Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Contraception: Accept What Works

Written by johnleemk on 2:02:01 pm May 21, 2007.

A common controversy in socially conservative countries is what form of contraception should be encouraged by the government. Hardly any government in the world is a proponent of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, but many of them end up backing contraceptive methods which don't work as well as others.

The most common debate is whether to encourage abstinence, condoms, or other forms of contraception, possibly including abortion. There are strong pro-abstinence camps which reject any other form of birth control in many countries.

Being a supporter of abstinence myself, I can see why people would advocate it. It's cheap (basically free), and has a 100% success rate. But I don't believe governments should be focusing on abstinence alone, at the expense of other contraceptive methods.

Let's face it — people are going to have sex, abstinence campaigns or no abstinence campaigns. It may send a contradictory message to tell people "Hey, don't have sex, but just in case you do, here's a free condom", but it's a lot better than asking people to abstain and wondering why teenage pregnancies and STD rates are up.

The important thing to do is to first try to convince as many people as possible to abstain — and then distribute a back-up for those who haven't been convinced. (For even better efficiency, tell those who are sure they will abstain to give their contraceptives to those who aren't.)

Of course, there are icky moral questions to be addressed. Is it right to basically hand out licences to fornicate? After all, in many countries, the government doesn't fund abortions because it is felt to be wrong for people who don't believe in abortion to see their taxes paying for just that.

Well, as I argued before when I justified the legalisation of abortion despite my personal pro-life beliefs, we need to take an utilitarian approach — let's look at what promotes the greatest welfare of the population as a whole, and do that.

Who does distributing condoms harm? It might be a sin against God to use contraception or to indulge in sex outside marriage, but if that is so, let God be the one to punish these people.

As for the issue of taxes, as I noted when I discussed the problem of welfare, the whole point of taxes is to force people to pay for things they don't want to, and I see no reason why moral issues deserve an exception.

I would be fine with an exception for abortion, however, because in this case, there is something of a reasonable argument to be made for someone being harmed — the fetus (or baby, if you are pro-life).

We cannot afford to let self-righteous moralisers dictate every nuance of public policy. Millions of people around the world suffer from diseases which could have been averted with the use of a condom, and millions of women have suffered because of an unplanned pregnancy (a reckless college student's dalliance could easily wreck a promising career). When these things are so easily prevented, at no harm to anyone (except the bruised morality of a few), to refrain from preventing them is outright immoral.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.

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