Matt Bowman to William Saletan: Thou shall not kill even in the name of birth control

ADF attorney Matt Bowman

By Matt Bowman, ADF attorney

William Saletan fails to see the difference between taking a pill that is designed to stop pregnancy by any means necessary—including killing—and engaging in activities that are good or neutral in themselves and have nothing to do with targeting children.

The Slate article, Breast-Feeding Kills: The pro-life case against birth control, nursing, and exercise, is straw-man-Saletan at his best. He attributes incomplete principles to his ideological opponents and then makes fun of the caricature. He did the same thing earlier this year. The only way Saletan could rebut Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen’s brilliant book, Embryo: A Defense of human life, on embryos was to bravely refute an argument they never made, that nothing acts on an embryo after fertilization. Saletan’s tact was presumably preferable to trying to rebut the scientifically unassailable claim George and Tollefsen actually proposed, that after fertilization “nothing acts on the embryo in such a way as to produce a new character or new direction of growth.”

Saletan also ridiculed the South Dakota law declaring that abortion “will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being,” by concluding that if the child is already separate, pro-lifers are “lying” when they oppose making him completely separate by abortion.

As Ramesh Ponnuru points out, a preborn child is plainly separate in the sense of being a distinct entity from the mother, and that fact is perfectly consistent with the child’s circumstance of having a connection to the mother’s nourishment that, if severed, constitutes murder. There is no triumphant “gotcha!” for Saletan to proclaim.

So it is with Saletan’s imaginative piece on abortifacients. He wants to say that pro-life principles should reject anything that might incidentally prevent an embryo’s implantation. In fact, much “birth control” is indisputably abortifacient. Even with birth control that prevents implantation less often, many Christians conscientiously oppose helping someone take a birth control pill, which is taken for the express reason of preventing pregnancy, and which functions either as a contraceptive or abortifacient, and is often taken outside of marriage to facilitate fornication or adultery, or inside marriage in opposition to fertility. Saletan disagrees with this view, but his “argument” is to say that taking birth control is exactly the same thing as breastfeeding, merely because he cites one study saying that breastfeeding may also prevent implantation.

These acts are not comparable. Breastfeeding is an action ordained by nature to maximize nourishment and benefit for a child. Even if it has an implantation preventing effect, the effect is much less proximate than in birth control, because (among other reasons) birth control is itself targeted at preventing or ejecting children.

Breastfeeding has its own independent identity even when a woman hopes it will delay pregnancy. Birth control, on the other hand, is birth control. Taking birth control involves both the purpose and the design of preventing pregnancy by whatever means it may reasonably or hopefully function. The makers of Plan B don’t care how it works, and they would be just as happy to eject a 3-week-old implanted child if they could obtain a higher kill rate and fewer side effects. Many women, in contrast, do care that various kinds of birth control are abortifacient. Yet abortion advocates are doing all they can to prevent women from being told that it may kill embryos. Part of that campaign is to muzzle Christian doctors and force them to participate in birth control or be fired.

Pro-lifers are perfectly consistent when they conscientiously object to birth control while supporting or not opposing breastfeeding. This is even more true in Saletan’s other preposterous examples. His article brings to mind that old slogan adopted by the same pro-abortion movement he represents: “every sperm is sacred.”

In the end, Saletan wants to force doctors to participate in actions that the Hippocratic Oath used to condemn. He hopes that making fun of Christian health care professionals will convince the public to abandon America’s traditional respect for religious freedom, not to mention the life-preserving character of the medical profession.