Things get even worse when Thomas attempts to apply these claims to contraception. If birth control still sometimes implied forced sterilization, Thomas would have a point. But birth control today is used exclusively to describe efforts by free men and women to control when a pregnancy will follow from sexual intercourse. The term is hardly ever used to describe an effort to “purify the race” by controlling who is permitted to reproduce. To insinuate otherwise, as Thomas does, is flatly outrageous — and most likely the product of a desire to elide the distinction between, and equate the moral dilemmas at play in, birth control and abortion.

That’s a common move among certain elements of the religious right, especially Catholic conservatives, but it is nearly always unpersuasive. Abortion is morally fraught because it involves the taking of a life that may well possess the dignity that is the foundation of the right to life enjoyed by all human beings. Birth control involves the prevention of such a life from coming into being in the first place. It is thus an act with no negative moral consequence at all, at least when it comes to rights, because no one is harmed and no one’s freedom is transgressed when one or both members of a sexually active couple decide to do what they can to avoid a pregnancy.