I just read a very depressing book

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.

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8 Responses to I just read a very depressing book

  1. Mary says:

    I’m sure there are a couple of control-minded nuts like the ones you describe in the pro-life movement, just because there are in every movement. But I don’t know any of them. Most of the ones I know are like my mother — who is one of the movement’s most articulate activists. Through her I know a lot of these people personally.

    My mother grew up on a farm in Kansas in the fifties and sixties, and it’s true that there’s a lot about that lifestyle and culture that she misses. Knowing my grandparents and having spent a lot of time on the farm, I don’t blame her. Believe me, my grandmother was not an oppressed woman.

    Nor is my mother. From her Kansas in the fifties background she went on to become one of the first generation of women to go to law school, and then on to a law career which, in spite of the sacrifices and compromises she had made for her family, has been impressive. I tell her that Hillary Clinton reminds me of her. (I tell her that just to see the look she gives me.)

    Her success is all the more impressive because during law school she got pregnant. She was married, but… Law school is hard enough, law school when you’re one of the only women is even harder, law school when you’re one of the only women and you’re pregnant? I wouldn’t want to do it. And it can only have gotten harder when the baby was born. She’s never say so, but now that I’m an adult, I realize that I was almost certainly an unplanned child.

    I’m pretty sure that time is the root of her anti-abortion activism. She’s told me she was never especially pro-life until she had kids. Instead of feeling, during her pregnancy, like she had a “growth,” she felt like part of some deep mystery. She felt like there was a new life inside her, that she was participating in an act of creation.

    She was opposed to abortion after that, but didn’t become active in the anti-abortion movement until I was older, twelve or thirteen. What happened was, she met some other women (from her church) who were already active. I met them too. I babysat for their kids. They became close friends, and my mom got involved in their projects. One of them was a house where pregnant women who had no other place to go could live, and get medical care, emotional support, advice, counselling, legal help… and after the baby was born, help finding jobs and childcare and places to live. I met some of those women. They were grateful to my mom.

    She found the work rewarding. She bonded with her fellow campaigners. She officially converted to Catholicism (having been raised Baptist, but married to a Catholic) and later, when her job forced her to move or take a buyout, took a job with Catholic Charities, running some of their pregnancy related services.

    She’s a lawyer: a natural fighter. A leader. She really likes being in the trenches for what she feels is a good cause.

    She believes that life begins at conception. She also believes, as you do, that her opponents are arguing in bad faith. She sees, in campaigns for abortion and contraception and population control in third world-countries, an attempt to keep the poor and non-white from reproducing themselves. She believes that all the rhetoric about “choice” and “freedom” conceal a hidden agenda — a eugenic one. She has statistics about what percentages of abortions are done on black women, in the US, and so on.

    She, of course, compares the pro-choice movement to the Holocaust. She counts each of the 40 million abortions in the US since Roe v. Wade as a life lost. She believes the motive is the same – racial purity. And she has lots of documentation to show that some pro-choice activists are racists and eugenicists. Planned Parenthood officials who were members of the American Eugenics Society, that sort of thing.

    I’m sure she’s right — I’m sure there are a couple of control-minded nuts like the ones she describes in the pro-choice movement. Just because there are in every movement… But I believe this is an issue on which both sides are arguing in good faith. They just start from different assumptions.

  2. dave says:


    I’m just a little curious about how you and your mother feel about contraception. Do you think the birth control pill is wrong? If pro-choice activists are “eugenicists,” then isn’t advocating birth control the same thing?

    Did you or your mother write George W. Bush and ask him to restore funding to the United Nations Population Fund — you know, the one that was helping China end forced abortions by allowing Chinese women to choose birth control?

    Also, I wonder how your mother feels about the abortions that happened before Roe v. Wade. Because the abortion rate didn’t change after Roe.

    The “pro-choice activists are eugenicists” argument is disingenuous for another reason: while no major pro-choice organization supports eugenicism, NO pro-life group has come out in favor of contraceptives or comprehensive sex education. How are women supposed to be equal partners in a marriage if a life without contraception or abortion dooms them to become nuns, spinsters, or full-time child caregivers?

  3. Mary says:

    My mother’s views on contraception have changed over the years. She now supports the position of the Catholic church. I don’t share that position (it’s not the only thing I disagree with her on, but I don’t really want to get into an discussion about my own views, just to correct what I saw as a misrepresentation of hers.)

    She does (now) think that advocating birth control is also a form of eugenics, and claims to be opposed to it, but not at all with the same force to which she opposes abortion, which she views as a violent crime.

    How does she feel about the abortions that happened before Roe v. Wade? Well, I’d say she thinks they were bad. Like the ones after.

    As for the “pro-choice activists are eugenicists argument,” it may be incorrect, but it’s not disingenuous. I can assure you that she believes it as sincerely as you believe that pro-life activists wish to “brutalize the women of the earth into subservience and slave-labor motherhood.” I don’t believe either, personally.

  4. dave says:

    I agree, they don’t think they’re brutalizing women. But what they believe will have that effect.

    I suspect they believe they can convince women that it’s in their best interest to stay home and raise kids or abstain from sex altogether. The problem with even this position is if they really believe that, then they shouldn’t have to legislate it.

  5. Deep Thought says:

    You are trying to limit a complex issue to a good/bad statement, which won’t work.
    The Catholic Church is the primary source of opposition to both abortion and
    contraception and its stance is rather comprehensive. No, it is not based on a hatred
    or distaste for sex, nor a desire that every sexual act result in a child. The core
    argument is that sex and sexuality are so core, so important, and so inherently good
    that it should not be treated like a meal at McDonalds.

    You have a lot of suppositions here, and some that seems almost hysterical. I can
    recall no one asking to legislate women into the home. And your comparison of the
    pro-life movement to the Holocaust isn’t ‘over the top’ – its shameful

  6. Deep Thought says:

    [sorry, lost connection]
    The Holocaust was the purposeful murder of millions of people because they were seen as ‘lesser’, sub-human, failed humans undeserving of life, as “parasites”, “rats”, etc. To compare a group of people protesting what they perceive as murder – a group of people who are overwhelmingly peaceful and who openly condemn those amongst them that turn to violence – to the mass-murderers of the Holocaust cheapens those who died in the camps. To compare your moral quandries and your desire for ‘privacy’ to the sufferings of those in Auschwitz may have been made to make a point, but I doubt that the survivors of slave labor, starvation, and the einsatzgruppen would agree that you are in a position as precarious as theirs.

  7. dave says:

    My point is that, in 1933, few Jews in Germany realized precisely how precarious their position was. We are on the verge of Roe v. Wade being overturned. We are facing fundamentalist religious movements both in the U.S. and the Middle East that are every bit as frightening as pre-Holocaust Germany.

    When pro-lifers speak of their compassion and respect for life, they are only speaking of unborn fetuses, not their mothers. Pro-life groups opposing modern family planning have denied millions of dollars of U.S. relief efforts that could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives abroad, due both to maternal and infant death. No, it’s not the Holocaust yet, but neither was Germany in 1933.

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