Abortion and Premarital Sex: On Keeping Your Legs Shut

You may be wondering what in the world is going on with this whole contraception debate. While Republican leaders are trying desparately to make the issue be about religious freedom, their words and actions are betraying them. Their sudden concern about birth control also makes social conservatives’ anti-abortion rhetoric seem extremely hollow, given that widespread birth control use has been conclusively shown to decrease abortion rates.

While many argue that anti-abortion advocates are simply motivated by anti-woman sentiment, I have long denied this. The reality is that most anti-abortion activists really do believe that the zygote/fetus is a person with a soul, an individual life, and that killing one is murder. For them, whatever the effects of their policies, opposition to abortion really is about “saving babies.” The current debate, though, seems to throw the evidence into the court of those who argue that their motives revolve around controlling women’s sexuality.

Many, if not most, social conservatives really do see their opposition to abortion in terms of saving babies. It’s just that ending abortion isn’t their only goal. They also want to confine sex to marriage, which explains their current opposition to making birth control widely available. These two issues are of course related, but social conservatives see them as related in a very different way than pro-choice activists like myself do.

Setting the Stage

You may have already seen the appalling video of Foster Friess, Rick Santorum’s billionaire, explaining that contraception really isn’t that expensive – in his day, after all, women just kept their legs shut.

YouTube Preview Image

Here is the pertinent transcript:

On this contraceptive thing, my gosh it’s such inexpensive. You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.

In other words, women, if you really don’t want to get pregnant, just keep your legs shut. End of story. Easy, right? Problem solved!

In response to this video, Jen of Blag Hag wrote a wonderfully incensed post about the hypocrisy of being anti-abortion and anti-birth control:

If you truly were against abortion, you would be fighting desperately for comprehensive sex education and easy access to contraceptives – things that actually reduce abortions. . . . If you truly were concerned with women’s health, you wouldn’t use HPV statistics to scaremonger young girls about sex while simultaneously fighting against a vaccine.

I’ve written about this before. In an “open letter to pro-life activists” I challenged those who call themselves pro-life to do the things that have been shown to bring down abortion rates – namely, support sex education and easy access to birth control. To those who are pro-choice like myself, this seems obvious, and the hypocrisy of anti-abortion activists seems clear. Just what is going on here? 

Abortion, Premarital Sex, and Two Different Goals

Most anti-abortion advocates today really are against abortion because they believe it’s killing “babies.” They really do believe it’s murder. If you try to argue with them, you’ll find that all they will talk about is fetal personhood, that murder is wrong, that zygotes have souls, and on and on. And the thing is, they really do believe that. It’s not a farce.

It’s just that most social conservatives are not simply against abortion. They are also against premarital and extramarital sex. They believe that God’s plan is for sex to be confined to marriage, and confine it to marriage is what they want to do. This is why the oppose comprehensive sex education, unlimited access to contraceptives, and finding vaccines for sexually transmitted diseases: these things, they believe, serve to increase the amount of premarital and extramarital sex people participate in.

For social conservatives, saving babies from murder at the hands of abortion doctors and working to combat premarital sexuality are two different issues and two different goals. Both are extremely important, and both are battles worth fighting.

Pro-choice activists argue accurately that sex education and widespread use of birth control bring down abortion rates. Social conservatives, in contrast, argue that if people would simply confine their sex to Biblical strictures abortion would naturally disappear. They see all of this extra sexual activity as contributing to the abortion problem; after all, it is all this extra sexual activity that puts women in the situation of wanting an abortion in the first place. For them, then, anything they can do to discourage premarital sex will not only fulfill their goal of confining sex to marriage but also bring down abortion rates.

In other words, social conservatives believe that if they can confine sex to marriage as God intended they can kill two birds with one stone: only proper sex will be occurring, and no one will ever find themselves in need of an abortion. For social conservatives, turning to birth control and sex education to solve the abortion problem is like fighting a house fire with a blow torch, or solving one problem by creating another.

The Problem

What anti-abortion advocates don’t realize is that they can’t have their cake and eat it too. They can either fight a war against “immoral” sex (i.e. any outside of marriage) by combating birth control and comprehensive sex education and watch as abortion rates go up as a result or fight to keep babies from being murdered by passing out condoms and offering comprehensive sex education, thereby making premarital and extramarital sex risk-free.

Today we live in a sexually liberated world and the vast, vast majority of Americans don’t want to go back. When 98% of Catholic women use birth control at some point in their lives in spite of the Pope’s condemnation of birth control as a mortal sin, this reality becomes obvious. This is why the MSNBC host was at a loss for words after Friess’ comment. People like being able to choose how many children they want to have. They like the ability to decouple sex from procreation. And yes, people like being able to have premarital sex without having to deal with pregnancy.

Social conservatives’ attacks on birth control are doomed to fail. They can’t stop people from having premarital and extramarital sex any more than they can make the sun go black. What they can do is try to make premarital and extramarital sex as dangerous and costly as possible, and that is what they are trying to do. They want to make sure that premarital and extramarital sex have consequences, whether that is STDs or unintended pregnancy. What they can’t seem to see is that their struggle to confine sex to marriage is actually shooting their fight against the “murder” of “unborn babies” in the foot.

Social conservatives really can’t have their cake and eat it too. At the moment, though, it’s pretty clear that they think they can.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • KG

    I think it’s simplistic to pose: “anti-choice advocates really do believe in fetal personhood” / “anti-choice is all about controlling women” as an exhaustive dichotomy. Between the two is a position based on the vast majority of them carefully not examining either the motivation for or the implications of their declared beliefs. Certainly, any anti-choice advocate who makes exceptions in the case of rape or incest, as many do, or who wants the penalties for a woman having an abortion to be less than those they advocate for murder, can reasonably be deduced not to be wholly sincere in their claims to believe in fetal personhood.

    • Libby Anne

      Certainly, any anti-choice advocate who makes exceptions in the case of rape or incest, as many do, … can reasonably be deduced not to be wholly sincere in their claims to believe in fetal personhood.

      This is absolutely true. However, I think you will find that those advocating rape or incest exceptions are becoming more and more rare.

      Originally, opposition to abortion had nothing to do with “saving babies.” It originally really was only about controlling women’s sexuality and keeping them within their prescribed role, having babies. However, that has changed over the last few decades as the anti-abortion crowd has managed to change the rhetoric, making it about saving babies instead of controlling sexuality. I think it was in part a matter of tactics – they knew that arguing to control sexuality was not going to work so well anymore – but it has since taken on a life of its own, so that many if not most anti-abortion activists really do see the issue as being about saving babies from murder.

      And this trend, I think, is why you are seeing the numbers of Americans opposing abortion rise just as the number of Americans opposing gay marriage declines. In fact, opposition to abortion is rising even among young people. I do not think you would see that if the rhetoric hadn’t moved from controlling sexuality to saving babies.

      • jemand

        Well, I think another reason that opposition to abortion is rising is because first hand knowledge of what life was like pre legal abortion, with the many deaths from botched, back street abortions, is waning.

        Also, partly the prevalence of contraceptive use itself among young people may make them less likely to be able to imagine that they, themselves might need an abortion someday, and more judgmental of those that do.

        And medicine has gotten better… it’s hard for people to realize that pregnancy really can result in life-threatening complications for some women. I mean, I remember reading about how severe morning sickness really could cause death through malnutrition and dehydration in the early 1900′s, and many women could get abortions even when they were technically illegal because this health risk was understood. But today medical care has improved substantially. So, we expect medical care to be better, actually almost perfect, in almost all cases, and so people have trouble realizing that abortion may actually be necessary for health.

      • victoria

        @Jemand — I think you’re absolutely right about that.

        I became pro-choice (despite my Catholic upbringing) in my late teens after I learned that abortion laws didn’t materially reduce the number of abortions people had — they just increased the number of unsafe abortions and the number of dead/maimed women. “Abortion should be legal,” I thought, “but I would hope that women would choose to give their children up for adoption instead.” In my head, pregnancy was a massive inconvenience, but not really much more.

        But what made me passionately pro-choice was actually having a child and having the kind of morning sickness you describe (I was hospitalized multiple times, ended up on bed rest because I couldn’t stand up for about a month without fainting, broke a rib vomiting, tore up my esophagus, the works). I was very lucky to keep my job; I’d just changed jobs and was in a probationary period. I had health effects for years afterwards that I have every reason to believe were caused by the rapid weight loss and hormonal swings of the pregnancy. If I had another pregnancy like the first one, could I take care of my existing kid? What would it do to my health in the long term? Would I get fired from my job? It made me realize that no one should ever have to go through that without really wanting it, and I have been passionately pro-choice ever since.

  • mck9

    Abortion-as-murder I can understand. No-sex-outside-of-marriage I can understand.

    However there seems to be an additional factor — else why would many social conservatives oppose contraception even within marriage? When contraception works by preventing implantation, it could arguably be the moral equivalent of abortion. The same cannot be said of condoms.

    The most parsimonious explanation is that sex is regarded as sinful, inside or outside of marriage, except as a regrettable necessity for purposes of propagation.

    The insistence on marriage reflects patriarchy. No patriarch wants anyone else messing with his property, whether wife or daughter. In particular, no patriarch wants to spend his resources raising another man’s child.

    We’re not supposed to enjoy sex. It is an unending source of consternation that we do.

    • MadGastronomer

      Only there’s no evidence to support the hypothesis that most hormonal forms of birth control DO work by causing fertilized eggs to implant. They work by causing eggs to not be released at all. These are more lies told by the people who would attempt to control women’s bodies. Go look up the facts.

      • mck9

        Thank you for strengthening my point.

        I don’t claim to know how hormonal contraception works, and I have made no assertion on the subject. To the extent that it prevents implantation, it arguably kills a putatively ensouled entity. What that extent is is another question.

        If contraception doesn’t prevent implantation, or otherwise kill a putatively ensouled entity, then there is no baby to save. So why the opposition to contraception within marriage?

        Something else is going on here, beyond saving babies and preserving the sanctity of marriage. When Libby Anne says:

        What they can do is try to make premarital and extramarital sex as dangerous and costly as possible…

        …she might as well say, more simply:

        What they can do is try to make sex as dangerous and costly as possible…

    • Anders

      That is a long-standing tradition in the Church. There’s a tradition dating back to St Augustine that before the Fall we were in total control of our sexual drive, and that sex was only ever intended as a means of reproduction. I think it has to do with the Neoplatonic element in Christianity – I don’t don’t if Jews are as adamant about sex being a sin except for reproduction.

      • Anders

        P.S. Is it true that the next big Christian film from Mel Gibson is going to be named Legs Wide Shut? :)

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Well, it’s complicated.

        The moderate and liberal sects of Judaism (Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal etc., which account for the majority of practicing Jews) generally have socially liberal views on sexuality, including pre-marital sex, sex for pleasure, birth control, and abortion. Conservative, traditionalist attitudes towards sexuality are generally viewed as not having a place in modern religion and some rabbis of liberal congregations will actually get involved with or encourage activism for choice, birth control access etc. I only point this out, because when most people ask what “Jews” believe, what they really seem to mean is Orthodox Jews, which, at this point, are a minority (although they keep breeding and breeding…).

        So, yeah…the Orthodox. No, Orthodox Jews do not have a problem with sex for pleasure, but there are still a lot of the strictures around sexuality you’d expect from conservative religion. Pre-marital and extra-marital sex or definite no-nos, but, within marriage, sex is acknowledged to be for pleasure and not just procreation. Consequently, birth control is acceptable to most Orthodox Jews, as long as the couple is planning to eventually have children (deliberate childlessness would not be considered acceptable because, ya know, “increase and multiply.”). Where it gets weird is that, while sex for the sake of pleasure alone is fine, “spilling the seed”, thanks to Onan, is still considered taboo. Do what you want, just make sure the semen ends up in the vagina, basically. So this means that, while birth control methods like the pill are considered fine, barrier methods like condoms are not considered acceptable, except in special cases, like if one partner is HIV positive.

        Ironically, it also means that women can have orgasms any old way they want (since they have no seed to spill), while a man has to try and make sure to end up in his wife’s vagina when the crucial moment comes. Oral sex on a woman? Knock yourself out! Oral sex on a man? Just try to not let it get TOO far…

        Although it should also be noted that some Orthodox rabbis take this more seriously than others and some don’t really make too big a deal out of it.

        So, in short, the Orthodox are sexually conservative but I don’t think there is the same strain of straight-up anti-sexuality that there is in Christianity. There’s a lot of stuff in New Testament about the spirit and the body being inherently adversarial, and that idea is just not found in Judaism as much. The Orthodox are wackadoodle in other ways.

      • Steve

        Look up some facts about St. Augustine’s life. Throughout his life and especially when he was younger he struggled with his sexuality. He hated his urges, he hated people’s attitudes and expectations on him and he hated himself as a result. Like Paul he was sexually and socially dysfunctional and projected his hangups and insecurities on the religion he made up. Just like so many modern pastors

      • Anat

        Adding to Petticoat Philosopher:

        There were beliefs alluded to in the Talmud and developed further in Jewish mystical writings that semen that is left lying around (mostly from nocturnal emission or masturbation) is taken up by Lilith (and her daughters) and used to beget demons. So the best thing a man can do is get married and have regular sex with his wife to avoid such disasters.

        Also, while regular sex within a marriage is considered a good thing (as long as the semen ends up in the appropriate place) there is the cycle of cleanliness/uncleanliness that follows the woman’s menstrual cycle – physical contact of any kind between the husband and wife is forbidden from the moment her bleeding starts until she has purified herself in the ritual bath – no earlier than 7 days after the end of her bleeding. Which means that if the woman has a textbook cycle or approximately so the time of purification coincides with her entering her most fertile days. Non-Orthodox Jews ignore these rules, as expected.

        Also, while procreation is a duty, it is formally the man’s duty. Usually interpreted as fathering at least 2 children, though some sources require at least one child of each sex. And it is the husband’s duty to satisfy his wife’s sexual needs, just like it is his duty to provide for her in other ways. The reason is that in antiquity (well, until about 1000 years ago) polygyny was permissible (although not very widespread outside elites) in Judaism – so the rule was a man could only take an additional wife if the existing one(s) is adequately provided for.

    • http://www.firsttheegg.com Molly

      Yeah, I also have a lot of trouble with this part. I mean, I have a lot of trouble with all the parts, but I find the invisibility of contraceptive use within marriage particularly baffling. I’ve now been married for longer than I was sexually active pre-marriage, so the VAST majority of my contraceptive use has been within marriage (even accommodating the fact that we have a child and I’m currently pregnant).

      I grew up Roman Catholic. In that tradition, contraception is always bad, abortion is always bad, and … as icing on the cake … saying no to sex with your husband is bad too, because it will drive him to sin (as in, it’s your own damned fault if he cheats on you). This strikes me as transparently misogynist, of course, but also as transparently anti-poor-people. How are we supposed to raise all these children conceived in contraception-free husband’s-soul-saving sex? Just don’t be poor!

      • Anders

        No, that’s where you should become dependent on the Church’s social programs. That way they can keep your soul save for Jesus.

      • Libby Anne

        This is where “God will always provide, you just have to trust him” comes in.

        That said, most social conservatives are okay with some use of birth control in marriage, so long as the couple does still have children at some point. The idea is that making contraception free or especially easy to get or working to cure STDs or offering comprehensive sex ed to high schoolers helps enable and increase premarital sex. Most social conservatives don’t want to ban birth control entirely, just to restrict it a bit so as to not make premarital sex too easy. Some, of course, do want to get rid of birth control entirely.

  • MadGastronomer

    I don’t actually care what the anti-choice activists really believe. It’s plain that they want to enforce certain behaviors on me, and those behaviors are controlling of and damaging to women more than to men, making their actual goals deeply misogynistic. And since they generally aren’t going to be talked out of their beliefs, it’s not at all useful for me to know them in any detail. They believe that the fetus is a person, and that that person’s rights supercede those of the person who’s actually pregnant, fine, whatever. I believe a fetus isn’t a person until birth, and that even if it were, the person whose uterus it’s in would have rights that supercede its rights. There is no reconciling these viewpoints. So I focus on explaining the facts that making abortion illegal costs far more lives than having legal abortion, and focus on explaining that birth control prevents abortion, and finally fall back on explaining that they don’t actually get to dictate my sex life or my beliefs, because this is a free country.

    But really, I care about the effects of what they’re doing, not what makes them do it. That’s what most feminists mean when we say it’s not really about preserving life, it’s about controlling women: because that’s what the effects are. The effects are to cost more lives, and to control women. And that’s what’s important to us.

  • Mr.Kosta

    As someone in a long term relationship (+5 years) who isn’t married (at least yet) there are a few words I want to say to those who feel they have a right to police what I do or don’t do with my girlfriend in bed:

    Go die in a fire.

    That’s all.

    P.D: I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but this anti-sex attitude REALLY pìsses me off.

  • Rasmus Odinga Gambolputty de von Ausfern….of Ulm

    I’m of the (unsubstantiated) opinion that the murder argument is how religious leaders want their flocks to fight abortion, but that the real reason is that abortion takes away a possible True Believer. I imagine it’s much easier to indoctrinate a child than convert an adult, so they focus on trying to make sure there are plenty of babies around to keep their numbers strong.

  • Brea Plum

    No, Libby Anne, it really is about control of women.

    I used to think like you. Then I went to a memorial for Dr. Tiller and a pro-choice Protestant minister said that the first time the issue of reproductive choice was put to a vote, women’s bodies became public property. And I woke up.

    It really is about control of women.

    You will never, *ever* see a an exclusively male medical procedure or pharmaceutical product become subject to legislative restriction or public referendum.

    It really is about control of women.

    • Contrarian

      No, Brea Plum, for many activists, stopping abortion is actually about saving babies’ lives. If it were about controlling sexuality, you’d find that they’d make exceptions for rape. But what’s been the hallmark of recent pro-life activist legislative victories? The complete lack of exception for rape.

      These people honestly, actually think that little glob of embryonic cells is morally worth as much as an adult human. Period. Full stop. End of story.

      If you think otherwise, you’re stuck in the 1970s. Back then, opposing abortion was all about controlling sexuality. But since then, anti-abortion activism has taken on a life of its own. Evangelical boomers might still think about abortion as a way to enforce traditional gender norms, but a generation and a half have grown up hearing abortion called murder. If you can’t accept that the pro-life movement is now built on a core of people who think that morally worthy life begins at the instant of conception and, therefore, all abortion is murder, you are deluding yourself.

      • Uly

        “But what’s been the hallmark of recent pro-life activist legislative victories? The complete lack of exception for rape.”

        Which they blame on women not acting right! There’s this… person, right now, saying that women who get raped by their own side in the military should expect it because, after all, that’s a man’s job. She went on TV saying this!

    • inflection

      Brea Plum, you are wrong, because I, personally, am both atheist and pro-life, and the basic reason is that I don’t want to die or be hurt, I don’t want to kill or hurt anyone else, and I have a broad view of who/what deserves that consideration. Foreigners used to be considered not entirely people, either.

      Perhaps it’s because I’m atheist that I don’t have this belief traveling with a desire to restrict contraception or sex education. I also find religious conservatives’ support of things like the death penalty, guns, and militarism, and their lack of concern for the environment and domestic health and human services, as contradicting a simple principle on the value of human life. Indeed, so many of my political convictions flow from this one idea (I’m pretty much straight-ticket Democrat) that I’m constantly surprised that the two major political parties aren’t reversed on the abortion issue.

      • http://thewelltimedperiod.blogspot.com ema

        The reality is that most anti-abortion activists really do believe that the zygote/fetus is a person with a soul, an individual life, and that killing one is murder.

        What I don’t understand is, how do you go from “I have this particular personal belief” to “my personal belief is relevant when it comes to others” and “the power of the State should be used to enforce my personal belief on perfect strangers”?

      • Anat

        The difference between foreigners or people of other races etc and fetuses is that the former are capable of surviving without dependence on a particular person’s body. Even if a fetus is 100% a person, its rights should be subordinate to the choices of its mother while she is carrying it, just like we don’t force people to donate bone marrow against their will, even if they are the only match to a patient who would otherwise die. Even a person who willingly got on a donor registry is allowed to back out because s/he changed hir mind.

      • KG

        You say you “don’t want to hurt anyone”, but clearly you’re just A-OK with hurting women to protect a ball of cells that can have no feelings or wishes whatsoever.

      • plunderb

        Amen, KG. inflection is perfectly fine with hurting me and, given my reproductive history, potentially killing me and leaving my living children motherless.

        Pro-choice = assuming I am a competent adult who can make informed decisions about how to care for myself and my family

        Pro-Life = assuming random strangers’ capricious preferences should take on the full force of law to limit my ability to seek life-saving or life-improving medical treatment

    • besomyka

      I think you may be confusing the leaders who, as Libby mentioned the comments, did intentionally shift the rhetoric away from control and to saving life, with the rank-and-file people that vote and support these charlatans. Libby is only saying that those latter people have been convinced by the rhetoric and now do believe it.

      I’d like to also point out that belief is also not exclusive, since those same people can also believe, at the same time, that contraception is wrong and that women’s place is to bear children at home as often as physically possible. Those later people are not intentionally choosing their words to make an argument, they are the victims OF the argument.

      • MadGastronomer

        If the leaders are actively trying to control women, and all of the results that all of them are aiming for are to control women, and we generally can’t talk the foot soldiers out of their beliefs that a fetus is a person, then why does it matter that the average anti-choicer really does think a fetus is a person?

  • R Johnston

    I think a lot of anti-abortion types believe that their opposition to abortion is based on a belief that abortion is murder, but they make very clear that they haven’t really followed through on the implications of this belief beyond those, such as rape/incest exemptions, they’ve been forced to face by the media.

    Very few death penalty supporting anti-abortion people support the death penalty for women who seek abortions. Very few anti-abortion types are actively trying to violently overthrow the government, an action that would be a moral imperative if abortion were truly considered murder.

    Very few anti-abortion people propose mandating the kind of nanny-state confinement and oversight of pregnant women that would be necessary to minimize the chances of miscarriage, a.k.a. criminally negligent homicide if they really followed through on their professed beliefs. Similarly, there’s no call for polluters, alcohol manufacturers, or owners of fast food restaurants to be rounded up and tried for criminally negligent homicide. Mandatory weekly pregnancy tests are another thing rarely-if-ever proposed.

    I’ve never heard of an anti-abortion type who supports full inheritance rights for a fertilized egg. Imagine, if you will, a prenup that severely limits a wife’s share of an inheritance, a will that dictates that a man’s estate will be divided equally among his children, and a woman who miscarries after her husband’s death. Can you even imagine anyone saying that the woman, as sole heir to the miscarried entity, should receive a full child’s inheritance share?

    Anti-abortion types may well believe that their views are based on a belief that abortion is murder, but people lie to themselves all the time and there’s nothing wrong with calling them on it. Anti-abortion types simply do not in any way behave as though they truly believe that abortion is murder. The most fair conclusion is that they don’t believe that abortion is murder, even if they successfully lie to themselves about their beliefs.

    • Contrarian

      Just like how all atheists believe they don’t believe in God, but are really lying to themselves and believe in God even though they believe they don’t believe in God?

      It’s pretty condescending to deign to know someone’s mind better than they themselves. You rightly point out minor inconsistencies, of the type that you can find in everybody’s life — so what do you think will happen when you point them out to a pro-life activist?

      They’ll agree with you and say that women who have abortions should be prosecuted for murder. Frozen embryos left over from IVF should be counted as children. And, they’d agree, miscarriage from negligence should be prosecuted as manslaughter. You’re not pointing out self-delusion, you’re just pointing out that they haven’t completely thought through their position.

      I reiterate, we’re not talking about people who think abortion is just about slut-punishing. We’re talking about people who, if in a burning building and faced with the exclusive choice, would carry out a bag of embryos instead of a five-year-old. It is radically dangerous to confuse the two types of people, and condescending to imagine that people in the second category are somehow in the first category and just deluding themselves.

      • http://jadehawks.wordpress.com/ Jadehawk, cascadeuse féministe

        They’ll agree with you and say that women who have abortions should be prosecuted for murder. Frozen embryos left over from IVF should be counted as children. And, they’d agree, miscarriage from negligence should be prosecuted as manslaughter. You’re not pointing out self-delusion, you’re just pointing out that they haven’t completely thought through their position.?

        nice theory; in reality, when asked, they often don’t give these answers (except for IVF embryos, where the snowflake baby propaganda kicks in); they haven’t thought through this solution precisely because opposition to abortion is an action in need of a conceptual cause, rather than being caused by that concept (everyone’s brain creates fake reasons for why we do certain things; sometimes, the doing even becomes the cause of the conviction that the action is right, rather than vice versa. Human brains are stupid that way)

      • http://jadehawks.wordpress.com/ Jadehawk, cascadeuse féministe

        though, I should add, once such an ex post facto conviction has formed, it’s as true/genuine/honest/whatever as one formed in other ways. what such a conviction still isn’t, though, is the actual cause of anti-abortion behavior.

      • Contrarian

        Then your experience must be different than mine. We might ask Libby Anne what she would have replied when she was a fundamentalist; I know that during my pro-life days, my reply would have been as above.

        Regardless, the point stands. Even if their position is not perfectly consistent (and whose is?), the chief cause now for activist opposition to abortion is the belief that abortion is murder.

        Perhaps, if we accept that opposition to abortion is an action in search of a conceptual cause, we are witnessing the end of a switch of conceptual causes. Opposition used to be caused by opposition to changes in sexual norms; now it is caused by the belief that abortion is murder.

      • Contrarian

        We should be careful about “cause.” I mean “cause” in the sense of “sincerely believed sufficient condition.” In the standard sense (“temporally prior necessary condition”?), of course the cause of the modern anti-abortion movement was opposition to changing sexual norms in the 1960s and 1970s. But that’s not the source of anti-abortion activism today.

      • http://jadehawks.wordpress.com/ Jadehawk, cascadeuse féministe

        We should be careful about “cause.” I mean “cause” in the sense of “sincerely believed sufficient condition.” In the standard sense (“temporally prior necessary condition”?), of course the cause of the modern anti-abortion movement was opposition to changing sexual norms in the 1960s and 1970s. But that’s not the source of anti-abortion activism today.

        I was talking about psychology. namely, that the “save the babies” belief is often formed by anti-abortion actions, not vice versa. it’s a justification to explain actions; it’s generally caused by other things, especially for those who were dragged to anti-choice actions as kids.

      • http://jadehawks.wordpress.com/ Jadehawk, cascadeuse féministe

        the chief cause now for activist opposition to abortion is the belief that abortion is murder

        the other way ’round. the need to continue to perform anti-abortion actions, and get others to also perform anti-abortion actions is the chief cause of the belief that abortion is murder; even at the individual, psychological level.

      • R Johnston


        though, I should add, once such an ex post facto conviction has formed, it’s as true/genuine/honest/whatever as one formed in other ways. what such a conviction still isn’t, though, is the actual cause of anti-abortion behavior.

        Certainly post-hoc rationalizations can come to be true convictions, but they don’t necessarily do so. When people utterly fail to follow through on their professed convictions it’s reasonable to conclude that they likely don’t really have those convictions even if they believe they have them. People are not very good at analyzing their own beliefs, which is why post-hoc rationalization is so common in the first place.

        When people’s actions are in conflict with their professed beliefs, questioning whether those professed beliefs are actual beliefs is in order. Sometimes people just don’t realize the conflict or reasonably disagree that there’s conflict and the belief is genuine, sometimes people lie about their beliefs, and sometimes people deceive themselves about their beliefs.

        I think it’s likely wrong that the anti-abortion position is generally rooted in a desire to control women’s bodies. But the reason that belief is so common in the pro-choice community is because the behavior of vehemently anti-abortion people is usually consistent with such a basis for their beliefs and not consistent with their claims that they oppose abortion because they believe abortion is murder.

        I think, as you do, that generally “opposition to abortion is an action in need of a conceptual cause, rather than being caused by that concept.” But in cases where an anti-abortion position is motivated by an underlying belief rather than being a freestanding position in search of justification, the desire to control women’s behavior is a realistic possibility while, at least as far as I can tell, there’s no real possibility that it’s ever motivated by a belief that abortion is murder. I’ve never heard of a single person who lives his or her life as though he or she actually believes that abortion is murder, nor have I heard of anyone who comes close enough to give credit for the effort. People who claim to believe that abortion is murder are generally not liars, but all the evidence I’ve ever encountered says that they are engaged in self-deception.

      • karmakin

        I strongly believe that generally Jadehawk is right here. I do think that abortion as an issue really more or less started because it is “fertile ground” (sorry about the pun) for “glory-minded” Christians to flex their political muscle, due to other social biases that already existed (towards having children and away from childlessness). This is in response to a (real) sense of growing secularism around them.

        Over time, the justifications and social and tropal (base word, trope) structures have grown and built around that, but they’re far from solid. Other than the things that Jadehawk has mentioned, some other..more casual..ones, people still have birthdays and not conception days, we generally give/announce the name at birth, etc.

        I also do think that the focus on homosexuality as well comes from the same place. Again, it’s capitalizing on a very real bias against childlessness to flex and prove political and social capital.

        However, to understand how the social and political structures have colored in between the lines, I think it’s not so much a post-facto justification, as much as it is people who are a bit iffy on the subject trying to prove to others within the tribe their bravery and purity. This is I think, expected behavior within these sorts of social constructs, and generally is why you see these groups generally lurch towards more and more extremist positions.

      • Libby Anne

        @6 – Actually, growing up, we thought conception days were pretty important because that was actually when we came into existence. My siblings and I figured out our conception days and counted ourselves each nine months older.

      • karmakin

        “Actually, growing up, we thought conception days were pretty important because that was actually when we came into existence. My siblings and I figured out our conception days and counted ourselves each nine months older.”

        Just a question, did that come from your parents or was it something that you and your siblings did? It strikes me as one of those things where the pureness of logic and thinking of youth really comes out.

      • Ace of Sevens

        I also grew up fundie and homeschooled and everything.My family was only marginally less nutty than Libby Anne’s. I’ve specifically asked people about what should be done with women who have abortions and no oen thought it should be equivalent to murder. Many were against any kind of criminal charges. If asked about the disconnect, they can understand the desperate situation. (Lots did want to treat the doctors as murderers.)

        I do think the evidence shows that while most of the anti-abortion segment may theoretically consider abortion murder, their actions don’t belie this. People not thinking through the issues is the most likely explanation.

  • jemand

    It’s also clear that it’s completely off their radar screen that unwanted pregnancies resulting in abortion can be consequences of marital sex, too…. If I remember right, the majority (by a fair margin) of abortion patients are already mothers, contrary to the stereotype of the young teenager as being the primary abortion patient. I don’t remember the statistics on marriage rates though.

    And Friess’s comments just befuddled me. Was he referring to sex acts, not intercourse, that might be more likely to cause soreness in knees? Did he know one takes aspirin orally regardless of where you’re sore? Totally didn’t get it. Then when I realized it was an oblique reference to the “keep your legs shut” phrase, which I had heard before, I got his drift, but was still pretty confused. Did he not know one could have intercourse with the woman’s knees together? I immediately then came up with about three or four different alternatives for that… Which, I mean, he WAS referring to a sex position, apparently the only one he knows of, so it’s not THAT far off that I came up with about half a dozen alternatives of sexual behavior involving knees that may or may not carry risk of pregnancy…

    • http://jadehawks.wordpress.com/ Jadehawk, cascadeuse féministe

      i was going to comment on the fact that many abortions happen as a result of married women not wanting a(nother) child. and I wanted to add is that banning contraception will affect married women too, and thus even if all sex actually were confined to straight marriage, abortion rates would still be high (possibly even go up) if contraceptives were unavailable to these married couples. Hell, this is already sorta the case in places like Catholic Poland, where apparently, pulling out and the rhythm method are the preferred forms of birth control (followed by traveling abroad to get an abortion)

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      LOL, as vulgar and disgusting as the aspirin comment was, I too had chuckle at Friess’ apparent ignorance of the fact that there is more than one position out there and plenty of them involve the woman’s knees being together.

      Ya gotta feel sorry for these guys, really (although I feel even more sorry for their wives…).

  • Ariel

    I sort of get why anti-choice activists don’t support birth control. From their perspective, birth control doesn’t really save babies’ lives; it only prevents deaths. If you traveled to an alternate universe where there were no abortions because there were no unwanted pregnancies, there would be almost nobody who was alive in that universe but not alive in ours.

    What I don’t get is what social conservatives expect to happen after the not-abortion. If someone who really can’t afford prenatal health care, child health insurance, baby clothes, a bigger place to live, etc. etc., gets pregnant, who do they think will pay for all that stuff?

    • karmakin

      Generally they think that if the father were around, he would “choose” to work more and as such make more money and take care of them, helping the economy and all that lovely stuff.

      A core problem with this (and I apologize to our gracious host if this is too much in the weeds) is the conservative economic belief that the demand for labor ALWAYS outstrips supply, and as such things such as unemployment and underemployment are due to laziness and not structural conditions.

      I think that there’s a more complicated, 4th dimensional chess that eventually pops up, where said father will get work by being willing to work for less, and as such this makes formally economically non-viable jobs viable, and increasing the number of jobs. This is generally the argument around minimum wage augmentation, if it sounds familiar. In the end it just facilitates more and more of a race to the bottom. I could understand it in terms of a bigger economic theory of general disinflation, but there’s never a step 2. It always ends with the poor making less.

      And then you have economic inequality which makes prices “sticky” and it becomes a social mess.

      So yeah. Top to bottom this is a disaster.

  • http://www.sustainablemommy.wordpress.com Naomi

    Awesome post, Libby Anne. As a former anti-abortionist myself, I agree that the rhetoric has shifted AND that many people who identify as anti-abortionists do think they are “saving babies.” The idea that abortion is an issue of controlling women’s bodies was a new concept to me when I first encountered it in feminist thought. That said, I think it’s important to differentiate between the motivations of the movement’s foot-soldiers with those of the politicians/theologians/theorists/leaders. The latter ARE interested in controlling women’s bodies as you outline above.

    Another important dimension of the history of abortion issue is that early on the standard evangelical (i.e., Southern Baptist Convention) position was that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. However, when religious schools were being pressured to desegregate in the ’70s, key evangelical figures met to organize politically. Knowing that desegregation would not have a huge draw on their congregations, they chose the abortion issue as a way to mobilize large sections of evangelicalism to become part of the emerging Religious Right. (Randall Balmer covers these events in his book _Thy Kingdom Come_.) Of course, I have never come across an anti-abortionist who is aware of this history.

    • http://www.sustainablemommy.wordpress.com Naomi

      Just to clarify–I meant to say in the second paragraph above that those evangelical leaders knew _segregation_ would not be a huge draw for their congregations, even though the leaders’ main priority was maintaining the status quo in their colleges. Incidentally–or not–it was also during this time that the church school movement began.

  • MasterDarksol

    I can understand their perspective of the fight to “not kill babies” (though I don’t agree with it for many reasons), but their efforts to keep sex confined to marriage confound me. How is it any of their business what other people choose to do? Stopping “murder” of course can be justified as something that should be applied to the populace at large, but sex? How can they even feel that they have the right to impose THEIR moral strictures around sex onto others that don’t share their beliefs? Sex is not a crime!

    ugh, so disgusted.

  • jose

    I’ve heard they’re okay with tossing away eggs fertilized during a fertility treatment. Is this true? If so, this position would be incompatible with the idea that they’re people because they have a soul, because those are fertilized, too. It would be a pretty strong argument that what these people really want is to punish women who don’t live their lives they way conservatives want.

    • Libby Anne

      Actually, many if not most anti-abortion activists are not okay with disposing of leftover embryos. If it’s a fertilized egg, it’s a person. Period. In fact, these people have actually started a campaign to get leftover embryos from fertilization treatment adopted, implanted in the adoptive mother’s womb and eventually born and welcomed into the family. Check out this link.

      • jose

        Thank you.

        …Holy crap.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

        They’ll adopt embryos — embryos that aren’t guaranteed to turn into babies — but they won’t adopt the already-born babies and children they force women to bear.

        And, um, that’s what I don’t get. “Save the babies” immediately becomes “the slut doesn’t deserve any help, cut [welfare/WIC/food stamps/other benefits]!” I just don’t get it — why do so many pro-lifers just abandon the mothers and babies to lives of abject misery and poverty? Why won’t pro-lifers adopt the disabled or drug-addicted babies?

        You’d think adoption would follow logically from the pro-life position. You know, if it were really about “saving the babies”.

        The reality is, it’s about controlling women.

  • DaveL

    I have a question for Libby Anne:

    Let’s say you’re listening to someone rant against illegal immigration. I’m sure you’re heard the type. This person swears up and down they are not racist and have no problem with legal immigrants, but reacts with horror when you suggest liberalizing immigration requirements to make legal immigration easier. They also invoke stereotypes of illegal immigrants sucking up welfare benefits, and when you show them illegal aliens are not actually eligible for such benefits, react with denial and anger rather than relief.

    Do you accept this person’s claim that their animus towards illegal immigration is not motivated by racism?

    • Brea Plum

      That’s an excellent parallel, Dave L., mind if I use that?

      • DaveL

        Be my guest.

    • Libby Anne

      The whole point of my post was to point out how social conservatives can be both against abortion as murder and against widespread birth control, which would decrease abortions, without being inconsistent. My point was that there is that for them more than one issue going on here, even as pro-choice advocates like myself see them as intimately related. Your example doesn’t include any such multi-issue involvement, so I don’t see how it applies.

      Also, when I was anti-abortion, I never talked about how women wanting abortions were just sluts, because that was irrelevant. For me, and those I knew, it was about saving babies, why or how they were conceived didn’t matter. After all, if it did we would have been okay with women having abortions in case of rape. We weren’t.

      So I don’t think the analogy works.

      • DaveL

        First, I don’t see how the dual issue avoids the matter. Surely extramarital sex can’t begin to compare with infanticide, so knowing that wide access to birth control significantly reduces the number of abortions I fail to see how that could be overriden by concerns about increased extramarital sex. Especially given that the evidence is rather poor that restricting access to birth control reduces extramarital sex in the first place.

        Second, anti-choice activists themselves have repeatedly framed birth control as being about abortion and therefore saving babies. Efforts continue to hamper access to Plan B on the grounds that it is an abortifacient. When it’s pointed out that this is patently untrue, they are not relieved. They do not withdraw their objection to Plan B. They get angry and they deny, just like the immigration opponents in my example. So Plan B constitutes a direct counterexample where the “separate issue” explanation won’t wash because anti-choicers explicitly claim it’s one and the same issue.

        Finally, trying to prevent premarital sex constitutes an attempt to control the sex lives of others, and since those efforts are aimed at women’s health care, it’s specifically an attempt to control women. Therefore considering extramarital sex prevention as a separate issue at best makes the motivations of the anti-choice crowd “saving babies AND controlling women”, rather than “saving babies NOT controlling women.”

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        I really do take your point, Libby, and I think for a lot of rank-and-file conservative Christians, these really ARE the issues. I have some Christian friends who oppose abortion and birth control because of the reasoning you’re talking about, and I believe them (although they make it easier for me by actually supporting social programs, universal healthcare, headstart, etc.–you know, being “pro-life” AFTER the baby is born…). I believe that this is what motivated you when you were a conservative Christian, and I believe it’s what motivates your parents and lots of people like them.

        But these middle-aged male politicians who make this stuff their cause celebre? I’m sorry, I can’t be charitable to them anymore. I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt for years, telling myself that their beliefs were sincere and not based on misogyny and a desire to control women and we pro-choice activists need to understand this if we want to get anywhere, blah, blah, blah. I really, really tried.

        But I just can’t believe that anymore. Not of the leaders. The more I hear them talk, the clearer it seems to me that the idea of women having sexual choices just makes them really, really angry. These are the same people who oppose equal pay legislation and basically any type of policy that makes it easier for a woman to do anything but spend her adult life barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. I don’t care how much lip service they pay to the the idea of saving babies lives and the sanctity of marriage and all the other stuff that they know will get sincere, social conservatives on their sides. They want to punish those filthy, filthy sluts. They can’t make that clearer.

        And, no matter how much they say that both men and women should be held responsible, it’s also clear that they hold women to the higher standard. Did this pig Friess make any puerile cracks about guys practicing birth control by taking cold showers and thinking about baseball? No. Because, in is worldview, the onus is on the woman to be the gatekeeper of sex. It’s a woman’s responsibility to do so and it’s a woman’s fault when she doesn’t.

        This guy wants to take away my birth control so I’ll have to stop being such a whore and learn to keep my legs together. Never mind my male partner(s), without whom there’d be nobody for me to whore around with in the first place. Boys will be boys, but women have to be ladies.

        Maybe it’s not about control of women at the bottom, but it sure as hell is at the top. I tried to believe otherwise for years, but I’m out of patience. They blew it.

      • Steve

        Plan B does NOT cause abortions. Just like the standard pill it only prevents ovulation. Do not confuse it with mifepristone

      • Steve

        Sorry, Dave. I misread what you wrote. Turns you know that it’s not true. Oops

  • Contrarian

    Q: What’s the difference between (1) arguing about whether atheists actually deep-down believe in God even though they swear up and down their atheism is about skepticism, not anger at God, and (2) arguing about whether pro-life activists actually deep-down just want to punish women even though they swear up and down their pro-life activism is about saving babies, not punishing women?

    A: Evangelicals do (1) and atheists do (2).

    • DaveL

      What beliefs and behaviours by atheists do you see as being inconsistent with a non-belief in God?

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        This. If I saw a self-proclaimed atheist praying to God, I sure would question their atheism. But since most atheists I know act in a way that is completely consistent with their professed beliefs, I don’t.

        Just because the two arguments are based on similar claims doesn’t mean that they are equally substantiable.

    • http://jadehawks.wordpress.com/ Jadehawk, cascadeuse féministe

      the difference matters if you’re planning on fighting the anti-abortion crowd. the ex post facto belief will evaporate by itself once the actions are stopped (and dismantling it will likely not help, since another cover will simply be created; which is exactly what happened), but a causal belief needs to be attacked and dismantled if the actions are to be stopped

      • MadGastronomer

        How do you plan to fight the belief, then? I’ve never found anything to be effective in that, only addressing the more practical matters: Not having legal abortion kills more people, and the consequences of forcing someone to carry a pregnancy to term.

      • Ace of Sevens

        Deconverts like Libby and me would disagree. Beliefs can be countered effectively. Starting by addressing people’s own assessment of their beliefs rather than a straw man is greatly helpful.

      • MadGastronomer

        I’ve seen people talk themselves out of a belief; I’ve never seen someone talked out of a belief by another person, not a belief like fetal personhood. You can talk someone out of YEC, because there are facts to offer. But personhood is purely a matter of belief. The line is arbitrary no matter where you set it. There aren’t any facts to apply to it. No one who doesn’t want to be talked out of that belief is going to be, so I’m not going to waste my time. I have tactics that have proven far more effective for me.

        I’m a pagan. I believe, as a matter of my religion, that personhood begins with the first breath, and ends with the last (which is why my instructions to my next of kin include no ventilators, and my living will will reflect that). The breath is the path of the spirit. I can’t be talked out of that belief, because there’s nothing to be brought to bear on it. How do you argue with it?

        But arguing the practical effects of outlawing abortion, and the right to bodily autonomy, those have worked for me. I’ll stick with that. If, later, people change their minds about fetal personhood, then hey, that’s nice, too. Besides, what I care about is getting people to not take away my rights. If they still think abortion is horrible, but they aren’t trying to take away my right to one, then I care a whole lot less.

      • anat

        To MadGastronomer (posted here because of nesting):

        My views on personhood changed a bit over the years, following my reading and exposure to assorted arguments. I started not really realizing the relevance of the question – thinking abortion wasn’t safe after some point in pregnancy (so it went: early pregnancy – not a person; late pregnancy – irrelevant; close to birth and on – definitely a person worthy of protection). Then I learned of the various methods for later abortions – I decided personhood started somewhere in mid-pregnancy when the frontal cortex became active (though thought abortion past this point was still permissible on medical grounds – whether maternal health or severe fetal abnormalities – and possibly other reasons). Later I read the arguments for personhood starting well after birth (when the infant develops a concept of ‘future’? when s/he shows a certain level of deliberate planning? other milestones?). I found those arguments at the same time disturbing but hard to counter rationally on their own – only emotionally or in the context of broader outcomes. So now I am back at the point where I consider personhood irrelevant, but for different reasons. I don’t know when personhood starts, it could be anywhere between midpregnancy and somewhere in toddlerhood. I’m willing to err on the side of caution for someone who was already born and was not dependent on the body of another particular human being for existence. But not for a fetus – abortion for any reason should remain legal up to birth or we risk the enslavement of women. However I would prefer women make their decisions relatively early in pregnancy – as they indeed almost always do, barring medical issues that appear or become known later in pregnancy.

      • MadGastronomer

        As I said, people can talk themselves into and out of these positions. It’s other people who can’t. Individuals’ positions on these things should evolve as they learn new evidence. But it’s still an essentially arbitrary line, since we “person” is a concept not defined by measurable attributes.

    • http://jadehawks.wordpress.com/ Jadehawk, cascadeuse féministe

      seriously though, some “atheists” did start out “angry at god”; it’s often a necessary condition to create the mental space to realize that religion is man-made myth. however, atheists don’t act consistent with idea that they believe in a god but are angry at it; OTOH, things like the institutional rape currently legalized in Virginia is blatant punishment of women; it’s not a restriction on abortion, its pure punishment. And comments like “she already consented to be penetrated when she got pregnant” are supporting evidence.

      tl;dr — your false equivalence has been duly noted.

    • karmakin

      The big problem is that to the casual observer Being Angry At God, and being disgusted/angry at the concept of god, sound very similar, but are entirely different things. Atheists, of course are the latter, not believing said god exists, by definition.

  • http://jadehawks.wordpress.com/ Jadehawk, cascadeuse féministe

    I’d be deeply curious to read an update on the “The only moral abortion is my abortion” essay. If anti-abortionists are shifting their beliefs, you’d see a marked drop-off of anti-abortionists having abortions. I wonder if such a drop happened.

    • MadGastronomer

      Pretty sure there’s been no drop-off, especially since the piece you’re talking about was written substantially after the shift Libbey Anne is talking about. They simply maintain a cognitive dissonance about it, is all. Either they think all the other people who want to get abortions are doing so for completely selfish reasons, but they aren’t; or they say, as is mentioned in the piece, that they still think it’s murder, but they need to do it anyway, because their circumstances are special and different from those of other people.

  • karmakin

    I should add that I’m an advocate for strong core-bonded relationships*, and as such I actually believe that no pre-marital sex is actually a bad thing, to the point where I think that advocating against it is immoral.

    Finding out if you are sexually compatible before saying “I Do” is essential for a healthy marriage.

    *I’m not saying that everybody should strive to get married, or all live the same way. What I am saying is that destructive relationships are things that we should actively work towards preventing.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Well, I wouldn’t say it’s ABSOLUTELY essential, but it’s a good idea. There are some people who wait for marriage and get lucky but that doesn’t mean it’s not a stupid gamble. I am definitely very pro-pre-marital sex. :-P

  • Twist

    I like how to these people, married seems to equate to “willing and physically/emotionally/finincially able to have as many children as my body can spit out before I die aged forty, a used-up husk like I would have done several hundred years ago”.

    I mean, just what do these people think would happen if every married couple in the US suddenly started producing upwards of say, eight children? That’s gotta have some pretty far reaching consequences a couple of generations down the line, when the population has exploded and but only half the adult population can work, on account of the other half being perpetually barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen?

    • Rosie

      Not to mention the consequences to the children of the first generation, whose parents may not have the physical/emotional/financial resources to give them what they need to grow into healthy and stable adults. These problems are likely to be compounded in the second generation, setting up cycles of abuse rather than working to break them.

  • http://wonderingwanderingthoughts.blogspot.com OneSmallStep

    ** The reality is that most anti-abortion activists really do believe that the zygote/fetus is a person with a soul, an individual life, and that killing one is murder.**

    I would think, though, that the anti-woman sentiment is still there under the surface. That’s because while the anti-abortion do like the pictures of embryos/fetuses, they completely remove them from the situation. If someone who had no idea how our reproduction worked, it would take them sometime to realize that the embryo/fetus is actually inside a woman, since so many anti-abortion pictures have the fetus/embryo floating as though in a vacuum or something. They’ve removed the woman from the equation.

    When the woman is in the equation, it’s suddenly about how sex has consequences, and if you don’t want to deal with the possibility of a baby, then don’t have sex — aka, keep your legs shut. Or it’s that pregnancy is “only” nine months, or that if the woman doesn’t want the baby, she can “simply” give it up for adoption. Or it’s that she’s not really a woman, as she doesn’t embrace every single pregnancy.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Agreed. No matter which way you cut it, I don’t think there’s anyway to remove the underlying misogyny here.

    • http://jadehawks.wordpress.com/ Jadehawk, cascadeuse féministe

      indeed; on RR I once encountered the comment “don’t like coathanger abortions? don’t have one”; no empathy for women who go through that nightmare whatsoever.

  • Ace of Sevens

    I agree with Libby Anne. here. I grew up in a heavily fundie environment and stayed away form the pro-choice movement for years because of my perception they were arguing against straw men. My church led lots of anti-abortion stuff, including being one of the first to push Lifeline long distance, major funding drives for Birthright centers and so on. I never heard anything about how women who wanted abortion were sluts who needed to be baby-punished. It was all talks from people who had survived an attempted abortion, pictures of dead babies and talks of a holocaust. They also did a lot of vote-rallying on “partial birth abortion.” The way it was presented to the congregation was an end-run around laws requiring viable babies to have medical intervention by killing them when they technically aren’t born yet. Besides the horror aspects, the idea was that abortionists talk of viability was a pretense and not something they really cared about.

    There was also some anti-contraception talk, but that was mainly along the lines of telling us contraception doesn’t work well, so don’t think it will let us have consequence-free sex before marriage. We’d get horrible diseases and babies. This was never connected to abortion talk in any way.

    Choice talk always seemed irrelevant to me. We’re talking about murder, which surely trumps free agency. If pro-choice advocates want to convince people that anti-choice arguments are wrong, the public narrative isn’t very effective. “Her body, her choice,” just comes across as question-begging if you think there’s another being with full human rights involved and talk about clumps of cells seems like a disingenuous description of the tiny babies you’ve seen pictures of in church. Are people clueless about what you rank-and-file anti-choicer believes or are these people just not a priority?

    • MadGastronomer

      I dunno, I’ve convinced a couple of people that while they may not like it, abortion must be legal, by carefully explaining the detailed thinking behind “my body my choice” and how criminializing abortion actually kills more people.

      Also, you might say the same: The anti-choicers’ slogans are just as ignorant of the positions actual pro-choicers hold, and just as unlikely to convince us. They’re also deeply ignorant of reality, as most anti-choice advocates have been lied to thoroughly and consistently, and they don’t know many facts about abortion, especially late-term abortion, or about contraception.

      • Ace of Sevens

        I’m talking about the pro-choice arguments your standard Johnny and Suzie Church hear, not the full gamut of what you may be able to come up with. These are the ones that get sound-bited in articles and put on signs.

        You could say the same the other way, but I really don’t care about how the anti-choice movement can be more effective.

      • MadGastronomer

        There’s nothing you CAN put on a sign that will be effective. How often have YOU been convinced of anything on a sign? Can you come up with signs that you think WOULD be effective? Slogans that are put on signs are not arguments, they are summations.

        And we don’t actually get to choose the soundbites the media uses. They pick what they think is catchiest, which is always going to be a short, generally incendiary clip, never an actual argument.

    • http://jadehawks.wordpress.com/ Jadehawk, cascadeuse féministe

      I don’t understand how lying about abortion (the partial birth stuff) is consistent with actually caring for fetuses, rather than using “caring for fetuses” as a cover to punish women. as in the illegal immigration example above, anti-abortionists who aren’t relieved that late term abortions are only performed when there’s a threat to the life of the mother, often with the fetus already dead or dying, don’t seem to be honest about this. Why wouldn’t you be relieved to learn that abortionists aren’t murdering viable fetuses (or stabbing prematurely delivered babies in the face with scissors, as one particularly egregious lie goes), if it were about fetuses rather than punishing women?

      I mean, some spectacularly dense but honest people *coughandrewsullivancough* actually do change their mind on late-term abortion once their misconceptions are straightened out. but for a lot of people, this seems to make no difference; they go right back to repeating the same stuff, or about how some woman somewhere once refused a late term abortion, and therefore all women must be made to risk their live like that.

      • Ace of Sevens

        That’s the thing. They aren’t lying. Whoever came up with the narrative probably lied at some point, but they and their pastor believe it. I heard in church that anyone trying to tell you partial birth abortion is to save the life of the mother is being disingenuous or is misinformed. After all, the baby is basically born and is just left in a few inches so it can be killed legally. (They sort of have a point, but not in the way they think.)

        If they hear the counter narrative (it’s easy not to), they won’t necessarily believe it, especially since they’ve grown up hearing about the liberal media lying. Rarity is beside the point when you have such a mindset. If anything, it seems like a point for your side as it seems to weaken the case that it’s important for it to be available.

      • MadGastronomer

        It doesn’t matter whether or not they know those are lies, Ace, they are still repeating lies. They are contrafactual statements. I don’t care what they believe, they are still perpetuating lies.

  • RickR

    Ed has a thread about the Virginia law on his blog and a self-described Conservative left a comment denouncing the law, stating that xe was pro-life but that the law was horrible, and that forcing a woman to be treated as an object was not the way to go about “changing hearts and minds” on the issue.

    This sentence stuck out-

    I know most of you disagree and believe there is nothing wrong with abortion, but I thought you should at least know that not all conservative men view women as objects or agree this procedure is in any way going to change hearts and minds for the better.

    This is the poster’s understanding of the whole pro-choice position:

    “Pro-choice people believe there is nothing wrong with abortion”.

    • RickR

      Sorry, I meant my above comment to be nested as part of the convo between MadGastronomer and Ace of Sevens.

    • http://jadehawks.wordpress.com/ Jadehawk, cascadeuse féministe

      This is the poster’s understanding of the whole pro-choice position:

      “Pro-choice people believe there is nothing wrong with abortion”.

      I’m confused. are you saying that isn’t our position? because that’s exactly how I feel about it: there’s nothing wrong with abortion any more than there is with an appendectomy: in both cases, it would be better if they weren’t necessary, but when they are necessary, they are a good thing.

    • MadGastronomer

      There isn’t anything wrong with abortion. It’s the best solution we’ve got to a nasty problem, and as such, it’s a good thing. Not a lot of fun — I’ve had one myself, and it was not a picnic, but things have improved since then — but still a really good thing.

      It’s not the whole story, but it’s not an incorrect statement.

  • Ace of Sevens

    It doesn’t matter for what purpose? If you are trying to convince people who were raised believing this stuff that they are wrong, it matters a great deal.

    Besides, in common parlance, a lie isn’t a counter-factual statement. It’s a counter-factual statement made in bad faith. You seem to be using a personal definition of the word in order to demonize people who disagree with you: bumping them up from dangerously misinformed to malicious. That isn’t cool.

    • MadGastronomer

      Nope, both are common definitions. From Merriam-Webster Online:
      a : an assertion of something known or believed by the speaker to be untrue with intent to deceive b : an untrue or inaccurate statement that may or may not be believed true by the speaker

      Hey, look at that. A lie is a lie, whether or not the person speaking it believes it.

      And seriously, given what they call me, saying they’re telling or repeating lies is pretty mild. They’re the ones demonizing me. They’re also trying to take away my right to bodily autonomy, to reduce me to a baby-making machine. I think it’s totally reasonable for me to use some strong language in return.

  • Nurse Bee

    As a (fairly mainstream) Christian and someone who considers herself pro-life, I do agree with you on this. If we are pro-life truly want to see abortion end we must advocate for comprehensive sex education and better access to birth control. However, I fear this is never going to happen because of the ultra-conservatives who are against birth control and sex ed.
    Some of us can be reasonable….

  • Pteryxx

    If the issue were really about preventing the killing of fertilized eggs, then shouldn’t they favor sex ed that teaches non-PIV sexual activity safely, in preparation for marriage? There’s all kinds of sexual activities that don’t involve getting sperm in a vagina, and there are barrier contraceptives and spermicides. Why should total ignorance about sex be the rule? I don’t see these people going around holding community sex education classes for newlyweds, or even for newly eligible 18-year-olds. Why don’t they even TRY making sex less horrendously risky INSIDE marriage?

    The theory that abstinence-only “education” and horror-show tactics actually reduce premarital sex is totally, totally blown at this point.

  • http://jadehawks.wordpress.com/ Jadehawk, cascadeuse féministe

    what I also always wondered is this: if fertilized eggs are precious babies, where are the hordes of “pro-lifers” demanding research into ways to prevent the occurrences of natural failure to implant and spontaneous abortion, which, taken together “kill” well over 50% of all “babies”?

    if we suddenly saw more than half of all infants suddenly die, we’d declare that a national epidemic. SIDS “only” kills .543 in 1000 babies, and yet there’s a special task force for SIDS at the CDC, and ongoing research into what exactly it is, and very strongly promoted guidelines for how to lower the risk of SIDS. Now, imagine what would happen if it killed 500 in 1000 babies, instead.

    • http://jadehawks.wordpress.com/ Jadehawk, cascadeuse féministe

      oh, and special Catholic edition of this: the “natural” family planning methods not only have a higher failure rate than other forms of contraception, when they do fail they produce a lot more nonviable embryos and fetuses that is normal, which then of course lead to spontaneous abortions and miscarriages. Wouldn’t that make natural family planning be at the top of the “immoral birth control” list, since unlike the Pill, it actually does cause pregnancy failures?

      • Ace of Sevens

        I’d say most don’t know about this stuff. Miscarriages are God working in mysterious ways, just like any other dead kid.

      • http://jadehawks.wordpress.com/ Jadehawk, cascadeuse féministe

        I’d say most don’t know about this stuff. Miscarriages are God working in mysterious ways, just like any other dead kid.

        they don’t know about this, but they know precisely at which stage of the pregnancy fingernails develop?

        This kind of stuff is the reason I think that the “save the babies” stuff is really just a retroactive justification of fighting in that particular theater in the culture war. As I said above, I do think that people may well at this point honestly believe that’s why they’re fighting; but that’s really not the actual cause of the fighting, both on the group and at the individual level. What it really is is tribalism, and specifically patriarchal tribalism. The same thing applies to opposition to LGBT rights, most beautifully demonstrated by that idiot who tattooed the anti-gay lines from Leviticus on his arm.

      • http://giliellthinkingaloud.blogspot.com/ Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

        That’s something I don’t understand either:
        Why is it completely not OK to interfere with God’s plan about when life is going to end if you want to end it, but absolutely OK to do so when you’re going to extend it?

        But maybe the former pro-lifers can answer me this:
        Have you, in your pro-life times been confronted with the “burning house dilemma”?
        You know, there’s a burning house and you can safe only one: either the screaming two-year-old or the 2000 fertilized eggs?
        If you have, how did you react and reason?

  • InfraredEyes

    The whole point of my post was to point out how social conservatives can be both against abortion as murder and against widespread birth control, which would decrease abortions, without being inconsistent.

    In terms of the actual outcome of their policies, they absolutely are inconsistent. I don’t care how many times they tell themselves it all makes sense. I don’t care if somehow, inside their heads, it does make sense. The actual fact of the matter is that decreased access to contraception leads to increased rates of abortion.

    Yes, that’s right: I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE MOTIVATIONS OF THE ANTI-ABORTION LOBBY. They have forfeited any claim to my concern by more than thirty years of lying and misrepresentation, both about the facts and about their own motivation. Enough.

    • MadGastronomer

      Yes. This. EXACTLY!

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty


  • violet


    …..introducing “overlaying”, the preferred means of family planning for women who had no access to reliable contraception.

  • Judy L.

    First off, marital-only sex won’t affect the women who seek abortion services; the overwhelming majority of women who terminate pregnancies already have children, and it can be presumed that many of them are married (of the three other women who were in the recovery room with me when I had an abortion a couple of years ago, two had engagement rings and wedding bands on their fingers).

    I have to quibble with your point that the anti-contraception brigade are not anti-women. It’s revealed in the very language that’s used. Women don’t ‘get pregnant’; they conceive as a result of ovulation and insemination. You’ll note that good ol’ boy Friess didn’t say that back in his day the most effective birth control was men keeping the the zippers on their pants in the ‘closed and fully upright’ position. The idea that women who keep their legs closed don’t ‘get’ pregnant has to imagine penises as heat-seeking missiles, independent of men’s bodies and their will, with the single focus of dumping their payload into the wide-open vaginas of random women. It is utterly misogynistic to hold women solely responsible for conception and contraception and to not talk about men’s role and agency in creating a pregnancy. And just because a man didn’t ‘intend’ to create a pregnancy doesn’t mean he’s not to be held accountable for it.

    Santorum has been the most honest about his desire to impose his morality and idealogy onto others; he’s been explicit about his beliefs that non-procreative sex is bad. He has said that access to birth control encourages the kind of behaviour that he finds morally repugnant, and that includes consensual, super-fun adult sex where pregnancy isn’t a possiblity or is being guarded against. Most of the sex that people have is not pro-creative; we do it for pleasure and bonding. But Santorum and his ilk don’t want other people to have fun doing the perfectly moral things that personally squick him out or that his religion says are shameful or sinful. His beliefs are completely irrational and decidedly immoral (he believes that religious, heterosexuals have more rights than other people). For goodness sake, this is the man who drew a moral equivalency between a loving adult relationship and raping an animal, saying that a same-sex marriage could not be a marriage in the same way and for the same reason that a man who rapes his dog could not be married to the dog. This guy is totally ferkakte in the head.

    • Anders

      He compared homosexual couples to animal rape?

      You know, I keep wondering when the sane Republicans will stand up and say “We will not let our party be hijacked by an ideological freak show.”

      • MadGastronomer

        Yeah, that’s why Dan Savage decided to redefine his name. (Seriously, try googling for “santorum”. The Spreading Santorum site is still the top hit. Warning: Language is not safe for work.)

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

    George Carlin was right.

    LINK — NSFW: Language (What do you expect, it’s CARLIN!)

    But I suggest taking a listen, because he has a way with words, and makes some very good points.

  • martin

    “sexually liberated world”? we live in a world enslaved by sex. its in our favorite tv shows, advertisements, the malls, magazines, video games, virtually everywhere. it defines american culture, deciding on what is right and what is wrong. virginity is no longer considered something to treasure and esteem highly, its a now a taunt used to ridicule children in their preteens and younger. women’s self-esteem is now based on how sexually appealling they are, a concept being handed down to our children.

    is that the world we want our children to inheritk? a world ruled by sexual desire? a world where sexual deviancy is on the rise, premarital sex begins in grade school, and sex is glorified as though it were the new god… is that the world we want to leave our kids? no, this world is not sexually liberated, its enslaved to sex.

    • Caravelle

      Martin, how is any of that “enslavement” exactly ? Are you being forced to have sex ? You’re hardly even forced to see sex ! While there is more and more explicit sex on TV and movies you can still avoid it pretty easily; I’m guessing you’re assimilating partial nudity, physical affectionate contact, and implications of sex to sex itself. Your problem isn’t that you’re being exposed to sex, you’re being exposed to the concept that people are having sex.

      If that’s traumatizing for you I sympathize, but it the only way to NOT traumatize you would be to ban the very concept of sex from being brought up in entertainment, and that’s a huge infringement on everyone else’s rights; those who enjoy the concept of sex, and those who enjoy realistic entertainment that doesn’t pretend this important human activity doesn’t exist.

      As for your specific issues, your moral sense is completely askew.
      “virginity is no longer considered something to treasure and esteem highly, its a now a taunt used to ridicule children in their preteens and younger.” -> It should be neither. Virginity isn’t something to be ashamed of, but nor is it a treasure to be esteemed more highly than being sexually active. Sex isn’t evil. You’re worried about children being taunted for being virgins, but you’d have no problem taunting them for being sluts. Both are devastating, and if you don’t worry about both you’re part of the problem.

      women’s self-esteem is now based on how sexually appealling they are, a concept being handed down to our children -> Instead of women’s self-esteem being based on how modest they are ? And because men didn’t care about women being attractive in the 50s ? Again, you aren’t worried about women’s self-esteem; if you were you would recognize the catch-22 here, where if they’re too sexy they’re dismissed as sluts and bimbos and if they aren’t sexy enough they’re dismissed as slobs and non-entities. The solution is to recognize women as people and autonomous agents regardless of how they’re dressed, not to police them into the direction you prefer.

      is that the world we want our children to inheritk? a world ruled by sexual desire? -> Now you’re just silly; the world isn’t ruled by sexual desire, it’s ruled by money. That said, sexual desire exists and always has. A world that pretends this isn’t true is inherently dysfunctional and I certainly wouldn’t want to raise children in one.

      a world where sexual deviancy is on the rise -> And here we get to the really twisted aspects of your “morality”, because your definition of “sexual deviancy” is completely unrelated to concepts like good or evil, it’s completely dependent on what disgusts you. Consider a man harassing his wife to have sex with him when she doesn’t want to until she agrees so he’ll leave her alone, and two men having an enjoyable mutually-agreed upon sexual encounter. The former hurts people, poisons relationships and messes with their minds. The latter causes two people to have enjoyed themselves. And you will, at best, dump them all together in the category of “deviancy”, and at worst you’ll condone the former. THAT is wrong. If you want to improve the world’s sexuality, work on fighting rape culture. Good news : some of it will involve fighting some of those references to sex in media that traumatizes you so much !

      premarital sex begins in grade school -> And you realize the solution to that is improved sex education, and better sexual ethics, right ? Abstinence-only education results in higher rates of teen pregnancy and earlier sexual activity. The less informed you are, the more you’re likely to be swayed by peer pressure and the media. When people know what sex is, how it works, how they should treat others and how they should expect to be treated, they are more likely to wait until they feel ready to have sex, instead of being pushed into it by a demanding partner, social pressure or their own feelings that they can’t understand.

      sex is glorified as though it were the new god… -> It really isn’t you know. You are either engaging in hyperbole that doesn’t serve your argument, or you’re seeing things that aren’t there, just like you think you see sex everywhere when what you actually see is partial nudity, public displays of affection and references to sex. What you are doing is glorifying sex as if it were an Elder God. Sex isn’t Yahweh, but sex isn’t Cthulu either, and by acting as if it’s the latter you’re exactly as bad as what you’re complaining about.

      Chill out, take sex off its pedestal, and start dealing in realities.

  • martin

    The Guttmacher report concludes that the adolescent pregnancy rate in the U.S. is the highest among developed nations and implies that this rate will decline if sex-education programs are instituted and contraceptive devices are made readily available.

    There are a number of problems with the report, not the least of which is the close connection between the Guttmacher Institute and Planned Parenthood. But even if we ignore this policy-making symbiosis, we are still left with a number of scientific and social concerns.

    First, the authors of the report selected countries that had lower adolescent pregnancy rates than the U.S. and looked at the availability of contraceptive devices. But what about countries like Japan, which has a very low teenage pregnancy rate but does not have a national sex-education program? Japan was excluded from the final “close” comparison of countries. In a footnote, Charles Westoff says that “conservative norms about early marriage and premarital sex may explain this phenomenon better than the availability of fertility control.” So we are given only a selected look at developed countries; those with conservative morality (like Japan) were excluded.

    Second, the researchers cite statistics that make a case for sex education but seemingly ignore other statistics of concern to society at large.For example, the Guttmacher report suggests we can learn a great deal from Sweden’s experience with sex education, which became compulsory in 1954. While it has a much lower teenage pregnancy rate than the U.S., Sweden has paid a heavy price for this rate. Here are a few crucial statistics that should have been cited along with the Guttmacher report.

    From 1959 to 1964, the gonorrhea rate in Sweden increased by 75 percent, with 52 percent of the reported cases occurring among young people. Between 1963 and 1974, the number of divorces tripled and the number of people bothering to get married dropped 66 percent. By 1976, one in three children born in Sweden was illegitimate, despite the fact that half of all teenage pregnancies were aborted.

    So while it is true that the teenage pregnancy rate in Sweden is down, the percentages of venereal disease, illegitimate births, and teenage disillusionment and suicide are up.

    (I copied this from an article I was reading. I don’t know who wrote it.)

    • Caravelle

      (I copied this from an article I was reading. I don’t know who wrote it.)
      Impressive ethics there.

      Admitting to your copy-paste is better than not, but better still would be to give the attribution and link to the source so that people can judge it for themselves. The fact that you don’t know who wrote what you’re copy/pasting is VERY worrisome, I don’t even really see how it’s possible. How could you not know who wrote this when you copied it from an article you were reading, don’t those usually have a byline ? Where was that article published ?

      If you found it from some source that had also copy-pasted this and didn’t give an attribution, already the credibility of that source is in question. And the fact that you didn’t make the minimal Googling effort to find the original source for yourself puts your own credibility on the line. It’s almost as if you cared about whether something supported your own position more than about it actually being true.

      “Here is a relevant article I found on Probe Ministries (by Kerby Anderson) that debunks a lot of the criticisms of abstinence education : http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4218359/k.8FD1/Sex_Education.htm
      It says that “[quote relevant passages if you really want to]“.”

      Is that so very hard ? Now interested people can go read the whole article for themselves and judge its credibility with all of the context intact, instead of imagining you got it off some crackpot chain email or something.