What is a woman worth (part 2)?

On Thursday, I speculated about what would happen if we knew for certain that abortions were not immoral acts. Turns out, it would be pretty difficult to argue against abortion in that case, as long as it’s what the prospective parents want.

I suspect, however, that a lot of pro-lifers would still have difficulty accepting abortions. Why? Because they believe that sex is for procreation, and so people who engage in sex for reasons other than procreation should be punished. Or better yet, people would be deterred from recreational sex because of the potential for punishment.

So, according to this perspective, it’s “right” to doom millions of children to lives of poverty and abuse in order to possibly prevent some adults from having sex. It’s actually very similar to the argument that has been put forth (and usually retracted) by members of the religious right regarding sexually transmitted disease. The argument goes like this: “These people are wrong for having promiscuous sex, and therefore we shouldn’t try to help them when they get sick, because this is God’s way of punishing them.”

The problem with this point of view, as many have pointed out, is that very often the wrong people get “punished”: victims of rape, for example, or the wives of philanderers. In the case of pregnancy, the “punishment” is even more irrational: typically the man is not punished at all, and the woman (who may or may not have been complicit in the undesirable sex act) bears not only the burden of pregnancy, but also of childrearing. The resultant child, who had nothing at all to do with the illicit sex, suffers most of all.

But this discussion brings up another question: if the goal is to decrease the incidence of non-procreative sex, then is banning abortion the most effective way to do so? Why not punish offenders more directly? We could simply fine people whenever they were caught having sex out of wedlock. We could ban condoms. We could withold medical treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. These punishments could be applied more fairly, to all involved parties, not just the one with the ability to get pregnant.

Perhaps these moral extremists favor such measures, but realize they would be unpopular, and so instead aim for the lower-hanging fruit of banning abortion. After all, it’s easier to play the emotional, “unborn child” card than to suggest we just ignore people who are dying of AIDS. But I’d like to offer a challenge to those in favor of banning the “day after” pill: do you really believe you’re “saving” a child, or is your real goal to punish people with loose morals? If punishment is your goal, then perhaps you can think of a more effective penalty than giving these moral deviants a child to raise.

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