Righteous Abortion: How Conservative Christianity Promotes What It Claims to Hate

Shadow of the Cross One of the great ironies of American society is that most abortions in the U.S. are caused by conservative Christians. Read the statistics: Forty nine percent of pregnancies in this country are unintended, a rate that has been painfully stable for almost 30 years. Almost half of those pregnancies end in abortion. Or, to turn it around, over 90% of U.S. abortions are the result of accidental pregnancy. U.S. rates of unwanted pregnancy and abortion far exceed any other country with similar economic development.  So does our rate of religiosity.  The fact that we are outliers on both is not a coincidence.

Three aspects of conservative Christianity promote abortion:  pro-natalism, an obsession with sexual sin, and an emphasis on righteousness over compassion.

  1. Biblical Christianity is not pro life. It is not even pro human life. Steven Pinker recently estimated that the Old Testament alone describes 1.2 million deaths at the hand of Yahweh or his servants. It is, however, pro-birth. Be fruitful and multiply. (Genesis 1:28) Women will be saved through childbearing. (1 Timothy 2:15). Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant reformation, 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.” Christian competitive breeding, a strategy for increasing adherents, is at the heart of the Catholic anti-contraceptive stance and the Protestant Quiverfull movement.
  2. Mama’s baby, papa’s maybe. We all know what it means. By the time the Abrahamic religions emerged, the male desire to invest in only their own offspring 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 purity has produced the American virginity myth. In contrast to more secular, open societies, American teens typically don’t seek contraception for a year after becoming sexually active. Contraception would make them guilty of the sin of premeditated sex.
  3. 38,000. That’s the number of Christian denominations. Ever wondered why? Traditional Christianity is about right belief, orthodoxy, rather than right living. 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. “Catholic” (meaning universal) and “Orthodox” (meaning right belief) are competing turf stakes from one of the first splits after Christianity beat out paganism. But schism and fracture are just one consequence of beliefism. Many believers would rather be right than in community. They’d rather be right than compassionate. They’d rather be right than solve problems. They would rather oppose abortion than prevent it.

The numbers are in. The most effective way to reduce abortion is to de-stigmatize sexual education, de-mythologize virginity, and invest in broad access to the most effective contraceptives available. In the highly secular Netherlands, that formula has knocked abortion down to 7 per 1000 women annually, one third the U.S. rate. So why does the Religious Right keep their focus on restrictive laws instead of contraceptive access? Why do they promote person-rights for zygotes, in contradiction to the very essence of personhood?  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. Some want designated breeders. Even those who don’t consciously promote more births are subject to the competitive strategies that were baked into the desert religions from the beginning.

The world is on the cusp of a contraceptive revolution. Compared to the best birth control available to your parents (the Pill), latest generation long-acting reversible contraceptives, also known as LARCs, drops accidental pregnancy by 10 to 50 fold. Each year one in twelve 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 to one in 500, because a LARC toggles the fertility default to “off.”  If that wasn’t enough, some LARC’s also get rid of that messy monthly uncleanness (Leviticus 15:19-24) brought on by Eve’s curse.

Someone who wanted to prevent abortions would advocate showcasing LARCs in every teen health class in the country. They would make sure that the most effective contraceptives available were available to all. They would be more focused on wise childbearing than on virginity. Those who say they are all about ending abortion, don’t—because they aren’t.

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

 

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt and Deas and Other Imaginings. Founder - www.WisdomCommons.org.
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22 Responses to Righteous Abortion: How Conservative Christianity Promotes What It Claims to Hate

  1. Paul Douglas says:

    Excellent assessment Ms Tarico! Keep up the good work!

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  2. For me, the moral questions surrounding abortion are unambiguously about protecting the wellbeing of actual persons–those who can think, feel, suffer, love and value their own existence. As a fetus acquires these qualities, we acquire the moral obligations toward it that we have toward other sentient beings. But that is tangential to this article.

    The immorality that this article calls out is the immorality of causing abortion by denying men and women access to accurate information and effective contraception. Regardless of when you think human life becomes uniquely valuable, abortion is expensive, invasive, and often painful, either physically or psychologically. Forcing people to choose between abortion and bearing a child they are not well equipped to raise –when we clearly can prevent both–that is immoral.

    To borrow a quote: The failure of any sect to support the benefits to humanity that could be obtained through the use of contraceptive technology is blasphemy. –AnnaO

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  3. Laura says:

    Who in this country is denied access to information about contraception?

    It’s all over the internet. It’s on your blog post, right here, and a million other places, that anybody can get to, free. If you don’t have a computer, you can go the the library and get on it there.
    You can go to the health department. You can go to Planned Parenthood. You can go to the drug store and walk right up to the condoms and buy one without a prescription; which, unlike your LARCs, provides protection against disease, too. They even have vending machines for them in many public restrooms. And they are very cheap.

    If people don’t know about contraception, I’m not sure what else can be done to tell them.

    Also, no one is forced to choose between abortion and having children they can’t afford. Besides very cheap birth control in the form of condoms, there is (a) adoption and (b) abstinence, which actually is an option employed by lots of people since the dawn of time.

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    • “Clara S. Haignere, Ph.D, associate processor of public health at Temple University found that abstinence has a user-failure rate between 26 and 86 percent. This rate is considerably higher than the condom user-failure rate. “Abstinence is complicated to use. It requires negotiation skills. Teens have to talk to their partners about it, and use it all the time – every time they’re intimate,” says Haignere.” “Columbia University researchers found that although teenagers who take “virginity pledges” may wait longer to initiate sexual activity, 88 percent eventually have premarital sex.”

      People who research contraception factor human beings into the equation, just like auto manufacturers need to factor in reaction time, the limits of human visual acuity and so forth. They build in redundancies and buffers so that people don’t crash every time they screw up. The same is true for medications and medical devices. “Perfect use” is a concept that is only valid for laboratory comparisons. If you stack rank contraceptives in terms of real world effectiveness, a commitment to abstinence is near the bottom.

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  4. I was just researching “abstinence + pregnancy rates” and found a comment that beautifully illustrates the mindset that keeps religious conservatives so trapped.

    From a Michael Doyle “Those, like myself, who view sexuality as having a spiritual component that is only properly accessed through a life long sacramental commitment cannot acquiesce to a statistics argument. Much like abortion always being wrong due to the intrinsic value of human life, sexual activity without that commitment (marriage) is a right/wrong equation, not one of methodology.

    If banning guns but passing out knives leads to fewer murders, it makes the remaining knife based murders no less acceptable or tolerable to moral human beings and in fact puts blood (guilt) on the society for giving an imprimatur on murder.

    The elimination of suffering is not the highest good, rather right behavior in all circumstances should be the guide for a society’s desideratum. Only then can a society grapple with the problem of evil and the causes.”

    http://blog.ansirh.org/2011/06/abstinence-versus-contraceptive-use/

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  5. Guy says:

    Excellent article. Well stated and well researched.
    Thank you.

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  6. Mike says:

    Typical misrepresentation of Christianity by people who must shift the blame. Ending the the pregnancy is killing a human life. Get over it, you are murderers, take responsibility for what you are doing..

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    • Alan says:

      I have found that the people who most misrepresent Christianity are people who call themselves Christians. Get over it, you are murderers (the Bible says so), take responsibility for what you are doing.

      Many will cry, “Lord! Lord!”, and Christ will say … what again? Something about “Depart from me, I never knew you”?

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      • One of the things that saddens me is how much abortion foes are willing to diminish the concepts of personhood and murder, which distracts from the harm, even murder, being done to real persons and often in the name of God.

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  7. To be honest everyone has different opinions on such personal and delicate situations. But, Abortion is in face Murder nobody has the right to kill anybody and just because you can’t see the baby and hear the baby doesn’t mean they are not living! I disagree with Abortion because I believe no matter what the circumstances it is un-natural to have an abortion and i’m sure Jesus and God would’nt kill a baby because the mother doesn’t have enough money to buy herself everything she want and to also feed the baby; if you do not work then I believe you get income support and you also get money for your child and the people having abortions, nost of the time have new clothes and phones etc. I can also see the opposing side of the argument from the view of the person wanting an abortio because they are scared and looking after another human being is a massive responsibility and they may not even be able to take proper care of themselves, or maybe they got pregnant due to rape, incest etc. I understand these reasons but many people take the fact of being able to have an abortion for granted and do not really take the time to think about the life that child could of had. No matter what the circumstance I believe that every child has the right to take a chance in life even if the parent gives birth and then puts the child up for adoption at least they get a chance in life. There are also plenty of people wanting children to start a family but are unable to get pregnant.

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    • Do you see that you said everyone has different opinions–but then in the next sentence you said what everyone’s opinion should be. To me, murder applies only to killing a person — a being that is sentient, capable of experiencing pleasure and pain, preference and intention. An early fetus has these attributes to a lesser degree than does a mouse. I feel a moral responsibility to sentient beings in proportion to their capacity to think and feel. If they can feel pain then I feel an obligation to avoid causing them pain. If they can feel frightened, then I feel an obligation to avoid causing them fear. If they can feel psychologically trapped or tormented, I feel an obligation to avoid caging or tormenting them. If they can feel hunger, I feel a moral obligation to not starve them. Personhood develops and exists on a continuum, but we know for sure that there are stages of gestation at which a fetus is incapable of experiencing any of these things. We also know that nature (or God) aborts over half of pregnancies during this time when they are clearly lacking the attributes of personhoods. So if you believe in Jesus and God, then they not only would kill a “baby” for the reasons you describe, they actually do kill most “babies” during this same time period in which I think it is morally appropriate to do so.

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      • A.Roddy says:

        But then there’s a slippery slope to this comment. You say you don’t believe killing person who feels pain and pleasure. You may want to rethink this. What about handicapped individuals who might not have the same capacity to think and feel like everyone else? So only humans capable of expression deserve to live? Under this context it would also make killing toddlers and babies OK since they aren’t fully aware of themselves. I know some abortions are needed but just because someone is unable to feel or express themselves like everyone else doesn’t make them less human.

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      • Hi Roddy –
        I believe that most morally relevant attributes of humans exist on a continuum. That said, I don’t believe my article mentions expression. The ability to communicate is very different from the ability to think, feel, suffer, love or have preferences and yearnings. I don’t think the ability to communicate is morally pertinent.

        I think that slippery slope arguments is faulty reasoning. Every moral optimum is some balance point between two extremes and it is the responsibility of adults to thoughtfully seek those balance points.

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    • Mark says:

      Surgeries and much of modern medical and other science is “unnatural”, but that is not going to stop me from benefitting from them.

      Like

  8. Bernie says:

    I’m so glad to have this contraception information, and think this is a wonderful article. Thank you Valerie. I completely agree. Living in Asia, I see that conservative churches are starting to export their insidious anti-women organizations here. While they are free to do so, we are also free to tell the truth with such information as yours.

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    • Thank you. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in developing countries and it horrifies me so see the U.S. exporting superstition to vulnerable people, and leveraging differences in power and privilege to win converts.

      Like

    • Thank you. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in developing countries and it horrifies me so see the U.S. exporting superstition to vulnerable people, and leveraging differences in power and privilege to win converts.

      Like

  9. kevin says:

    I was raised as a catholic,with parents who dragged my siblings to anti abortion rallies. My personal development was so chaotic and frustrated in that atmosphere. Upon becoming sexually active, I could not buy contraceptives without feeling tremendous anxiety, which led to several terminated pregnancies when my compulsivity overcame circumspection.

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  10. Jim Hudlow says:

    Valerie…if I may be so bold… the few sentences that really struck home with me were “Many believers would rather be right than in community. They’d rather be right than compassionate. They’d rather be right than solve problems. They would rather oppose abortion than prevent it.” Wow….that hits the nail on the head. I have observed this for nearly 64 years but have not been able to qualify it so succinctly as you did. I have saved those words in my “important quotes” attributed to you of course. Great article. Thanks for all your efforts to bring the spotlight of reason to bear on these issues.

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