The XX Prize

The time has come for those who support the right to abortion to admit that there is no political solution to end the abortion debate. The right to life movement has created a winning strategy of killing abortion rights by systematic regulatory strangulation. Abortions will still be legal, but only wealthy women will be able to get them. The poor will be unable to access abortion services, thus ensuring they will stay poor and keep producing a low-skilled, low-pay labor force. Maybe that’s a bit cynical, but in spite of their moral fig leaf, many conservatives secretly care more about money and power than saving babies. Otherwise, they would spend as many resources taking care of existing children as they do potential ones.

The point is that the slow loss of abortion rights is now accelerating, and there doesn’t seem to be a political solution to stop the slide. Defining when a fetus is human and regulating medical services is a winning combination for those who want to limit or get rid of abortion. All but extreme liberals have to admit there is a point where the fetus is a baby prior to birth. And they certainly can’t argue against local governments regulating medical facilities. The lie that conservatives are protecting women’s health rather than attacking abortion rights is too powerful to overcome at the ballot box. And these are not just my opinions. Go to for articles by Amanda Marcotte and others about the class warfare and winning strategy of the right in the abortion debate.

Fortunately for women’s rights advocates, there is an alternative: science and the Internet. What women need is do-it-yourself abortion medicines or devices, ones that anyone can make using readily available materials. It’s not as farfetched or silly as it may sound at first. When the creative energy, talent, and knowledge of young people are harnessed, amazing things happen. Easy-to-build cheap solar ovens, flashlights powered by human touch, and baseball scuffing machines are examples of what young people can do to solve problems using scientific knowledge and technology.

There is ample precedent for application of scientific method overcoming morality-based legislation. Take marijuana for example. The mere fact of its illegality as well as it being a Schedule I substance was pure politics (Google it if you don’t know the real story of why pot is illegal). But once creative college students decided to figure out how to grow and use pot without significant exposure to law enforcement, the American pot industry took off. First came indoor growing. Growing your own plants indoors made it harder for cops to find the growers. Police countered by monitoring electricity usage to get search warrants. Then pot growers used genetic manipulation to create more powerful plants. One pot plant today has the THC equivalent of many plants grown in the sixties and seventies. It’s easier to hide 5 potent plants than 50 ordinary ones from the police (less energy usage). Budding engineers (sorry. . . . couldn’t resist) invented new THC delivery systems to make sure none of the high was wasted (more apologies). And all of this information is available on the Internet. Today, anyone can grow a modest amount of pot in their house with little fear of being arrested. The outdated drugs laws are easily circumvented. Meth is another prime example. After years of R and D by college students, a person can go into a super store and make meth in a soda bottle from ingredients found on the shelves. Whether that’s a good idea is not the question. Most people agree that meth is an awful drug that has ruined many lives. The question is whether one person’s idea of right and wrong, or even a group of people’s ideas about morality, can or should keep people who disagree with them from doing what they want with their bodies.

Applying the same technological solution to the abortion problem requires abortion rights advocates to abandon their pursuit of a political solution. Both Democrats and Republicans have a vested interest in the abortion debate continuing. Neither wants it to end. Both parties benefit from the passion that abortion generates in their respective bases. Strong feelings on both sides of the abortion issue spur activists to donate large amounts of money and, more importantly, door-to-door, person-to-person political grunt work. With the new conservative strategy of pretending to protect women’s health by making abortion extremely difficult to obtain, legal abortion is going to be harder to get and more expensive. Women need to apply their time, talent, and resources to another approach.

What the abortion rights movement needs is an x prize (double x prize?) to award to whoever creates the do-it-yourself abortion kit. Instead of pouring millions into political campaigns to fight a defensive battle to protect abortion rights, women should put the money into research for safe, easy-to-obtain abortions. They need to be on the offensive. Then, publish the recipes or schematics for the do-it-yourself abortions on the Internet. Conservatives can’t stop the flow of this information without destroying the commercial value of the Web, which they will never do. Religious zealots will then have to do their own dirty work. They won’t be able to use laws and politicians to stop abortions; they will have to convince women one at a time, which would then put women back in control of their own bodies and lives.

This solution will work. Electric cars, spacecraft, helicopters, and solar-powered toilets are just a few examples of inventions spurred by x prizes. The prize might also convince more young women to go into the math and science fields, which would be an added bonus. Plus, think of the irony if it turns out that instead of holding an aspirin between her legs (as certain conservatives have suggested to prevent pregnancy), all a woman has to do is crush the aspirin and mix it with toasted banana peel, Greek yogurt, and a sprinkle of grated wormwood. Eating the concoction or rubbing it on her belly ends her pregnancy. Or maybe she downloads instructions for a 3D printer to manufacture a bunch
of tiny robots that will attack the blastocyst and destroy it. I’m not sure what young scientists and engineers will come up with. What I do know is that they will come up with something if given the financial incentive.  In any conflict between science and religion, I’ll put my money on science to win in the long run. I think the abortion rights movement should bet that way as well.