Author Zach Lorentz
Zach is the current Director of Public Affairs of the Secular Student Alliance at Missouri S&T. His interests include sexual freedom, reproductive rights, LGBT equality, and advocating for proper scientific education and understanding.
Two weeks ago, at the vice presidential debate, the important issue of abortion was explicitly addressed for the only time out of the nationally televised two-party debates. One candidate gave an acceptable answer, but the other provided a deeply incorrect, callous, and authoritarian response. The latter view particularly highlights a dire intersection of religion and politics, where a whole segment of the population is shoehorned into supporting one of the parties for one issue alone.
Joe Biden gave what would have been my answer when I was a liberal catholic. He emphasized his personal opposition to the practice but explained that abortion must remain a personal choice. Paul Ryan told a laughable story about how the fetus that he wanted to create looked cute, and then leapt to apply his dogmatic position to every woman in the country. This juxtaposition illustrates how one party has distinctly theocratic impulses and further signals a completely broken logical chain that leads to very harsh and immediate consequences.
A growing meme (that I embrace) is that the prevailing pro-life/anti-choice position now rivals creationism for dogmatically ignorant and verifiably wrong “scientific” views. Every fact contradicts their regressive position. A pre-12 week fetus is not medically equivalent to a newborn child, no matter an individual’s sentimental attachment. A fetus does not have what we would consider consciousness until perhaps the 24th week of gestation, much less the 12th week. Almost 90% of abortions occur before the 12th week). Implantation fails in 80% of conceptions. After that, miscarriages occur naturally at a rate of one in every three pregnancies, equal to if not higher than medically induced abortions. In light of the non-equivalence to personhood and natural occurrences, the empirical position remains that abortion is not murder and not unnatural.
However, none of these contradictions matter because abortion, like creationism, challenges a dogmatically determined belief of these believers: the soul. In the same way that evolution and other empirical origin explanations challenge original sin and human exceptionalism, modern prenatal science confronts the slippery concept of the soul. I contend the abortion opponents believe the soul is arbitrarily bestowed or created at conception; thus, this underlying and mostly unstated view is the true source of the vehement, irrational, and highly emotional opposition to a woman’s choice.
Pro-lifers, in supporting the current Republican party, construct massive and callous contradictions that undermine their “noble” opposition. Here a simple series of steps proving that the modern anti-choice movement results in morality policing for women:
- If one is opposed to abortion, should one not be in full support of contraception and allowing a woman to have some control over when she becomes pregnant? Contraception is deemed unnatural because somehow women’s reproductive health is special and sacred ground. Never mind that we regularly combat and improve our “natural” bodies in every other part of the human anatomy (insulin, glasses, anti-depressants, and Viagra).
- If one opposes abortion and contraception, should one not support sex education and proactively teach developing adults about the pregnancy risks of sexual activity and safe sex practices? Anti-contraception appears here as well. Condoms are rejected because “every sperm is sacred,” and birth control was already ruled out. Abstinence-only education typically follows as the only option, and this fails spectacularly to significantly deter youth from having sex. Instead, the young will learn poorly from their peers and continue the cycle of easily preventable mistakes.
- If one opposes abortion, contraception, and sex education, should one not support welfare programs to aid parents, particularly single mothers, and give them better opportunities to healthily and happily raise a child? Wouldn’t stably raising this child would greatly minimize the risk of the child failing school, turning to a life of crime, and continuing the cycle of poverty? Welfare creates a cycle of dependency, and the disadvantaged must buckle down and pull themselves up by their boot straps. Never mind that the conditions they were born into effectively make the boot straps nonexistent and social mobility nearly impossible.
- Finally, if one opposes abortion, contraception, sex education, and direct welfare, should one not support education, the great equalizer, and provide a quality education to every child to raises economic stability and growth and break the poverty cycle? Education is undermined and underfunded, and the looming privatization “solution” would not adequately address the disadvantaged rural and inner-city kids.
So the cycle of abandonment becomes complete. No sex education and no easy access to or understanding of contraception lead to unwanted and unprepared for pregnancies. Because abortion is effectively unavailable if not illegal, a child is born into a distinct disadvantage. The government provides no assistance though it initially dictated the abortion and sex education prohibition. The resulting child enters into a criminally under-supported educational system that does not adequately equip them with necessary skills and eventually improperly educates them on sex, thus continuing the cycle.
The most damning part of this whole mess is that it disproportionately affects women. To paraphrase Hitchens, this structure makes sexually active women completely at the mercy of their biology, a biology that could otherwise be easily controlled. Even with child support laws and supporting father and family, the responsibility of bearing, birthing, and raising the child falls on the woman. The bearing and birthing components of the process infringe upon the bodily integrity of a sovereign individual, and the idea that a woman can’t have any say over herself once a certain process starts is terribly disenfranchising. Thus, the regressive policies of the hard pro-lifers force women to never have sex or else become equivalent to breeding livestock.
If compromise could be reached on even one or two steps, our country would see marked improvement in a generation and women could maintain some bodily integrity (though it is completely disgusting to compromise on basic rights). However, pro-lifers have been compelled into supporting the current Republican party, and this party has set up blocks to every single step. None of the arguments debunking these blocks are new or particularly far-fetched, but the pro-life camp has to reject them all because they cannot take a pragmatic approach. The realistic approach is currently best approximated by the Democratic party, as exemplified in Biden’s response to the debate prompt. However, the Pro-Life camp has rejected this secularism in favor of pseudo-science and authoritative, theocratic policies. They pursue misleading but emotionally manipulative facts (fetal heartbeat, hands, toenails, etc) , as well as quote-mine and deliberately misrepresent the findings of prenatal science and medicine to confirm the facts they will not waver from in any case. To this end, they are as ridiculous as creationists.
This issue is a contentious and contemporary stumbling block that is directly caused by faith. As in the case of evolution denial, faith forms a significant anchor to the improvement of our species. Faith makes people vote in a way where they think they are helping; in fact, they accomplish nothing but further empowering of regressive policies and politicians. If they were not tied down by this one issue, they could more freely evaluate the all the policy options. Additionally, I fear that some pro-lifers acquiesce to the conservative view in this country because there is no other option for them, either within themselves or within the current political climate. If it were not for believing in the fetus’s soul on faith, pro-lifers would be freer to explore views and policies.
As a final appeal to pro-life catholics in particular: I beg of you to reassess whether or not your dogma on this one issue is worth sacrificing every other issue you could have interest in. I remember being taught the concept of the unprotected and the preferential option for the poor in the Social Justice class I was required to take in my catholic high school. I beseech you to consider these values above the pro-life coercion, and I guarantee you that enacting better options for the less fortunate will lead to fewer of the “murders” you so desperately want to end. In any case, outlawing abortion would be a calamitous breach of this country’s secular principles. The only remaining argument against abortion is theological, and that is no good basis for legislation in the United States.
For another look at the ‘Pro-Life’ issue, read Libby Anne’s article titled, ‘How I Lost Faith in the “Pro-Life” Movement.