On Nov. 10, Bellarmine students entering UDH were greeted by tall pink signs with headlines like “Planned Parenthood’s Dirty Secret” and “Planned Parenthood Sells Baby Parts.” Our campus’ student pro-life club, Bellarmine Knights for Life, hosted the event with a representative from the Planned Parenthood Project, a touring “exposé” run by the pro-life organization Students for Life. Passersby, whether engaged or uninterested, were handed pamphlets from the Project that outlined Planned Parenthood’s supposed plan for women and the infamous, overwhelmingly debunked Center for Medical Progress videos that were released this summer. According to students, the people working the event table were mostly men.
Abortion is a contentious issue across the country, but particularly at Catholic institutions like Bellarmine, where even the distribution of condoms on campus ended several years ago. Catholic doctrine opposes pre-marital sex, birth control methods, and abortion, much like many other religions. I would not be surprised if the majority of the student body on this campus identified as “pro-life.” I once considered myself to be pro-life too, though I eventually split with the movement due to many issues that are outlined excellently by the blog post “How I Lost Faith in the ‘Pro-Life’ Movement,” on the website Patheos.
I am uninterested in debating the morality of abortion because I think that is a personal judgment, one that should be made based on one’s own religion (or lack of one), values, and ideas. I have never had an abortion, and I cannot say that I know for sure what I would do in the event of my own unintended pregnancy.
The reality, though, is that whether we like it or not, abortion happens. It has happened throughout history, and it will happen regardless of its legality or illegality. Men and women have engaged in sex without the intent to procreate throughout time, and women have found ways to end pregnancies when they are unable to bear and raise a child. Abortions happened long before Roe v. Wade and they continued once the case was over. The major difference afterwards? Much fewer people died in the process because they were able to have the abortion with trained medical supervision.
Yes, Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of abortions in the country – because they are a large national organization that provides sexual healthcare. However, in 2013 abortions were only 3 percent of the services provided by Planned Parenthood; the vast majority of their services were STI testing and treatment (41 percent) and contraception (34 percent). Planned Parenthood also serves all kinds of people through cancer screenings, breast exams, and education about healthy sexuality. In short, Planned Parenthood provides the sexual healthcare options that many lack in this country, due to our shoddy healthcare system, abstinence-only sex-education, and overwhelming income inequality.
And this is the major problem I have with the Planned Parenthood Project and Bellarmine Knights for Life. These organizations are not truly focused on ending abortion; they are focused on convincing women not to seek out their own healthcare options. A 2007 worldwide study by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute (a reproductive rights organization) suggested that the best way to reduce abortion rates is to increase contraception availability. Several studies have validated this result (Marston & Cleland, 2003; Peipert 2012). Unfortunately, no studies have proven that protesting outside surgery centers have decreased the number of abortions in this country.
Again: abortion happens, and it likely will continue to happen throughout time. But if Bellarmine Knights for Life and other pro-life groups truly want to end abortion, they need to take a thorough look at their tactics. Using biased sources like the CMP’s edited videos, demonizing sexually active people, and skewing unaffiliated statistical data are not effective methods of persuasion; they destroy credibility. To actually end abortion, pro-life groups must support economically disadvantaged and young parents that need help. They must work towards a cultural shift that deemphasizes the sexualization of everything in our society. And, most importantly, they must advocate for contraception use and increased sexual education, both of which are conveniently provided at Planned Parenthoods across the country.
If you are interested in pro-choice advocacy and other gender-equality efforts at Bellarmine, please consider joining the Students United for Redefining Gender Equality. Our Facebook group is located at facebook.com/groups/bellarminesurge.
Senior sociology and communication double major