Saturday, October 04, 2014

Choosing birth prevention

"An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention." - St. Thomas Aquinas

We live in age of moral confusion. Sometimes, we justify our actions based purely on intent: if a policy was enacted with the goal of reducing poverty, that it makes it, per se, good, irrespective of the results of that policy. Other times, we justify our actions based purely on results: if someone is suffering, it is our duty to reduce that suffering, regardless of the means which we utilize to achieve that end.

The problem with such thinking is not just that it is blatantly contradictory and therefore incoherent; the problem is that is is bad philosophy. Pureness of intention does not absolve one from acting in a way that will lead to a bad end. Likewise, achieving a good end does not grant one license to use any means at one's disposable. Ethics must consider the intent of the action, as well as the means and end.

This brings us to an article in Slate magazine: How Choice Can Stop Abortions. Therein, the writer argues that since stopping abortions is desirable, any means to achieve this end must be considered a good.

Before we get to the substance of the article, the headline merits investigation.

There is a sense in which choice could stop abortions. Namely, people could stop choosing to have abortions. All that is necessary to stop abortions is to stop abortions. We need not worry overmuch about the means; what is required to not do an action is to not do it. End of article.

Alas, for Slate, things are much more complicated. The subtitle of the piece reads: Long-acting reversible contraceptives can cut the teen abortion rate by 75 percent. In other words, it is not choice that stops abortions, but choosing a specific set of items, namely, long-acting reversible contraceptives.

It makes no sense to idolize choice in isolation from the thing chosen. Choice employs an end, or, rather, any number of ends. Some of them are good, some are not, and the validity of the choice depends on whether or not the end is good. It is meaningless to insist that one is pro-choice when it comes to drinking and driving unless one is ready to recommend drunk driving. If we extol choice in this area, we mean to extol drunk driving. Otherwise, we would not commend choice, but rather, choosing not to drive drunk.

The Slate piece, in other words, is arguing for the moral goodness of birth control, which is to say, birth prevention. They would make matters much clearer if they simply stated as much.

The author of the piece notes:

More than 1,400 teenage girls in the St. Louis area were offered a range of free contraceptives. Seventy percent chose LARCs. The beauty of LARCs is that they bypass the problem of inconsistent use. Once the implant or IUD is inserted, you don’t have to think about it every time you have sex.

After three years, researchers counted the pregnancies. For hormonal IUDs and injections, the annual failure rate was five per 1,000 women. For hormonal implants and copper IUDs, the failure rate was zero. These methods wildly outperformed contraceptive rings (52 failures per 1,000), pills (57 per 1,000), and patches (61 per 1,000).

This finding makes sense. One of the problems—practical, as opposed to moral—with, say, condoms and birth prevention pills, is that people forget to use them. Implanting an IUD removes the element of human error.

This fact is itself interesting because implanting a contraceptive device reduces the range of choice. Once the device is implanted, and so long as the device is working properly, one cannot choose to become pregnant. One must first schedule an appointment with one's doctor, and then, once the device is removed, one may try to become pregnant. Should one change one's mind, or simply decide at a later date to try to prevent pregnancy, a like device must be reinserted.

This may be called many things, but insofar is removes the responsibility of controlling pregnancy from the woman and her partner, and places it in the hands of the medical authorities, I do not see how we can argue that this is especially conducive to choice.

On the contrary, the Catholic school of thought maintains that sex leads to pregnancy. As such, sex should only be engaged in when one is willing to achieve the end to which that act is naturally ordered, that is, children. That, moreover, since children require a good deal of love and attention, prospective parents should be willing to care for the child as long as they can manage. Which is to say, that they have pledged their faithfulness to each other in front of witnesses in the act of marriage.

This places the choice firmly in the hands of the husband and wife. True, they may turn to medical authorities for assistance, but the choice of whether to try to have a child is theirs alone. If we truly wish to glorify choice, this argues in favor of the Catholic position. It also requires us to study human fertility so as to understand it, instead of treating it as if it were an unfortunate medical condition. But that is a topic for another day.

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