02 February 2010

Abortion Debates, and Babies as Punishment

Echidne's excellent coverage of the Superbowl Ad debacle has gotten me thinking about the real motivations of those who want to further regulate or eliminate legal abortions. In October, a Slog post caught my eye with its assertion that:

Banning abortion only makes abortions more dangerous and kills women—which is what many opponents of abortion are after, really. They want people who have sex to be punished.
Ass Echidne pointed out, they want women specifically to be punished for their sins, because obviously nature is constructed (by God!) in such a way that the consequences of sex fall more heavily on the woman. So that must be what God intended, right?

***Embarrassing Confession Below***

On a personal note, I remember a conversation I had with my mother when I was twelve and excessively influenced by the Victorian novels I obsessively read. We were washing dishes (ha!) and talking about abortion, and my mother was trying in vain to explain to me that not all people who end up requiring or desiring an abortion are Scarlet Women of Babylon. (I also used to tell her that I would never kiss a man until I was married. She must have been really worried about me! But now I'm happily "living in sin" and loving it...)

I remember that, to my immature mind, absurdly scared of sex and ridiculously judgmental of "sinful" women, it did seem just that a woman who decided to have sex would have to bear the consequences of her action. (I was willing to make an exception for rape, which as Bitch Ph.D. points out is the hallmark of someone who does not trust women to be the experts on their own individual bodies and situations. Again, it's about judging and condemning sin.) At no point in my (thankfully brief!!) "pro-life" phase did I actually worry that much about the babies. In fact, I think I was all for stem cell research. This is my own subjective experience, but in reading between the lines of a lot of "pro-life" literature, there's more about sin and punishment than about love for unborn babies.

How do I know? Because of the absence of any pro-contraceptive agenda. Every year I approach the pro-life tablers at the local county fair and ask them what their position on contraception is, and they never answer my question. They tell me to ask my doctor about contraception. They tell me that they only intend to encourage pregnant women to carry their babies to term. So they either ignore that contraception exists and is the most powerful tool for reducing the incidence of abortion, or they're actively against it. Why? Because their concern is sex, not babies. They say that they're for babies to cloak that they're really against sex (except in certain circumstances in which it can be controlled effectively by family patriarchs).

That Victorian mentality that I thankfully outgrew before I was old enough to vote is very persistent in the world today. The obsession with sex that characterized Victorian morals is at the center of the religious right's take on many issues. I haven't read enough Foucault to really analyze the abortion debates from that perspective, but the conflation of sex/sin/guilt/power/control that we see in the abortion debates is both extremely Victorian and (I would argue) extremely immature. And all the more frightening.

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