I’ve written about abortion a few times over the last six years here at scottfeldstein.net. I have also participated in many online discussions about it elsewhere. The experience has shown me that there is often a very great distance between the two sides in this debate. Is there any common ground to be found? You would think so. But that common ground never materializes because one side–the pro-life side–isn’t being honest about it’s motivations and intentions.
What common ground might there be? Contraception. It prevents unwanted pregnancy, and thus abortion, but pro-lifers are usually no friend to the cause of sex education and contraception. When you think about it, such contradictory positions are hard to fathom. In the past I have used a hypothetical question to throw this point into its sharpest relief: if there were a magic button which would make it so that no sexually active couple ever became pregnant unless they explicitly wanted to, would you push it? Pro-lifers almost universally say no.
Think about it. With one push of the button you would give people absolute control over their own reproduction. No more unwanted pregnancies, ever. Poverty rates would plummet. Educational achievement would rise. A whole host of social problems associated with people having children they cannot afford, or otherwise cannot raise properly, would diminish. Abortion? It would become virtually unknown. (I don’t have data on this, but I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of them are performed not because of any medical condition of the woman or the fetus, but because the pregnancy was not wanted in the first place.) Yet when you offer the magic button to them, pro-lifers reject it.
Abortion? They hate it. Contraception? Unenthusiastic. A vaccine which prevents a sexually transmitted disease? They don’t like that either! It begins to seem as if they only thing they do like is keeping sex as risky and dangerous as possible. Why would they want to do that? To control people’s sexual behavior.
And that it seems to me is the real answer: most of what motivates the pro-life movement is the desire to hold their neighbors to a particular code of sexual conduct. Married procreation is of course fine. Anything outside that, not so much. The riskier sex is, the more people will be afraid to have it, and the more they will adhere to pro-lifer’s moral code. Those who deviate? Well, sin must have its punishment. Even if it’s unwanted pregnancy, disease–or even death.
When I have brought the above reasoning to pro-lifers themselves, they have had a few typical responses. The most honest response is the one in which they say something like “I believe actions should have consequences.” By that they mean, if you have sex without the intention of having babies with your spouse, and you end up pregnant, sick or dead–well, you got what you deserved. This completely backs up my claims about their motivations.
But there are other responses. None of them make very much sense, and none of them disprove my thesis. Here are a few of them:
- “If someone had pushed this button before I was born, I wouldn’t be here!” The idea that the human species should continue to be slaves to their biology simply because some of us are infatuated with a Back-to-the-future-esque time-travel conundrum is offensive in the extreme.
- “Your question is hypothetical, so your point is invalid!” This kind of sophistry speaks for itself, I guess, but one thing does occur to me in response: the magic button is only hypothetical in degree. After all, we do have contraception, even if many people do not use it and it’s not 100% effective. We could easily replace “magic button” with “concerted multifaceted effort to promote contraceptive use” and replace “never become pregnant” with “rarely become pregnant.” Pro-lifers aren’t known for their support of such ideas, even in their non-hypothetical form. Thus my point stands.
- “God this, the Bible that!” You can live whatever way seems good to you, but if your ideas about how to do so are based solely on articles of faith, you have no business trying to compel anyone else to follow them. That’s called religious freedom. Welcome to America.
Pro-lifers only start to make sense when you realize that most of them are in fact far more interested in sin and its punishment than they are in actually preventing abortion. Their stance on contraception–illustrated concisely in the Magic Button question–illustrates this beyond doubt. Perhaps if they would come clean about this fact we could begin to have a more genuine discussion. Until then, no common ground will be found.