Plan B As Plan A

Having mocked a Ruth Marcus column recently, I feel constrained to note that she’s written another that makes abundant good sense, arguing that anyone worried about teen pregnancy should be encouraging use of Plan B contraceptives, not trying to make it difficult or impossible.

Her argument is parallel to my own that anyone truly upset about late-term abortions should be fans of contraception, including Plan B, and for that matter safe, legal, available and affordable early-term abortions. That’s particularly true with respect to teenagers, who are at very high risk of getting pregnant and then postponing abortions due to fear, confusion, and poor access to health care. And that’s why I’m highly skeptical of the outrage of antichoice activists over late-term abortions, since they typically oppose not only legal abortions at any stage of pregnancy but also some forms of contraception (particularly Plan B).

Now after writing up that argument, I got a lot of Twitter-grief from folk claiming I was denying anyone was genuinely upset by late-term abortions. So let me be clear about this: if you believe, as the vast majority of antichoice activists say they believe, that every abortion is an act of homicide (even though who support “life of the mother” or rape/incest exceptions to a general ban tend to think of those situations as “homicides in self-defense” or “justifiable homicides”), and that accordingly America is undergoing an abortion Holocaust as terrible or even more terrible than what the Nazis did to the Jews, then it makes no logical or moral sense to place disproportionate emphasis on the tiny percentage of abortions that occur after fetal viability, however it is defined. (I say this, BTW, as someone who was once, a long time ago, a RTLer).

Harping on late-term abortions does, however, make political sense as a tactic, insofar as it may get people thinking about abortion more seriously, with some of them beginning to identify as “prolife” even if they’d never support banning all abortions, and some eventually arriving at the desired destination of regarding zygotes as deserving the same constitutional rights as me or you. And as Irin Carmon and others have richly documented, there’s plenty of evidence that this tactical rationale is precisely why the antichoice movement has fixated on late-term abortions, particularly those like the illegal abortions performed by Kermit Gosnell.

From everything we know about the incidence of abortions in different societies, the best way to prevent late-term abortions is not to ban them, but to prevent them by contraception or early-term abortions. So if putting an end to post-viability abortions is your main goal, you aren’t really “prolife” in the “prolife movement”‘s definition of itself, but in fact someone who ought to be deeply invested in maintaining choice prior to fetal viability–i.e., someone fiercely defending Roe v. Wade and demanding better access to contraceptives and early-term clinical abortions. If at the same time you favor tighter restrictions on late-term abortions, that’s an entirely consistent position, though again, late-term abortions are rare and would be rarer still if other options were more widely available.

Hope that clears up any misunderstanding about my argument on this subject.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.