The “pro-life” movement is about sex, not life

Today, I came across this post on Salon‘s website, discussing a video by Cosmo in which they interviews so-called “side-walk counselors.” There were gems such as this:

“Men and women are made different,” Father Andrew Beauregard explains on camera while protesting at a clinic, “in that women, as the church teaches, reach their full potential in motherhood.” There’s a tight if inhumane logic to this thinking: Women exist to give birth. Thus, if a woman is choosing not to give birth, she is not working as she is supposed to. Which means she must be broken and needs fixing. Ergo, “counseling.”

And this:

“If women want careers and education and everything and they don’t want children,” one protester named Ruth explains in the video, “what are they doing having sex?”She also told Filipovic that her profession is “having been a mother and a grandmother.”

This attitude extends well past a position on abortion. While the Planned Parenthood doctor Filipovic interviewed highlighted contraception’s known ability to decrease abortion numbers by preventing unwanted pregnancies, the protesters do not endorse this route. “I don’t believe in access to birth control,” protester Evelyn said. “It’s very harmful. It’s very harmful to the woman.”

“Well, the way to control it is not to hop into bed with every Tom, Dick, and Harry,” added Ruth. “That’s one way to control it.”

Nostalgia for a time when women were more submissive and stuck to traditional gender roles was a common theme at the Worcester clinic. “That’s where equality comes: where the mother stayed home and raised the children in God’s light, and the husband worked, and everything was great,” protester Fred Delouis told Filipovic. “When I grew up, there were no problems.”

Now, I realize that many, if not most, of people who are personally and/or politically opposed to abortion aren’t this interested in using abortion laws to control what women do with their bodies (outside of abortion, of course). And, I want to differentiate between being pro-life and pro-life activism. Given that our country is essentially split down the middle on the pro-choice vs. pro-life spectrum, but nearly everyone who has had sex has used contraception at some point (with a super-majority who are currently using contraception), and the vast majority of Americans support comprehensive sex education, clearly there are plenty of pro-lifers who understand that abortion can be reduced with access to contraception and education.

However, many prominent pro-life organizations actively oppose contraception and sex education. Among these are the Pro-Life Action League, Physicians for Life, and the Family Research Council. The National Right to Life Committee does not take an official stance on contraception or sex education – although their silence indicates that as an organization they do not consider contraception or sex education as means to reduce abortion rates. So, even though many or most of people who are personally pro-life do not (consciously) make abortion about sex, the vehicles through which the pro-life position is advocated do.

Growing up Evangelical, abortion was the great evil of our society, without nuance. At the same time, sex education and (premarital) access to contraception were part of the problem – sex education and knowledge that contraception existed supposedly encouraged kids to have reckless sex and thus were more likely to get pregnant and have abortions. So, the ways to reduce abortions were 1) ban it, and 2) if you can’t ban it, stop everyone from having premarital sex. This was the position I was taught from an early age, so it was my default when I began living in the real(-er) world.

I didn’t recognize that trying to control what people did with their genitals didn’t actually reduce unwanted pregnancies or abortions until 3 or 4 years ago. But, before that, I never would have said, “The reason I’m pro-life is because I want to control when and how people have sex.” I truly believed that I cared about saving lives of unborn people and that controlling sex was a way to do that. Of course, that is the line of the pro-life movement – for them, the root of “babies being killed” is that people have sex they don’t approve of. The thing is, they’re using abortion to control sex. That’s the end game – to control sex. They use abortion as means to control sex – if abortion is criminalized, then, in their minds, it takes away an incentive for unapproved sex. If the end game was to have as few abortions as possible, they wouldn’t bother with the fight over legality, they would look at why women choose abortion – economic situation, societal and/or familial stigmas, pressure from parents and significant others, health, employment worries, lack of access to and affordability of health care, affordability of child care, etc. and address those.

Another issue I have is that the pro-life rhetoric is aimed at a certain demographic – it assumes that women seeking abortions are largely young, naive, unmarried, and childless – because if they were experienced, in a loving marriage, and understood the “joys” of parenthood, they wouldn’t seek abortions. Of course, reality doesn’t fit that image: 25% are over the age of 30, 15% are married and 29% are cohabitating, and  61% already have at least one child (34% have two or more). The “abstinence” narrative isn’t aimed at this large portion of abortion patients.

It took me until I was out of college to realize that nearly everyone has sex before marriage, and that always has been the norm and always will be the norm. And, I ceded that even typical use of contraceptive methods are more effective than abstinence – which, coupled with the fact that 49% of women who procured an abortion were not using contraception in the month of their pregnancy, forced me to conclude that more access to contraception and more education on correct use of said contraception would reduce abortion rates. Also, recognizing that nearly 69% of abortion patients were under 200% federal poverty line (the federal poverty line was $10,830 in 2008 for a single woman with no children), meant that lack of resources, not sex, was a huge contributing factor in considering abortion.

Turning from promoting systemic sexual repression to more realistic (and healthy) approaches to reducing abortion made me drop the pro-life movement overnight. There was no longer a need to be a single-issue pro-life voter or advocate for widespread sexual abstinence. And, at the same time, it caused me to stop thinking of sex as the moral issue – just as sex is just one part of the abortion conversation, sex is just one part of ethics as a whole. And, I would say that sex is more ethically affected by other moral issues like consent, respect, and equality than with the decision of whether to act on biological inclinations in itself.

Of course, this is at odds with my religion. And, using sex as a way to control people is what got me to begin questioning my faith in the first place. But, I still have a “Pro-Life” bumper sticker on my car just as a reminder of the two worlds I’m currently stuck between.

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2 thoughts on “The “pro-life” movement is about sex, not life

  1. You linked to a site I’m an Admin of in this post, so I figured I should say something.

    The Pro-Life movement is about controlling people’s sex lives? That just doesn’t logically follow. You’ve taken a couple of quotes from a handful of people who are pro-life, and you’ve generalised that to all pro-life people.

    One guy said he believes women reach their full potential in motherhood. That’s one guy’s opinion. It’s not even, as he seems to imply, the teaching of the Catholic Church. Women – and men – reach their full potential by being saints. The ONLY thing worth being in life is a saint. That’s Christianity 101 right there. So one guy saying he considers a mother to be the greatest thing a woman can be, that’s one guy’s opinion.

    One woman says she doesn’t think contraception is a good thing. Well, the Salon post frames this quote by saying: “While the Planned Parenthood doctor Filipovic interviewed highlighted contraception’s known ability to decrease abortion numbers by preventing unwanted pregnancies…”
    Here’s the problem. As you stated in your article, the Guttmacher Institute – a firmly pro-choice organisation – claims that half of women who have abortions were using contraception at the time they got pregnant.
    http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html
    For some reason, you actually stated this in your article – “49% of women who procured an abortion were not using contraception in the month on their pregnancy, forced me to conclude that more access to contraception and more education on correct use of said contraception would reduce abortion rates.”
    So that means 51% percent of women WERE using contraception, and still got pregnant.

    Now, I don’t know how the figures will even out – if the number of pregnancies prevented by contraception outweigh those pregnancies caused by contraception failure. But that woman has a point when she says that she feels women shouldn’t have sex if they’re not ready for pregnancy. I think that’s a logical position to take – a lot of abortions happen because we’ve lost the idea that sex leads to babies. People are having sex even when they know there’s no way they could support a child if pregnancy occurred. Then, when the contraception fails, they see no way out of their situation but through abortion.

    This is just my opinion: If we’re not going to teach our kids to wait till marriage to have sex, I think we could go a long way at least by teaching this: “Every time you have sex, there is a possibility that it will result in pregnancy. If you know that you are in no fit state to be having a child, then it makes sense to simply not have sex.” Even if the odds were a thousand to one, you would not take a risk like that if you knew that you would have to abort that child. A human life is not something to be gambled on. Of course, in today’s culture, our kids are learning that it’s “impossible” to be in a relationship without having sex, which is why they’re taking those risks. That attitude needs to change.

    Now, you’ve argued that what the pro-life movement is “really” about is stopping sex outside of marriage, not about ending abortion. I think you’ve make the mistake of backwards logic here – in the community you grew up in, people argued that sex outside of marriage was the reason for so many abortions. It does not follow that their only reasoning for outlawing abortion is because they think this will reduce the number of people having sex outside of marriage. That MAY happen, but that’s not the goal of the majority of people in the pro-life movement. Frankly, most don’t care whether someone has sex outside of marriage or not. Pro-life people simply believe that you shouldn’t be able to kill your unborn child just because you’d rather they didn’t exist.

    It’s illogical to say that the pro-life movement is “really” about controlling sex. Otherwise, why would pro-life people oppose abortion for married couples? And why would those who were NOT against premarital sex, like the organisation Secular Pro Life, be against abortion? It just doesn’t follow, because the pro-life movement is about preventing the deaths of unborn children, not about sex.

    You also argued that if pro-life people really cared about ending abortion, they’d focus on tackling the root causes of abortion, not on criminalising abortion. Again, that doesn’t logically follow – it’s a false dichotomy. You would not argue that we should focus on tackling the root causes of spousal abuse, rather than criminalising it, or on tackling the reasons men rape rather than making the laws stricter. It is not an either/or. It is a both/and. Many people in the pro-life movement DO try to address the reasons why women have abortions, for example, by donating to pregnancy care centres to help women get resources for their children.

    You said that because so many women who had abortions lived in poverty that this meant poverty was the main contributing factor, rather than sex. But if that’s the case, is that really how we should be treating the problem? A women gets pregnant, but can’t afford another child because she lives in poverty. So as a society, we have two options here. Either, this woman kills her unborn child, and remains in poverty (and if she gets pregnant again, she has to have another abortion). Or, we aim to get this woman OUT of poverty so that she doesn’t have to kill her unborn child.

    And that’s one thing you don’t seem to address in this article at all. Abortion is the killing of an unborn child – scientifically, that’s just a fact. That is why pro-life people are against abortion. That’s what it all comes down to in the end.

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    1. Hi Jegsy,

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m impressed that I got a substantive comment on only my 5th day having this blog up. Given that I’ve had 2-3 views per post thus far, I haven’t even begun to think about a comment policy (thinking of the length here) – so, I’ve gone ahead and approved your comment so that my readers (all 3 of them) can read another point of view. But, given that my post was 1,186 words and your comment (well, “comment” implies brevity in relation to what’s being commented on) is 964 words, I’m not going to address most of what you brought up.

      “You’ve taken a couple of quotes from a handful of people who are pro-life, and you’ve generalised that to all pro-life people.”

      No, I specifically said that most people who are pro-life don’t fall into this category. Also, my intention wasn’t to give a dissertation on the pro-life movement – just an overview of what led me to rethink things.

      “And that’s one thing you don’t seem to address in this article at all.”

      1) This isn’t an article. This is a blog post. And, the purpose of my blog is to “think out loud” while trying to piece together how my thoughts and experiences have gradually led me away from my religion. This isn’t some highly-read apologetics or activist or academic website – just a reflective personal blog.

      2) There are a lot of things I don’t address in this post. It’s a brief overview of how my thoughts, experiences, and discoveries led me to reconsider how I personally approached abortion (and I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything – I’d worry about someone if they staked their entire position on a brief reflection from my own life). My purpose was not to capture all of the complexities and nuances of the pro-life movement or analyze every statistic and argument about abortion. There are plenty of resources out there that do that on both sides (and middle ground) of the debate.

      Thanks again for providing another point of view, and have a great Thanksgiving.

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