Why is the focus always on women being 100% responsible for unwanted births? Because the only alternative for men is a reversible vasectomy and the anti-abortion movement KNOWS this is a non-starter. And unless they embrace a host of policies such as prenatal care, they are NOT pro-life, they are anti-abortion. That is a big difference for many of us.

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I'm listening to your conversation with Charlie Sykes about long term reversible options for birth control and am shocked (but not surprised) that there is no mention of vasectomies at puberty and reversed when the adult is finally ready & willing to accept responsibility for having and raising a family. Why is birth control still only viewed as the woman's problem to solve? After all, women don't get pregnant on their own, there's a man involved.

To your question about what does the pro-life movement want - don't underestimate it's about control. If women are barefoot & pregnant and encouraged to be stay at home mom's, they're out of the workforce for the time being - i.e. their threat to men in the workplace is greatly diminished.

From the employer standpoint, it means fewer promotions, less pay - women make roughly 71 cents to men's $1.00 - so cheap labor - every corporation's wet dream.

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The ultimate acid test here isn't whether the pro-life movement wants more babies or fewer abortions, it's exactly why are they fighting abortion in the first place. If it's out of a genuine commitment to life from conception to death, with no other ulterior motives, your advice is perfect. But I suspect that for many of them (as a lot of the commenters have already suggested) this has nothing to do with life and everything in the world to do with sex. To put it bluntly, lots of pro-lifers see nonmarital sex in much the same way Jason Voorhees does, which is why so many of them also support abstinence only sex ed and oppose the LGBT movement. If suppressing sexual activity is the real goal, your advice does the exact opposite of what they really want no matter how many abortions are prevented. So I expect it to be a complete nonstarter.

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Jan 23, 2023·edited Jan 23, 2023

Thoughtful, measured, and spot-on.

One of my favorite things about Will is the brilliant observations he tosses off regularly (on audio, it sounds effortlessly) that cut straight to the heart of the matter.

Today's was "Among women who don’t get pregnant, the abortion rate is zero."

Will, I will be using that. I won't pay royalties, but I will credit you every time I do ;-).

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Excellent piece, Will. I admit to reading ahead to see if reversible vasectomies are or will be a thing. Seriously.

Perhaps it’s partly due to my exasperation with “pro-life” arguments (which conveniently leave out environmental practices that would serve to preserve the birthing capacities of our fellow travelers on earth), but male bodies need also to become active participants in contraception, for several reasons, including the eons during which their bodies have remained utterly outside the dimensions of pro-life arguments, despite penises being essential actors in every abortion.

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Yeah, great topic. I have long been confused by the lack of promoting birth control, and also the apparent

fear of educating our youth about their bodies. Information would help young people make more informed decisions about entering into a sexual relationship. Often the pro life messaging is pro fetus only, they ignore contraception & education as if being informed & prepared about sexuality is a bad thing. Knowledge is power & could encourage people to openly engage in conversations about safe sex & contraception options.

Why is it we don't we ever discuss vasectomies as potential birth control options? They are out patient and reversible proceedures & young men who are not ready to father a child could use this as a birth control option. The entire burden of preventing a pregnancy, dealing with one when it happens accidentally (which can & does happen when both parties are using multiple contraception tools), & having an abortion if that is the best option predominantly falls on women. As do all of the health consequences & punishments. The conversation is far more nuanced than our culture presents.

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Have to disagree Mr. Saletan. This entire commentary is built upon the premise that there are good faith anti-choice people out there. What percentage is it? Very low one imagines. Religious people (many of them at least) have a persecution complex. They need to feel persecution in some form to feel as though they are 'fighting'. It gives their lives purpose. If every single abortion in the USA was stopped tomorrow, and it was completely outlawed federally. The 'pRo-lIfE' movement would continue as they'd invent a new persecution. It has been this way for hundreds (thousands?) Of years.. It's remarkably obvious to see this when you weren't born into a religious tradition but seemingly difficult if you were.

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As has been mentioned in previous comments , this is about control. Period. Full stop. Some of the states clamoring the loudest "pro life" restrictions have maternal death rates comparable to third world countries . This is not pro life.

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I am not certain preventing abortion is really the name of the game here . This is about control, period . The states clamering the most to prevent abortion, contraception, reproductive healthcare are also among the states with maternal death rates comparable to third world countries .

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Good one Will. Anything that makes abortion choices less desperate and desirable is a good initiative. But since poverty ramps up the desperation and desirability of abortion, how many so called pro lifers are willing to implement and pay for universal healthcare, paid parental leave, equal pay for equal work, or a radical reduction in the cost of adoption? They'd have more pro life street cred if they demonstrated this kind of compassion but most do not. As you point out, baby posters are a much easier form of "righteousness."


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Damon Linker at Eyes on the Right has another great post on abortion, The Culture War Over Abortion Will Never End.

Unfortunately it is paywalled, I'll quote a bit here about the breakdown of public opinion from a Marist poll given since 2009

"When respondents were asked to say whether and when abortion should be restricted, the results show a deeply conflicted electorate.

Twenty-one percent say the procedure should be available to women at any time during pregnancy.

Ten percent think it should be restricted after the first six months.

Twenty-five percent think it should be available only during the first trimester.

Twenty-six percent think it should be permitted only in cases of rape, incest, or the save the life of the mother.

Ten percent would limit abortion to cases when the life of the mother is at stake.

And 8 percent think abortion should be illegal in all cases."

In focus groups a common post-Dobbs sentiment was 'I'm pro-life but I don't want to ban early abortions, they should be up to a woman and her doctor'. Those people did not like Roe yet to their surprise missed it after it was gone. My feeling is they did not like establishing a constitutional right to what they saw as a social ill, yet they don't like government involvement either. First trimester unregulated but strong regulations thereafter is a compromise they can live with. An analogy is adultery - a positive constitutional right to cheat would be unpopular, but that doesn't mean people want a ban.

How does this tie-in with contraceptives? People who did not like Roe and now miss it are not the sort of people who oppose contraception.

At the same time activists are not great at electoral calculus, the 18% who want abortion banned outright are willing to alienate voters in the middle. They aren't good at balance and compromise. They aren't the sort to embrace contraception no matter how rational that would be.

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just want to say - I would love a will newsletter. not to replace JVL but in addition lol.

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Hi, all. I just want to say thank you for all your replies. I've read all of them, and I'm impressed by the range and quality of your thoughts.

To those who think I'm being credulous about pro-lifers: The Gallup numbers I cited from a few years ago indicated that about 80% of people who think abortion is morally wrong also think that contraception is morally acceptable. But you're right that people who are active in the pro-life movement are a subset of this larger group, and I don't know how many of them would take contraception seriously as a way to prevent abortions.

To those who suggest that self-identified pro-lifers who support contraception don't exist: One reason I admire the Bulwark and its readers is that you can definitely find people here who are both. I appreciate those of you who stood up in the comments and identified yourselves as such.

The reason I proposed LARCs is that they would have the biggest effect, regardless of whether many pro-lifers would accept or promote them. And in general I would like to offer ideas that (a) persuade people who are genuinely interested in solutions and (b) isolate those who aren't.

I apologize for not spending more time responding to your comments. It's just hard to write replies here and still take care of my other responsibilities. But I read as many comments as I can.

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Jan 20, 2023Liked by Will Saletan

FWIW...I think your 'persuade those interested and isolate those who aren't' approach is a good and valid one that could and should be applied to many issues besides this one. Props.

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First of all many assume that all abortions are elective due to unwanted pregnancy. The current laws in many states restrict or ban ANY abortion which is a medical procedure. Women who are pregnant with a planned or wanted pregnancy who are experiencing life threatening complications are now forced to continue the pregnancy until the doctor can "prove" the woman is going to die without an abortion, forced to become septic for example. This is causing maternal deaths and complications such as hysterectomies due to complications that could have been treated with a medical abortion. This has nothing to do with being pro-choice or pro-life (whatever the current politically correct terms are), it has to do with withholding healthcare to pregnant women.

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I have two "abortions" in my medical file. I had to have a D&C during my second pregnancy because I was hemorrhaging. My doctor didn't have to think twice to save my life because of cardiac activity in a doomed pregnancy. My second occurred just weeks after we told our families that I was pregnant. Again, my doctor didn't have to think twice to provide the medical care for my incomplete miscarriage.

As to LARC, I agree but am exasperated that as usual pregnancy prevention is shouldered by women. Women are fertile for one day a month, men every day. Let's finally get men on board and the science so that it is not always a woman's responsibility.

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Thank you for sharing Cath, this is exactly what I am talking about. These new laws are putting women's lives at risk ! I am so glad you got the healthcare you needed!

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Jan 20, 2023·edited Jan 20, 2023

Mr Saletan overlooks a crucial, possibly even major or predominant factor, in this, and why the goal will never be reached.

There are people who are pro life for whom their engagement in "pro-life" agitation and politics is to prevent abortions because they understand abortion to be killing human persons. This is a moral element, and for some pro lifers -- I think a minority, but motives are mixed -- it is the primary driver of their allegiance to and support of the pro-life project.

But the energy of the movement is not about serious moral considerations. The energy of the movement is about power and identity considerations. The pro-life energy is sustained by concerted, intentional, continuing effort. The effort is rewarded, not by reaching the goal of preventing abortions, but by the money it raises, and the political and social power it creates.

For this reason the last thing a major part of the pro-life movement wants is to succeed. There are a number of conflicts in America today for which this is the case. Immigration is up high on that list. So also are "second amendment" panic, race panic, God panic, Jew panic, gender panic... Those who benefit from the anger and turmoil such problems create have no incentive to actually solve them, because problem resolution means the money and power aggrandizement the problem has guaranteed them will abate. And the power structures that have developed to feed off of a particular problem gravy train, if the train stops and they have to get off, will have to move into some other problem arena -- where they will have to jostle and jockey for space at the trough with others who have already specialized there.

So now after Dobbs we see the pro-life movement itself panicking because they forsee no longer have a working public panic to feed from. The golden stream of wealth and power from which they have drunk so deeply is drying up. In the words of a management book all the rage a few years back, their own efforts have unexpectedly moved their cheese. If they cannot keep this particular ball in the air, they will have either to shift to a new fountain of outrage, or actually go out and find honest work... and the latter is hardly to be even contemplated unless at the very last ditch. So the movement is desperate to sustain the problem, and to do this requires further and further exertions into wilder and wilder contortions of policy and absurdity, as they frantically strive to hook up pro-life-ism to life support. Effective birth control -- giving people, especially women, the means to solve this problem -- is absolutely therefore to be prevented at all costs.

Only if the battle really does go away, and people just stop giving the money and voting their gang member into office on the basis of this particular outrage tantrum, will they fold up their tents and abandon the field.

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Very well put. Spot on.

I just thought the newsletter was tone deaf for all of the reasons you cited above. It’s just tough to take arguments from the antiabortion platform seriously because they have literally done nothing to change the culture around abortion different. They care so little about other families it’s laughable.

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I start by saying I am pro-choice and always have been, I was a woman in college in 1972. I am wholly in agreement with you that contraceptives in whatever form are far superior to using abortion as a means of birth control. I have seen repeatedly how the so called pro-life folks also work to prevent people from using contraceptives from every republican president since Reagan cutting off aid to any world agency that provides abortions and the result abortions immediately increase because they are cheaper than contraceptives. Because the over whelming majority of the anti-choice group are also anti-contraceptives, I have long ago concluded they care far more about exerting control over women than anything else.

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