Sacrificing Women’s Lives on the Altar of Political Purity

Sacrificing Women’s Lives on the Altar of Political Purity May 14, 2019

I don’t like writing about abortion. The last thing the world needs is another man talking about what women should or shouldn’t do with their bodies. But in the aftermath of laws outlawing abortion after six weeks in Georgia and Ohio, with plans to do the same or worse in other states, I cannot remain silent.

These laws have nothing to do with “saving babies” and everything to do with sacrificing women’s lives on the altar of political purity. They are cruel and unjust laws passed by uncaring legislators for the sole purpose of screaming “I’m 100% pro-life!” while standing on the bleeding bodies of women trying to end pregnancies they cannot or should not or do not want to complete, and the bodies of those injured or killed giving birth under impossible circumstances.

It has nothing to do with ending abortion – you cannot end abortion. Throughout history women in desperate circumstances have risked prosecution, injury, and death to obtain abortions, because their fear of being pregnant was greater than their fear of dying.

Think about that for a minute. An abortion is never something done in the heat of the moment. It is always done after careful, painful consideration. Many times a woman’s mental calculus says that it’s better to risk dying a painful death than to carry a pregnancy to term. No threats of draconian punishment will change that.

It has nothing to do with reducing the number of abortions. If they were concerned about reducing the number of abortions, they would be promoting free birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancies. They would be promoting free pre-natal care, free obstetric care, ample postnatal care, child care, and all the structures that eliminate the fear that having an unplanned child will ruin a woman’s life. No, they won’t do that, because reducing the number of abortions accepts the unchangeable fact that some abortions will still occur. Accepting that fact means they can’t cling to their obsession with anti-abortion purity.

Actually being pro-life means they’d have to do something themselves, instead of placing all the responsibility on women who are usually young and frequently poor.

Sex, punishment, and forcing women into motherhood

It’s more than trying to be pure on the issue of abortion. it’s also the idea that sex is sinful, a problem that has plagued Christianity since its earliest days. Of course, men can’t help themselves, so it falls on women to insure everyone remains pure. They make it very clear “if you don’t want to get pregnant don’t have sex!” Sex is pleasure, pleasure is sinful, and sin must be punished. Of course, they only want to punish women, with pregnancy and years of raising children and if something goes wrong during the pregnancy, death. They’re willing and eager to sacrifice women’s lives on the altar of sexual purity and rejecting pleasure. Or at least, rejecting pleasure for women.

Abortion – and birth control, which they’re coming after too – doesn’t just allow women to escape punishment for having sex, it allows them to control their own bodies and their own lives, which allows them to move into roles these Christian Taliban think are the rightful property of men. It allows women to reject motherhood as their primary identity, in violation of what these zealots think is the natural order of things. A man should be free to pursue his dreams, but a woman’s place is in the home.

That ship sailed a long time ago and we’re not going back. Women and men have equal rights, even if practice hasn’t caught up to our ideals yet. That includes the right to decide whether to become a parent or not. If a woman believes motherhood is her greatest calling, fine. If she believes she should have children and a career, that’s her choice. If she doesn’t want children – for whatever reason or no reason at all – that’s her right too, and no one has the right to force or coerce her to do otherwise. “Celibacy or motherhood” is not a choice.

You don’t get to tell other people what they have to do with their lives. That’s called slavery.

More of the “right kind” of children

Under the Georgia law, miscarriages – a natural occurrence that happens in 10% to 20% of known pregnancies – may be investigated as a possible murder. Traveling out of state to obtain an abortion is illegal, as is helping someone obtain an out-of-state abortion. Now, these politicians’ wives and daughters and mistresses will still be able to fly to New York for an abortion. But poor women? It’s the coat hanger for you. And if they die? Well, that’s fewer poor women having children they can’t afford.

Because they don’t want more children. They want more of the “right kind” of children.

Let’s not kid ourselves – there’s a strong racist element to these laws. Many of the same people who obsess about purity on abortion are worried about being out-bred by “those people.” White women aren’t having enough children to suit them. Outlaw abortion and redefine many forms of birth control as abortion and you’ll get more white babies, which they hope will maintain a white majority.

When does life begin? How can we know?

Despite the hypocrisy and disingenuousness of these anti-abortion zealots, there remains a serious ethical question at the center of the abortion debate: when does human life begin? And once again, they are sacrificing women’s lives on the altar of purity, this time the purity of a black and white morality.

These new laws declare that human life begins with the appearance of a fetal heartbeat, which happens at around six weeks of pregnancy. By what logic? By what science? Yes, traditionally a heartbeat has been the tell-tale sign of life. But we now know that death is not final until brain activity ceases – we can artificially keep a heart beating long after brain activity has stopped. Why should we declare a heartbeat is when human life begins?

Rev. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Seminary, says “when does it begin? If you can’t answer that question, no one should take your argument with any moral seriousness at all.” Mohler is a fundamentalist who believes six impossible things before breakfast, but he’s not stupid. His argument here lays a trap for the intellectually unwary.

When does human life begin? When does personhood begin? When does individuality begin? Clearly all those things are in place after birth. But before that? When? And how can we know?

Mohler declares, with all the confidence of a fundamentalist preacher who will never have to live with the consequences of his sermons, that human life begins at fertilization. This is blatantly false. A hen’s egg is not a chicken and an acorn is not an oak tree – a fertilized egg is not a human being. But making this declaration turns a deeply complicated situation into simple black and white.

What the Right to Choose really means

When we say “women must choose for themselves” this is what we mean. Not “is it OK to kill another human being?” That’s never OK, and everyone – especially pregnant women – understands that. Rather, the question is “when does a clump of cells become a human being?”

I would argue that’s at the point of viability – when the fetus can live outside the womb without extraordinary medical intervention. That’s at about 26 weeks of pregnancy in most cases. But that’s my subjective opinion, as a man who will never have to bear the consequences of a dangerous or unwanted pregnancy. I can’t prove it, so I have no moral grounds for imposing that opinion on anyone else.

And the anti-abortion zealots have no moral grounds for sacrificing women’s lives on the altar of their simplistic, black and white, moral purity.

Unconstitutional, but elections matter

These laws are clearly unconstitutional. They’re being passed knowing they will be challenged, in the hope that the new Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade after 46 years. They have this hope because Donald Trump is President, and we have Neil Gorsuch on the court instead of Merrick Garland, and Brett Kavanaugh instead of a younger version of Elena Kagan or Sonia Sotomayor. Does anyone really believe Kavanaugh will keep his word and respect Roe v. Wade as settled law? John Roberts may respect the right to privacy, or he may not.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 87 next year. Stephen Breyer will be 81. Remember that when you’re trying to decide if you should support the Democratic nominee for President even though he or she isn’t your first choice.

Purity is a lie

These cruel laws with their harsh punishments are not about reducing the number of abortions. They’re about allowing politicians to tell themselves and their anti-abortion supporters that their hands are perfectly clean.

They’re not. If these laws go into effect, their hands will be dripping with the blood of women who die during unsafe abortions and while trying to complete pregnancies under dangerous medical conditions. They will be dripping with the blood of women who miscarry and are afraid to seek medical care.

If you want to reduce abortion, support policies and programs that reduce unwanted pregnancies and that make it easier for women who want children to have them and raise them without the fear of poverty.

But stop sacrificing women’s lives on the altar of political purity.

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