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Kirsten Moore

Kirsten Moore

Posted March 10, 2009 | 10:10 AM (EST)

Oz and the Tin Man


If Oz is the common ground of culture wars, Will Saletan is the Tin Man. He doesn't need brains, he doesn't need courage, but the guy needs a heart.

Will is a provocative writer on subjects I spend a lot of time thinking about -- abortion, contraception and reproductive technologies. As a professional in the field of reproductive and sexual health, I generally appreciate his thoughtful, outsider perspective. But every now and then he writes something that makes me double down on my commitment to a pro-choice perspective.

Today it is this recommendation:

"For liberals, that means taking abortion seriously as an argument for contraception. We should make the abortion rate an index of national health, like poverty or infant mortality."
Abortion as a rationale for contraception? Why not women as the rationale for contraception? Why not children as the rationale for contraception? Why not healthy sex as a rationale for contraception? My support for birth control education and services is grounded in my belief that everyone has to make their own decisions when it comes to the most intimate, important, life altering aspects of human experience - sexuality, pregnancy and parenting - regardless of whether I agree with their decision or not.


Take the 2000-2001 Guttmacher Institute finding that of 10,000 women who had abortions:

"...28 percent said they had thought they wouldn't get pregnant, 26 percent said they hadn't expected to have sex and 23 percent said they had never thought about using birth control, had never gotten around to it or had stopped using it. Ten percent said their partners had objected to it. Three percent said they had thought it would make sex less fun."

Will Saletan concludes this is a "failure to teach, understand, admit or care that unprotected sex can lead to the creation - and the subsequent killing, through abortion - of a developing human being."

Will is right. This statistic is a story of failure and it is not simply one of access. But Saletan's solution shows a failure of imagination and of compassion. In these statistics I hear the voices of women who lack basic information about their own bodies' reproductive cycle. I hear the voices of women who had sex when they didn't want to. I hear the voices of young women who have not yet learned how to distinguish their desire for affection or affirmation or even their desire for sex in a way that lets them take control of their destiny. I also hear the voices of women who have not yet learned to respect their own body and their capacity to give life, but I do not hear any woman saying 'I didn't know abortion would end a life or potential life'.

For me, the value of this work is not solely about reducing abortions, or even unintended pregnancies. It is about creating a sense of ownership among women and men -- old and young -- about their own body and their relationships with others because this ownership is a key to healthy bodies -- bodies free of substance abuse; healthy relationships -- relationships free of coercion or violence; and healthy children -- children who are born to parents who are ready to commit to their obligations as providers, caretakers and role models.

Yes, we all should be more thoughtful and deliberate about our sexual and reproductive lives. Speaking for myself, though, I'm not motivated to do this when some elite white male points his finger at me and says, "What is wrong with you? Why don't you see the world the way I do? If you would only do what I think is right we could all be in Oz." So Tin Man, don't forget to ask for that heart. And maybe a little humility.