Beyond Theism/Resolving a Vital Paradox

Contraception prevents abortion. Because contraception prevents conception there is nothing to abort, and abortion becomes impossible. This is true based on the definitions of contraception and of abortion.

Empirical results confirm that increased use of contraception reduces the rate of abortion. Several reliable studies conclude that advocating various forms of contraception results in fewer abortions.

A March 18, 2016 report “New Clarity for the U.S. Abortion Debate: A Steep Drop in Unintended Pregnancy Is Driving Recent Abortion Declines”[1] by the Guttmacher Institute concludes, in part, that “In short, the evidence is considerable that more and better contraceptive use is the key driver of the 2008–2011 declines in unintended pregnancy and abortion.” The report further concludes “the continued teen pregnancy declines between 2003 and 2010—a period with no changes in teen sexual activity—were entirely due to contraceptive use,” and “…evidence from the 2008–2011 period validates the common-sense notion that supporting and expanding women’s access to family planning services not only protects U.S. women’s health and rights, it also reduces abortion rates.”

Another report “Contraceptive Use Is Key to Reducing Abortion Worldwide”[2] also by the Guttmacher Institute concludes: “Policymakers seeking to reduce the incidence of abortion would do well to address its root cause—unintended pregnancy—by facilitating widespread access to modern contraceptives and by promoting their effective use.” The report also states “between 1988 and 2001, modern contraceptive use increased in Russia by 74%, while the abortion rate declined by 61%”, and “publicly subsidized family planning services in the United States have been shown to have helped women prevent 20 million pregnancies over the last 20 years, nine million of which would have been expected to end in abortion”.

Furthermore, reliable evidence demonstrates that abstinence-only sex education is not effective. It does not decrease rates of sexual activity or unplanned pregnancy when compared to comprehensive sex education.[3] It is ineffective in decreasing HIV risk in the developed world.[4]

Paradoxically, many of the same people who so adamantly oppose abortion are also vocal opponents of contraception. The Catholic Church opposes abortion. Paragraph 2271 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church[5] states: “’Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion.’ This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.”

None-the-less, the Catholic Church also prohibits contraception. Paragraph 2370 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church[6] states: “’every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible’ is intrinsically evil.”

Vice president Mike Pence has long championed anti-abortion policies, as a congressman, as the governor of Indiana and as vice president.[7] At the same time his strong opposition to contraception and especially Planned Parenthood funding is well documented.[8]

The 2016 Republican Party Platform was described as the most pro-life, pro-family platform ever.[9] The platform states in part: “We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood…”[10]

Why do so many adamantly opposed to abortion also speak out against contraception? What could explain this contradiction? Perhaps a Chinese proverb can help provide an answer.

The book The Elephant in the Brain, by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson, uses the following Chinese parable to illustrate the use of loyalty tests and symbols.

Zhao Gao was a powerful man hungry for more power. One day he brought a deer to a meeting with the emperor and many top officials, calling the deer a “great horse.” The emperor, who regarded Zhao Gao as a teacher and therefore trusted him completely, agreed it was a horse—any many officials agreed as well. Others, however, remained silent or objected. This was how Zhao Gao flushed out his enemies. Soon after he murdered all the officials who refused to call the deer a horse.[11]

Zhao Gao’s ploy wouldn’t have worked if he had called the deer a deer. The truth is a poor litmus test of loyalty because “…preposterous beliefs are more effective signals of coalitional loyalty than reasonable ones.”[12]

The coherent explanation for people who oppose contraception and claim to oppose abortion is that they are signaling loyalty to their faith. Opposing contraception increases abortions and advances the faith.

Here is a simple test. When someone says they oppose abortion, ask them if they advocate for contraception. Those who say yes are against abortion, those who say no value signaling loyalty to their faith more than they oppose abortion.

You can help them clarify their thinking by responding: “I admire your loyalty to the faith, but my question is this, ‘are you serious about reducing abortion rates?’”


  Resource type: this resource contains a lecture or lecture notes.
  1. New Clarity for the U.S. Abortion Debate: A Steep Drop in Unintended Pregnancy Is Driving Recent Abortion Declines” by the Guttmacher Institute
  2. Contraceptive Use Is Key to Reducing Abortion Worldwide” October 1, 2003, by the Guttmacher Institute
  3. Ott, Mary A; Santelli, John S (2007). "Abstinence and abstinence-only education". Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology. 19 (5): 446–52. doi:10.1097/GCO.0b013e3282efdc0b. PMID 17885460.
  4. Underhill, Kristen; Operario, Don; Montgomery, Paul (2007). "Abstinence-only programs for HIV infection prevention in high-income countries". Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD005421.pub2.
  5. the Catechism of the Catholic Church
  6. Paragraph 2370 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
  7. Pence: Abortion will end in U.S. 'in our time', Jessie Hellmann, February 27, 2018, The Hill.
  8. 8 Outrageous Facts About Mike Pence's Record on Reproductive Rights, by Miriam Berg, July 20, 2016, Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
  9. 2016 Republican Party platform hailed as most pro-life, pro-family ever, by Ben Johnson, July 20, 2016, Life Site.
  10. Republican Platform 2016.
  11. Adapted from Wikibooks, “Chinese Stories / Calling a Deer a Horse
  12. Enlightenment Now, Steven Pinker, @1232 of 1999 citing Anthropologist John Tooby.