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Can a Christian support Planned Parenthood?


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Guest column by Robin Pickering

As a child I remember hearing the expression, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” thinking it was something straight out of a horror story. For years, I recall watching the water whirl down the drain, careful to hold on to something to prevent this apparent nightmarish possibility.

Fast forward to adulthood, and the fears associated with “throwing the baby out” once again appear to surface, but in a new way.

Years ago, I recall receiving a visit in my office from a Christian. He was a student of mine in a sexuality education course who had learned of my support of Planned Parenthood, and wanted to let me know he was worried for my soul and that he was praying for me. He also wanted me to know that since I would be discussing Planned Parenthood in class, he would like to drop. As someone who considers myself a “pro-lifer,” a Christian, and a supporter of Planned Parenthood, I was taken aback by his words. I have since spent a lot of time thinking about his premise that Christianity and supporting Planned Parenthood must be mutually exclusive, as well as his decision that he could no longer learn from me because of this.

I increasingly see this attitude of dismissal take many forms, and even under the guise of Christianity. Don’t like someone’s political post? Unfollow. Don’t like what a person tweeted? Write a scathing 140 character figurative jab and then exit screen. Hear about a public figure committing a “moral error?” Keep your eyes glued to the television to hear of their immediate termination of employment, witness the remnants of their career and their narrative quickly disappear from record, and watch with baited breath as they suffer from the consequences of condemnation by the jury of public opinion.

It has never before been easier to dismiss those with whom we disagree. We can unfriend, unfollow, and disconnect our way into an environment full of the likeminded. Our declarations are validated through a steady stream of “likes”, creating a false collective consciousness until our convictions are practically etched in stone. Our search histories can quickly be externally analyzed, shaping even the marketing messages we receive in order to only match our preferences and opinions.

But has this artificial validation and confirmation coupled with the ease of dismissal, moved us to feel entitled to mandated collective agreement? And if so, at what price? Have we moved from a society of relational tolerance and necessitated compromise to one of childish rigidity? And are we missing opportunities when our entitlement to agreement causes us to dismiss those with whom we disagree?

“Throwing the baby out” not only limits what we can gain from others in our interpersonal relationships, but also impacts us all at a societal level as well. Our increasing partisanship as a nation is one of the results. Voting along party lines becomes increasingly common. Allegiance to party trumps allegiance to nation and even morality. Single issue voting becomes normalized, even among those voting for a presidential candidate. But blind allegiance to those with whom we agree, and collective dismissal of those with whom we do not is not only impractical and counterproductive, it is intellectually lazy. And Christians are not immune.

Listening to and learning from those with whom we perceive as adversaries requires a humility that, even among the faithful, many lack.

I’ve noticed that even mentioning the name “Planned Parenthood” in a discussion often results in an immediate, palatable, categorical dismissal and automatic end to civil discourse. Well intentioned folks engage in picketing against and rallies to promote governmental defunding, rejection of curriculum with Planned Parenthood contributions, and even severing all ties and associations with Planned Parenthood in higher education settings. But is it possible that much like “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”, we might be missing out on something beneficial by shutting down these opportunities for sincere, open-minded dialog and mutually beneficial partnerships? I have found that many outside the field would be surprised by the following facts:

  • According to SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States),two-thirds of the 48 comprehensive (like that endorsed by Planned Parenthood) programs that supported both abstinence and the use of condoms and contraceptives for sexually active teens had positive behavioral effects like reducing sexual activity, reducing the number of sexual partners, and/or increasing condom or contraceptive use.
  • In contrast to what many believe, none of the comprehensive programs (studied) hastened the initiation of sex or increased the frequency of sex.
  • Teen pregnancy rates in the United States are the lowest they have ever been. Unplanned pregnancy rates are the lowest they have ever been. And according to the latest research, accessibility to contraception and improved use of birth control methods are the key drivers of these impressive outcomes.
  • Data analysis implies that the most effective way to reduce abortion rates was not to make abortion illegal but to make contraception more widely available, according to Sharon Camp, chief executive of the Guttmacher Institute.
  • The U.S. over-all abortion rate is at a record low, hitting its lowest level since 1973. And the most significant declines in abortion rates were observed in states without new restrictions to services, even though “states enacted 205 abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2013, more than the entire previous decade combined” according to the Guttmacher Institute.
  • When laws are made more restrictive, and in areas that funding to Planned Parenthood and other family planning agencies has been cut, we do not see fewer abortions. In fact, several states that have imposed more restrictions on abortion access have actually seen increases in abortion rates. The majority of women seeking abortions in the US are already mothers, and instead of fewer abortions, we see women who are poor use resources to obtain abortions that could have been used to support other family members and basic needs.

If we were to engage in this civil discourse, my guess is that we would discover that both “sides” seem to have the same desired goals: fewer unwanted pregnancies, less disease and better health outcomes, and the end of abortions. The fact is that Planned Parenthood is more effective than any other existing organization in reaching the goals most Christians would support. If we look objectively at the data surrounding producing those outcomes, we may see that it is time to engage in meaningful solution-based dialog.

Evidence-based support for reaching collective goals include increased access to long-acting birth control, removing financial and other barriers to obtaining contraceptives, increasing access to comprehensive sexuality education, and carefully considering the unintended impact of laws concerning reproductive rights.

Let us be humble enough to engage in open dialog concerning pragmatic approaches to address complex issues concerning policy, education, and affiliation concerning reproductive health issues, even if it means engaging with those with whom we may disagree on some ideologies. Let us serve as an example for others in recognizing that people and organizations are more complex than isolated opinions and ideas. We lose much when we move towards a culture of dismissal, whether it be of friends, family, public figures, or organizations.

Robin Pickering
Robin Pickering
Robin Pickering is currently the director of Women and Gender Studies and an associate professor of Health Sciences at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. Her research interests include women’s health issues, exercise self-efficacy, and the impact of social media on health risk behaviors. She currently serves as a member of the Women and Gender Studies Committee at Whitworth University and the advisory board for the Eastern Washington University Alumni magazine, as well as a contributor for several local media publications. She has served as the Vice Chair of the Board for the Spokane AIDS Network, Program Director of Community Health at Eastern Washington University (EWU), and steering committee member for the Masters in Public Health degree for EWU. Robin received her PhD in Education with an emphasis on Health, Psychology, and Adult Education, a master’s degree in Exercise Science and Pedagogy, and a bachelor’s degree in Health Promotion and Wellness. She has also served on the board for Early Head Start, The Spokane Birth Outcome Task Force, and on various other committees committed to promoting community health. Robin is a certified Wellness Coach and currently serves as a Personal Development Consultant specializing in Sexual Assault Prevention for the Spokane Chiefs (a local hockey team) and has instructed yoga in the community for 16 years.

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