Abortion, sex, and murder

Alas, A Blog has posted a handy table showing how pro-life positions tend to correspond a different motivation than what they claim — that these positions aren’t consistent with a belief that abortion is murder, but are consistent with a belief that women should be punished for having sex. It’s quite compelling to see the argument laid out in this format.

Ampersand claims that he’s been reluctant to use the “pro-life movement is really anti-sex” argument in the past because he views it as an ad hominem attack. But, he says,

although I’ve met some rank-and-file “pro-lifers” whose policy preferences were consistent with a belief that a fetus is morally indistinguishable from a child, those folks usually have policy preferences which are totally out of step with the abortion criminalization movement as a whole.

In contrast, the leaders of the abortion criminalization movement have consistently put their political weight behind policies which make little or no sense if they genuinely think that abortion is identical to child murder. And they’ve done so with the apparent backing and blessing of the vast majority of the rank and file.

This is pretty much consistent with what I’ve seen in the comment wars here on Word Munger. I’ve had a commenter who defended the pro-life movement, but then said she’d be okay with abortions up to the fourth week of pregnancy. I’ve had a commenter who said it was ridiculous to say the pro-life movement was anti-sex, but when asked, pretty much matched up in attitudes to what is summarized in Ampersand’s chart, and I’ve seen no evidence that the pro-life leadership’s attitude is anything but anti-sex.

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4 Responses to Abortion, sex, and murder

  1. Mary says:

    Nobody would devote themselves so wholly as pro-lifers do to so petty a cause as you believe they serve. The people you describe would be like the villains in bad movies. In bad movies only the heroes believe they serve any greater cause. The villains have no motive but villainy, which they will pursue no matter what the cost. But in real life, both sides of every war believe they are fighting for justice and honor and their own families. If they did not, they would not be willing to put everything on the line. They would not be able to attract armies. You don’t inspire troops by tut-tutting.

    If it were just a matter of disapproving of prurience, you would not see the grass-roots movements, the growing ranks decades after the issue was officially settled, the single issue voting (even against their own economic self-interest, as Tom Frank points out), the non-profit organizations, the protests, the passion that these people bring to their cause. People don’t do these things unless they really believe the moral stakes are high.

    I don’t believe you will take seriously anyone who challenges your charicatures, but here’s a more eloquent description than I can write from Fred Clark.

    As for me — please do not use me as an example. 1) I did not and do not claim to be a typical pro-lifer. I just know them well and respect them. 2) I am not “okay” with abortion up to the fourth week. What I said was that it was as good an arbitrary point as birth or conception, and that it had the advantage of being the earliest point at which a woman can know for sure that she’s pregnant. But that doesn’t mean I’m “okay” with it as a dividing line. I’m deeply uncomfortable with it. It’s a moral risk, drawing the line anywhere. I don’t (unlike most pro-lifers) believe that a single cell is a human being. Nor do I (unlike most pro-choicers) believe that a full term infant is a piece of tissue or a disease, until the moment it emerges. I believe that at some point abortion becomes murder, but I don’t know what point that is. Hence “moral risk.” The idea of something’s morality being ambiguous is uncomfortable, but it crops up in other places (such as in the definition of “self defence” or “just war.” There again there are actions I would reluctantly allow, but not be “okay” with.) But again… I’m not typical.

  2. Grace says:

    Mary, you don’t believe that sex – as an issue, not an experience – can inspire
    passion? That people can have very strong (possibly semi- or unconscious) feelings
    of threat when their sexual “values” are no longer the values of the society as a
    whole? That they can’t be whipped up to a frenzy by demagogues who claim that a
    shadowy enemy is threatening their family values and their daughters’ purity, not to
    mention the strength of a nation? And that men don’t feel threatened enough by the
    continuing emancipation of women to fight back, hard?

    I find all of these things easy to believe.

  3. dave says:

    Mary, I’m sorry if I embarrassed you; I was making an effort not to single you out by not naming you. You’re always free not to comment at all if you’re concerned that people will misinterpret what you say. I don’t think I was — the point was to show that the rank-and-file don’t necessarily agree with the leaders of the movement.

    Again, I haven’t seen any evidence to convince me that what motivates the leaders is anything less than a desire to see women punished for having sex. It might be a great deal more than that, though — it might be a desire to subjugate women even more.

    The claim, of course, is that once women see how “liberated” they are by being freed to raise their children in “traditional” families, they will prefer this arrangement. But the same people want to make very strict legislation to ensure that women come to this conclusion.

    I agree, many rank-and-file members of the pro-life movement are deeply disturbed about the “abortion=murder” problem. But that doesn’t appear to be what’s motivating their leaders.

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