there was this great sense that we had a solution to the problem of unintended pregnancy. But that is a medical model. I think the thing that was missed was that sex and pregnancy and relationships aren't just a health issue. They are really about family and gender and religion and values. And what the right did was move in and say we're not just talking about body parts."
Mohler says the awareness of the damage being caused by what he and others call "the contraceptive mentality" is felt most acutely today by younger evangelicals: "I detect a huge shift. Students on our campus are intensely concerned. Not a week goes by that I do not get contacted by pastors about the issue. There are active debates going on. It's one of the things that may serve to divide evangelicalism."
Eventually, all roads lead to abortion. Once, the definition of abortion was simple — a surgical procedure to extract a fetus — and with the advent of technology that allowed imaging of the fetus within the womb, abortion opponents found they had a powerful tool; photographs of "preborn babies" with human features were common in anti-abortion campaigns. Building on this, and mindful of the difficulty of overturning Roe, they developed an incremental strategy for containing abortion, which has been very effective. Last year, 52 state laws were passed restricting abortion. Currently, more than 100 new state measures are being considered that would limit the procedure, either by making it more difficult to obtain an abortion or by compelling women to reconsider. Nationally, a bill called the Fetal Pain Awareness Act, sponsored by Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, would require a woman seeking an abortion to be told that, as of 20 weeks, a fetus can feel pain, and that she be offered the option of providing it with painkillers. It has not gotten through Congress, and the science of the "pain age" is hotly disputed, but four states have adopted similar legislation. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which President Bush signed in 2004, makes a violent attack on a pregnant woman two crimes: one on the woman and one on her unborn child. It was denounced by abortion rights groups as a step toward granting full legal status to a fetus.
This slow, steady campaign has made an impact on the country at large: polls show that while most people still support Roe, they have deep misgivings about abortion and tend to support restrictions on it, like parental consent and late-term (or partial-birth) bans. One threat to this strategy, according to some on the right, is South Dakota's passage of an abortion ban, which is meant as a direct challenge to Roe.