Political Animal


May 08, 2013 4:49 PM Plan B As Plan A

By Ed Kilgore

Having mocked a Ruth Marcus column recently, I feel constrained to note that she’s written another that makes abundant good sense, arguing that anyone worried about teen pregnancy should be encouraging use of Plan B contraceptives, not trying to make it difficult or impossible.

Her argument is parallel to my own that anyone truly upset about late-term abortions should be fans of contraception, including Plan B, and for that matter safe, legal, available and affordable early-term abortions. That’s particularly true with respect to teenagers, who are at very high risk of getting pregnant and then postponing abortions due to fear, confusion, and poor access to health care. And that’s why I’m highly skeptical of the outrage of antichoice activists over late-term abortions, since they typically oppose not only legal abortions at any stage of pregnancy but also some forms of contraception (particularly Plan B).

Now after writing up that argument, I got a lot of Twitter-grief from folk claiming I was denying anyone was genuinely upset by late-term abortions. So let me be clear about this: if you believe, as the vast majority of antichoice activists say they believe, that every abortion is an act of homicide (even though who support “life of the mother” or rape/incest exceptions to a general ban tend to think of those situations as “homicides in self-defense” or “justifiable homicides”), and that accordingly America is undergoing an abortion Holocaust as terrible or even more terrible than what the Nazis did to the Jews, then it makes no logical or moral sense to place disproportionate emphasis on the tiny percentage of abortions that occur after fetal viability, however it is defined. (I say this, BTW, as someone who was once, a long time ago, a RTLer).

Harping on late-term abortions does, however, make political sense as a tactic, insofar as it may get people thinking about abortion more seriously, with some of them beginning to identify as “prolife” even if they’d never support banning all abortions, and some eventually arriving at the desired destination of regarding zygotes as deserving the same constitutional rights as me or you. And as Irin Carmon and others have richly documented, there’s plenty of evidence that this tactical rationale is precisely why the antichoice movement has fixated on late-term abortions, particularly those like the illegal abortions performed by Kermit Gosnell.

From everything we know about the incidence of abortions in different societies, the best way to prevent late-term abortions is not to ban them, but to prevent them by contraception or early-term abortions. So if putting an end to post-viability abortions is your main goal, you aren’t really “prolife” in the “prolife movement“‘s definition of itself, but in fact someone who ought to be deeply invested in maintaining choice prior to fetal viability—i.e., someone fiercely defending Roe v. Wade and demanding better access to contraceptives and early-term clinical abortions. If at the same time you favor tighter restrictions on late-term abortions, that’s an entirely consistent position, though again, late-term abortions are rare and would be rarer still if other options were more widely available.

Hope that clears up any misunderstanding about my argument on this subject.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Bokonon on May 08, 2013 5:09 PM:

    But ... you can't have a rational discussion about this sort of thing with people that have embraced the idea that Plan B is a "baby pesticide" and murder.

    This isn't about policy. It is about moral imperatives that have already been decided (and - which have now expanded into opposing most contraception as well as abortion). And the rest of contraception that is left is a sin. So none of this is possible. None of it.

    In this atmosphere .. short circuiting any kind of "policy" is exactly why the abortion opponents are trying to do.

  • bdop4 on May 08, 2013 5:58 PM:

    "From everything we know about the incidence of abortions in different societies, the best way to prevent late-term abortions is not to ban them, but to prevent them by contraception or early-term abortions."

    The only problem is that a huge majority of "right to lifers" believe that life begins AT CONCEPTION.

    Every argument I've ever had with a "right to life" advocate ends in their stating this belief. After that, there's not much more to say.

    NO ONE wants abortions, but pro choice advocates (like myself) don't see contraception as abortion. The RTL movement sees that too, and constantly tries to hide their radical position.

  • OKDem on May 08, 2013 6:27 PM:

    The terms used by opponents of abortion are invented gibberish.

    "Late term" to opponents of choice has a meaning other medical. The medical literature discusses trimesters or days of gestation,not in meaningless terms like "late".

    Many opponents would push "late" to post ovulation.

    If you go to PubMed and search "partial birth abortion" the only entries you will find are opinion pieces, law suits and reports on ignorant legislators' laws. Not a single clinical paper uses the gibberish term. Not one.

  • CDW on May 08, 2013 6:45 PM:

    I'm against OTC plan b for teenagers unless they have a responsible adult with them or a doctor's prescription. A 15 year old is still a child and if she's afraid of getting pregnant, it probably means she's having unprotected sex. Some adult needs to be aware of what's going on, whether it's a parent or other relative, an adult friend, a doctor, someone. Otherwise she is likely to continue the same behavior which can be very dangerous to her health in a number of ways.

  • Michael W on May 08, 2013 7:32 PM:

    Just as an aside, Ed, you may want to keep in mind the recent brouhaha in Ireland, which outlaws ALL abortions, and the very recent case where a mother started to miscarry and eventually died because the doctors and hospitals there wouldn't/couldn't by law remove the fetus and so the mother died.

  • Mimikatz on May 08, 2013 10:15 PM:

    The critics of Ed's position miss that the audience for this discussion is not the fanatic life-begins-at-fertilization-and-ends-at-birth folks but the ones in the middle, for whom abortion is distasteful even as they understand why some women may choose that alternative. The idea for the forced birth crowd is to focus on the hardest cases, such as minors and late term abortions. But the pro-choice forces should move the wedge to the other end to split the forced birthers off from people who support contraception and even early-term abortion. The vast majority supports contraception, even making it pretty freely available. Cut off the faction that really just wants to control women's sexuality and we have a majority for contraception and safe, legal, early and rare abortion. That is the right's fear.

  • Anonymous on May 08, 2013 10:57 PM:

    @ CDW:
    "Otherwise she is likely to continue the same behavior which can be very dangerous to her health in a number of ways."

    The most dangerous (and likely)is that she'll get pregnant. If only there were a way to prevent that.
    Let's see: Plan A should be that she, if she chooses to become sexually active, would have information about and access to birth control.
    Hmmm. Someone should come up with a Plan B.

  • boatboy_srq on May 09, 2013 9:30 AM:

    @bdop4: I'm beginning to wonder whether, to the anti-choicers, life begins not at conception, but at the mere fantasy of sexual intercourse. They're reinterpreting Matthew 5:28 as "whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath spawned offspring with her already"...

    The thing for me that gives the lie to the "pro-life" protestations of the anti-choicers is not their selection of politically-charged medical targets, but their complete and total disregard for life after conception. If this were indeed about life, and not about slut-shaming, poverty-shaming, subjugating women, or other unredeeming attitudes, then the children who would be born under their draconian propositions would be allocated proper care and support. That they can't be arsed to make any accommodation for the living, breathing consequences of their propositions is the tell.

  • CDW on May 09, 2013 8:05 PM:


    If you read very carefully, you'll notice that I didn't say a 15 year old should not be given plan b. I said she should not be given plan b otc unless she has a responsible adult with her. Or a prescription would work, too.