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Anti-Abortion = Anti-Sex January 25, 2013

Posted by wfenza in Skepticism and atheism.
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Ross Douthat, one of the more thoughtful conservatives out there (weak praise, I know posted today about the relationship between abortion and single parenthood. In an effort to rebut the conclusion that abortion restrictions lead to more single parents, he wrote:

in a post-Roe world, social conservatives often find themselves accepting single parenthood as the lesser (by far) of two potential evils. But there’s good reason to think Roe itself was instrumental in creating the kind of sexual culture that makes the Bristol Palin dilemma as commonplace as it’s become. While the frequent use of abortion can limit out-of-wedlock births, that is, the sudden mass availability of abortion almost certainly had the opposite effect — mostly by changing the obligations associated with pregnancy, and by legitimating male irresponsibility where sex and its consequences are concerned.

For all I know, this may be accurate. However, its efficacy as an argument in favor of abortion restrictions rests on some terrible premises. Namely, it relies on the standard conservative “sex is bad” attitude. How horrible it is that access to abortion has allowed people to have recreational sex! If only people were more terrified of pregnancy, then everything would be fine!

And this continues a familiar pattern, where every single person I’ve ever heard argue for abortion restrictions also takes an extremely sex-negative attitude toward recreational sex, some going so far as to argue that an unwanted pregnancy is some kind of divine justice for being irresponsible, where of course “being irresponsible” means “having recreational sex.”

The sad fact is that Douthat’s claim that “since the 1970s, social conservatives have had more success encouraging doubts about the moral acceptability of abortion than they have had on almost any other cultural front” is true. Douthat would have us believe that people are supporting abortion restrictions due to respect for the sanctity of life. I have my doubts. It seems much more likely to me that support for abortion restrictions stems from the fundamental sexnegativity of our culture.

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Comments»

1. zuccherina - January 25, 2013

I understand where you could get the premise that sex-negativity is what plays into anti-abortion campaigns. However, I think there are some decent sized holes in your theory.

For starters, the conservative side of the spectrum, Catholics and protestants etc., tend to have more children than the other side – so they’re obviously not afraid of having sex.

Second, saying that you have not met a person who was pro-life and sex positive does not substantiate any of your propositions. Your location and its surrounding culture, your class, even your gender and the color of your skin will play into who you know and what they think. I can assure you that there are sex-positive people out there who wish that abortion wouldn’t be as common as it is now, or maybe even exist at all – because I am one.

Lastly, your conclusion rests on a very dangerous outlook on life. That is, “my recreational pursuits will be undertaken at the cost of lives.” Someone who kills a cat is going to be viewed as a potential psychopath, and yet mutilating the unborn child of a pregnant woman is supposed to be some everyday thing that everyone accepts equally. I don’t think recreation is worth that – so if I’m going to enjoy having sex, I’m also going to take responsibility for what happens if my protection falls through, and by taking responsibility I mean raising the life that “I” conceived.

Anyway, just thought I’d post as a sex-positive pro-lifer. I do think there needs to be more sex-positivity in our culture, so I can definitely agree with your frustration in that respect.

2. wfenza - January 25, 2013

Every rule has exceptions. There is a coherent argument for a sexpositive pro-life position. I just believe that most of the anti-abortion sentiment in our society relies on a sexnegative attitude.

Your point about Catholics and Protestants, however, is more dubious. The fact that they have more children has no bearing on their outlook on recreational sex, and their doctrines are horribly sexnegative.

In addition, I think you have some strange ideas about society’s views on life. If someone kills cats (or aborts babies) for fun, sure, call that person a psychopath (though I try to avoid making armchair diagnoses of mental disorders). But people have cats put down all the time because taking care of them is too great a burden. Even if you recognize the sanctity of life (I don’t), it makes no sense to view all lives as equal.

3. Angie Tupelo - January 25, 2013

Reblogged this on Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History and commented:
Douthat doesn’t seem to understand/acknowledge that abortion existed and was wide-spread before Roe v. Wade, it was just terribly unsafe and/or expensive. Also, anyone who uses the phrase “pro-lifers are justified in believing” (as Douthat did) immediately loses all credibility in my book.

4. ChouliPatches - January 25, 2013

“Douthat would have us believe that people are supporting abortion restrictions due to respect for the sanctity of life. I have my doubts. It seems much more likely to me that support for abortion restrictions stems from the fundamental sexnegativity of our culture.”

I’m pro-choice, sex-positive, liberal, atheist, poly, etc…but I disagree. While it might be true that many pro-lifers are also pretty vocally sex-negative, their belief that abortion is murder is not something I think we pro-choicers should invalidate. The two seem linked because people that tend to believe in the sanctity of life often have the kind of belief system that includes a pretty narrow window for what kind of sex is good. Naturally, when condemning abortion, they might also throw in some disgusted statements about the sexual behavior most likely to result in abortion, because they believe both are wrong. So while these two beliefs are often linked within a conservative value system, one may spring up without the other. From my own anecdotal experience, it doesn’t seem to be that uncommon for them to be observed separately. I know some otherwise liberal poly hippies who are pro-life because it really, deeply upsets them to think about killing that little baby in there. And I know many, many pro-choice folks who are frighteningly sex-negative, who see the recreational sex as sick, but don’t see a fetus as a baby, and who don’t think forcing women to carry the baby to term is the answer.

These beliefs are separate, and I think the conversation is damaged when our side tells the other side that they don’t really believe what they claim they do. They believe that abortion is murder. They really, really do. As hard as it is for us to address that, fooling ourselves into believing they are evil sex-haters who just want to punish women is nothing but avoidance and denial on our part. Demonizing them is an incredibly damaging thing to do to this conversation. We need to look them in the eye and explain why we don’t think it’s murder, why we don’t think it’s a person, and fully appreciate how horrific it all seems to them, if we are to get anywhere. As an atheist, I sure hate it when believers tell me “No, you’re not”, because they have some crackpot theory that we all believe deep down, there are just some emotional issues that need to be addressed. Why do they do that? To avoid dealing with the truth. As someone who supports gun-control, I sure hate it when the NRA tries to tell me that I don’t care about gun violence, that what I’m really doing is pushing for controlling the people and hating freedom. Why do they do that? To avoid dealing with the truth. And when pro-choicers try to claim pro-lifers don’t REALLY think abortion is murder, they just hate sex and hate women…then WE are the ones not dealing with the truth.


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