The most effective way to reduce abortion is to de-stigmatize sexuality, improve sexual education, and ensure broad access to excellent contraceptives. In the highly secular Netherlands, this formula has knocked abortion down to 7 per 1000 women annually, one third the U.S. rate.
So why does the anti-abortion movement keep their focus on restrictive laws instead of contraceptive access? Why do they oppose medically accurate sex ed? Why do they pledge to defund Title X family planning? Because abortion isn’t really what interests them. They want purity. They want righteousness. They want traditional gender roles with women as designated breeders who defer to male authority. They want these things so badly that they are willing even to drive up the abortion rate in order to get them.
Three aspects of conservative Christianity promote accidental pregnancy, and as a consequence they promote abortion: pro-natalism, an obsession with sexual sin, and an emphasis on righteousness over compassion.
- Pro-natalism. Steven Pinker recently estimated that the Old Testament alone describes 1.2 million deaths at the hand of Yahweh or his servants, which makes it hard to argue that Christianity is pro-life. It is, however, pro-birth. Be fruitful and multiply, says the writer of Genesis (Genesis 1:28); Women will be saved through childbearing, echoes a New Testament writer centuries later (1 Timothy 2:15). Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation, bluntly put it in his own words: “If a woman grows weary and at last dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her only die from bearing; she is there to do it.”
Treating women as breeders, a strategy for increasing adherents, is at the heart of the Catholic anti-contraceptive stance and the Protestant Quiverfull movement. Historically, these attitudes may have driven up the number of Christians, but thanks to the Religious Right meddling in politics and education, today they drive up accidental pregnancy and associated abortion for Americans across the religious spectrum.
- Obsession with Sexual Sin. Mama’s baby, papa’s maybe–we all know what it means. By the time the Abrahamic religions emerged, the male desire to know which babies were whose had taken the form of men owning women. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17) Women caught in adultery (or missing their hymens) were killed by the ancient Hebrews, just as they are by conservative Muslims today.
Christianity’s obsession with sexual sin or rather with female virginity has produced the American purity myth, which makes candid conversations and education about sexuality a challenge, denying young people accurate information about their bodies and the means to prevent pregnancy. In contrast to more secular, open societies, teens in conservative American communities my be slow to use birth control, because that would make them guilty of the sin of premeditated sex.
- Emphasis on Righteousness over Compassion. Traditional Christianity is about right belief. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. (Acts 16:31). (Contrast this with the central virtue of Buddhism, ahimsa, or non-harm.) The focus on being right has caused Christianity to fracture into over 38,000 denominations. But schism is just one of many negative consequences that come from valuing right belief over compassionate living. Many believers would rather be right than in community. They’d rather be right than solve problems. When it to sexuality, they would rather condemn abortion from a position of righteous superiority than prevent it.
The world is on the cusp of a contraceptive revolution. State of the art long-acting contraceptives are 50 times as effective as the Pill at preventing accidental pregnancy. Each year almost 1 in 10 women on the Pill gets pregnant. Over a lifetime, that’s two or three extra pregnancies per woman – unsought children or abortions. With a hormonal IUD or implant, that drops below 1 in 500! If that wasn’t enough, some top tier contraceptives also get rid of that messy monthly uncleanness (Leviticus 15:19-24) brought on by Eve’s curse.
Someone who really wanted to prevent abortions would showcase better birth control in every teen health class in the country. They would make sure that the most effective contraceptives available were available to all women regardless of age or income. They would be more focused on promoting wise childbearing than virginity. Those who claim they want to end abortion don’t succeed because that’s not really what they are after.
This is Trust Women Week, a week to honor the moral and spiritual wisdom that women invest in our reproductive decisions. Join the virtual march. Listen to Deborah or Deb or Angela or Joy tell her abortion story at the 1 in 3 campaign. If you are ready, tell yours. And spread the word!
Related articles by this author:
The Difference Between a Dying Fetus and a Dying Woman
When God Was Pro-Choice and Why He Changed His Mind
Dramatic Drop in Teen Pregnancy Really a Technology Tipping Point
My Abortion was Different: Why Women Shame and Blame Each Other
What the Right Gets Right About Abortion and the Left Doesn’t Get
The Big Lie About Plan B — What You Really Should Be Telling Your Friends Picture a Techology Revolution. In Contraception. It’s Here!
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author ofTrusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com