“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.”
“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.