September 6, 2018

Understanding the Opposition to Abortion

Gay Pride Roma - Pro Life - Pro Condom 2
Photo by Sergio [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Contraception is about preventing pregnancy. Christians who regard abortion as murder ought to celebrate contraception. Not only do relatively few of them do so, but some actually oppose contraception. We atheists are fond of pointing out how little sense this makes. If you were serious about preventing what you regarded as murder and had effective ways of doing so, why would you oppose them?

I suspect most of us realize that this is not really about abortion. At least, it is not only about abortion. It is also about embarrassingly puritanical views of sex as being dirty and immoral unless it happens with the goal of producing a child. When you encounter a "pro-life" Christian who opposes contraceptive methods, you are likely dealing with someone who holds these views of sex. Sex for pleasure without any intention of producing a child is something that such a Christian will almost certainly regard as "sinful."

For many of these Christians, I suspect that the primary concern is over what they perceive as promiscuity. They oppose abortion, at least in part, because they see it as a free pass for the promiscuous. A couple of heterosexual teenagers have sex, and the woman gets pregnant. It is an unwanted pregnancy, but if we (i.e., society) provide her with a safe and accessible alternative to giving birth, we are enabling others to be promiscuous by removing the consequences. Contraception does the same thing. Permissive attitudes toward sex do the same thing.

Far from the watchful eye of the U.S. news media, these Christians descend on Africa. They push an anti-contraceptive message in spite of the threat of HIV/AIDS. The preach abstinence and oppose comprehensive sex education. They aim to convince their audience that sex is wrong unless it produces a child. This does considerable harm.

If I'm right about any of this, I suppose it might help to unravel the apparent inconsistency over how many in the "pro-life" crowd are equally adamant in their support for the death penalty or in their opposition to social assistance programs. This isn't about the "sanctity of life" at all; it is about the fear that protecting people from some of the more dire consequences of their actions will lead to widespread moral decay. The promiscuous teenagers, the inmate on death row, the family living in poverty - all must suffer so that others do not do follow their example. It doesn't really matter that some may be in the situation they are in through no fault of their own. There is little room for empathy here. Jesus would be so proud.