September 30, 2006

Anscombe on contraception and abortion

Elizabeth Anscombe is best known as the editor and translator of the English editions of Wittgenstein's most significant works, but in her day she was a prominent philosopher in her own right. She was also a devout Roman Catholic. In this piece, Anscombe meditates on the `contraceptive mentality'. I've only had time to read the first section, but this bit really stood out:

The only objection, then, to the new heathen, contraceptive morality will be that the second condition I mentioned - near-universality of contraception where there ought not to be begetting - simply won't be fulfilled. Against the background of a society with that morality, more and more people will have intercourse with little feeling of responsibility, little restraint, and yet they just won't be so careful about always using contraceptives. And so the widespread use of contraceptives naturally leads to more and more rather than less and less abortion.

Except that, as this report by the Guttmacher Institute shows, that's precisely the opposite of what happens. Anscombe does throw in a qualifier, granting the possibility of a strictly short-term decline in abortion rates, but then claims the long-term result will be a net increase in abortion rates. She's simply empirically wrong about that claim, as well:

Initially, rapid fertility decline in South Korea was accompanied by increases in both contraceptive use and abortion; over time [ie, 40 years], abortion rates turned downward while contraceptive use continued to climb.

But the reason why Anscombe makes this assertion is also interesting. Prima facie, `contraceptive morality' (as Anscrombe calls it here) or the `contraceptive mindset' (as some contemporary opponents of contraception call it) is nothing more or less than the view that the use of contraception is entirely permissible, morally speaking. But this is, strictly speaking, only a proper part of what these opponents of contraception mean; they also seem to think that this mindset or morality involves a sort of firm resolution to avoid taking responsibility for one's actions. That is, using contraception is supposed to be a denial of responsibility, roughly on a par with the (supposed) denial of responsibility that is abortion, and since the former is less convenient than the latter (or something), an acceptance of contraception will lead to an increase in the number of abortions. This isn't just a strawfeminist and astonishingly (given that Anscombe is an influential analytic philosopher) vague line of argument; it's a downright bizarre inversion of the core notion, motivating those of us who believe strongly in access to and education about contraception, that the use of contraception is actually one responsible way to engage in intercourse.


aus blog said...

I couldn't agree with you more.

I'm pro-life always have been. World estimations of the number of terminations carried out each year is anywhere between 20 and 88 million.
3,500 per day / 1.3 million per year in America alone. 50% of that 1.3 million CLAIMED failed birth control was to blame. A further 48% had failed to use any birth control at all. That leaves 2%that had medical reasons. That means a stagering 98% may have been avoided had an effective birth control been used.

Noumena said...

It's important to keep in mind that contraception is something both sides of the abortion debate ought to be in total agreement on. Even in the best of cases, abortion is an uncomfortable and inconvenient procedure, and usually the `best' of several extremely crappy options. Even the most radical pro-choice feminist ought to agree that preventing pregnancy (not to mention STDs) in the first place is far preferable.

aus blog said...

I am a pro-lifer who has no religious convictions at all . I didn't need the fear of god or anything else to come to my decision, just a good sense of what is right and wrong.
You see we were all once a fetus. Is it beyond the realm of possibilities that when your mother first learned she was carrying you, she may have considered her options? What if she had decided to terminate? Would that have been OK?
You would not exist, if you have children they would not exist, and your (husband or wife) would be married to someone else. You would have been deprived of all your experiences and memories. In this day and age with terminations being so readily available and so many being carried out, if you make it to full term
you can consider yourself lucky. Lucky you had a mother that made the choice of life for you. Don't you think they all deserve the same basic human right, LIFE?
I'm all for contraception, prevention is certainly better than termination.
Did you know you can get an implant that is safe, 99.9% effective, and lasts for three years? Just think girls not even a show for three years, wouldn't that be great? I think too many people rely too heavily on the last option (abortion), I think if abortions weren't so readily available people would manage their reproductive system far better resulting in a fraction of the number of unwanted pregnancies.
World wide there are over 50 MILLION aborted pregnancies each year. In America 3,500 terminations carried out every day, that's over 1.3 million every year, 50% of all cases claimed that birth control had been used, 48% admitted they took no precaution, and 2% had a medical reason. That's a staggering 98% that may have been prevented had an effective birth control been used. Don't get me wrong, I suspect the percentages in Australia would be much the same.
Just a lot of unnecessary killing.

At the point of conception is when life began for you. This was the start of your existence. Your own personal big bang. Three weeks after conception heart started to beat. First brain waves recorded at six weeks after conception. Seen sucking thumb at seven weeks after conception.

I am convinced that in the not too distant future, people will look back at many of the practices of today with disbelief and horror.

Want to know how to find humanity-?

True humanity can only be achieved, by concidering others/ caring about others, as much as, if not more than yourself.

Until we do we are no more than an uncivilisation, with all the uncivilised things that we do....


Noumena said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Noumena said...

Wow, talk about spelling and grammatical errors ... let me try that one again.

ausblog, the topic of the post is the permissibility of contraception, not abortion, so I'm not going to respond to your comment. I will, however, recommend David Boonin's A defense of abortion; he refutes the sort of argument you've given here in that book (not to mention a dozen or so other arguments).

aus blog said...

If you think the point of conception is NOT when life begins, and all you have is a clump of cells and not a living human being.
Then at least concider this -

Soon after you were conceived you were no more than a clump of cells.
This clump of cells was you at your earliest stage, you had plenty of growing to do but this clump of cells was you none the less. Think about it.
Aren't you glad you were left unhindered to develope further.
Safe inside your mother's womb until you were born.

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