I’ve argued for a long time on Word Munger that the “pro-life” movement is really an anti-sex movement. I think most Americans realize that the anti-abortion aspect of the “pro-life” campaign isn’t so much about preserving life as it is an attempt to legislate sexual morality. What they don’t realize is how uniformly the leaders of the “pro-life” movement are also anti-contraception. It’s easy to be moved by the idea of the sanctity of life, that a fetus is really a little person who has “rights” the same way all living human beings have rights. It doesn’t seem like so much of a leap of faith to suggest that a fertilized egg, possessing the same DNA as a fetus, is the logical beginning point of life. Even I can appreciate the simplicity of the logic there, so it’s not surprising that “pro-lifers” use this logic to present the outward face of their movement.
After reading the book How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, by Christina Page, I’ve come to an epiphany. The “pro-life” movement isn’t just anti-sex; its motivation runs deeper than that. What “pro-life” is really about is preserving “traditional” families, with the man in charge, and the woman at home taking care of babies. It’s not anti-sex; to the contrary, the “pro-lifers” believe men should be able to tell their wives to give them sex whenever they want it.
Calling it the “anti-sex” movement gave me a false sense of power; it made me think that if Americans could only see the hidden goal, to deprive us all of recreational sex, then they would see that the movement was silly, and start to ignore it.
But now I see that this movement isn’t just silly; it’s dead serious. Its goal isn’t just banning abortion, or extramarital sex. Its goal is the complete submission of women to male authority, the stripping of all human rights from women. I don’t think it can succeed. But on the other hand, Hitler got pretty far before the rest of the world figured out what he was up to. Who, ultimately, is going to stand up to this movement? Will we have to see the equivalent of an Auschwitz or a Treblinka before we come to our senses? And no, I’m not exaggerating when I say that.
The problem is, we all get a little squeamish when we start to talk about sex. It’s private, unmentionable. Even the justification of Roe v. Wade comes down to “privacy.” But think about it: if “conception” is the moment a life begins, then when we start talking about abortion rights or contraception rights, we have to move into a discussion of the most private, intimate parts of a woman’s body. We have to start talking about what happens in the few hours before, during, and after the moment of sexual intercourse. For most of us, that’s uncomfortable. The “pro-lifers” have used the squeamishness and embarrassment that many people have talking about sex to nourish the notion that sex is “wrong.” Rather than get into details, they can use buzz-words: “death doctors,” “condom-pushers.” The pro-choice movement can only retaliate with the kind of frank sexual discussion that makes many people queasy. This, coupled with the ignorance of most Americans about the basic facts of contraception, makes it easy to deceive.
I’ve fallen for it myself. I wrote an extended defense of the “day-after pill” where I, like Jane Brody, another supporter of emergency contraception, granted the notion that the pill prevents implantation. What is the basis of that assertion? According to Page, it’s a misreading of a 2004 meta-analysis of all the research on the drug showed that 82 percent of the time, it stops fertilization, and that there is no evidence that it prevents implantation of already-fertilized eggs. Since the drug is about 85 percent effective, it’s pretty clear that all it’s doing is preventing fertilization (the three percent gap may be explained by some cases where ovulation is prevented). But the pro-life community took that “no evidence” statement and ran with it, suggesting that if there’s “no evidence” the drug prevents implantation, then there’s “no evidence” it doesn’t. On the off chance the science might be wrong, the pro-lifers argued, we should ban one of the safest methods of contraception available. Unless you believe life begins before conception, we’re not talking about “baby killing” by anyone’s definition here, we’re talking about forcing women, including rape and incest victims, to have babies.
These are people that want to ban sex education, to fool people into accepting a third-grade notion of conception. They want to claim that the sex act itself is equivalent to conception, and they therefore will not stop until every sex act is punished with a child. These are people that want to ban condoms, for heaven’s sake. They have argued that condoms don’t prevent AIDS, that they don’t prevent HPV, a common sexually transmitted virus that can lead to ovarian cancer. In fact, they’ve opposed research on an HPV vaccine because, God forbid, if women didn’t get ovarian cancer, they might have more sex. As Page puts it,
However mired in medicine or science or safety a debate becomes, it’s important to remember that the real interest is elsewhere. The pseudoscientific debate about HPV is, for them, a debate about how they think we should all live. And no matter where the science leads, the pro-life side has an indestructible set of convictions in this regard. Indeed, this is what is so frustrating about entering an “open-minded debate” on safety or health concerns. Doctors and researchers can agree to go where the evidence leads. But pro-lifers don’t sign on to these terms, even if they sometimes act as if they do. So meeting imagined safety concerns with a mountain of data is a thankless endeavor. When predetermined passions rule, medicine is powerless.
How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America isn’t so much about its titular claim, but rather, how the pro-life movement is planning to destroy America, to return it to some imaginary time they believe existed but never really did. Perhaps the most frightening examples of the influence of this movement is what it’s doing overseas, preventing U.S. funding from reaching U.N. agencies that not only help with family planning in the third world, but also help in preventing infant mortality and women from dying in childbirth. This is the real face of the pro-life movement: a new mother dying from fistula in Botswana, a baby dying of AIDS in Kenya because her sick mother didn’t have access to birth control. This is the movement that convinced George W. Bush to deny U.S. funding to the United Nations Population Fund, a group that was, and still is, making significant progress helping China phase out its oppressive one-child program. You know, the one where they force women to have abortions, where families pay off doctors to kill female babies. Apparently encouraging voluntary use of birth control isn’t pro-life enough, so we’ll just continue with government-dictated infanticide.
So if you thought I was going a bit over the top when I compared the pro-life movement to the Holocaust, think again. The pro-life movement is advocating a return to the medical technology and gender equality of the bronze age, when women are stoned to death for ingesting some poison herb to try to terminate a life-ending pregnancy.
When the women of the earth are brutalized into subservience and slave-labor motherhood, that’s when the pro-life movement will have reached its goal. That’s when we’ll wonder why we never saw it coming.