Revolution #102, September 23, 2007
The Morality of the Right to Abortion…And the Immorality of Those Who Oppose It
The stakes in the battle around abortion are very, very high. These right-wingers will not stop at banning abortion—the end of Roe v. Wade would not only be a horror in itself, but would set the stage for even worse. Theocrats like James Dobson and Paul Weyrich have built up a fascist movement by whipping people up against abortion and gay marriage. They won votes for Bush and Senate and House seats for other theocrats in the 2004 elections, and they collected signatures for ballot initiatives to ban gay adoption in the 2006 elections. These victories in banning abortion and gay marriage are only whetting the appetite of religious fanatics who have taken over the Republican Party and been appointed to the highest offices in the land.
Is the Forceful Assertion of Male Domination "Moral"?
There is not a single "pro-life" organization that supports birth control. The mission statement of the largest right-to-life educational organization—The American Life League—reads, "A.L.L. denies the moral acceptability of artificial birth control and encourages each individual to trust in God, to surrender to His will, and be pre-disposed to welcoming children."
The "Pro-Life Activists Encyclopedia" explains the justification for efforts to ban contraception:
"Contraception cannot be separated from abortion. In fact, anyone who debates on the topic of abortion will inevitably be drawn to the topic of artificial contraception over and over again, especially in the post-Roe era of pro-life activism… How does contraception lead to abortion? Quite simply, they are virtually indistinguishable in a psychological, physical, and legal sense…those individuals use artificial contraception take the critical step of separating sex from procreation. Contraception not abortion was the first step down the slippery slope."1
Banning birth control is the next target of these Christian Fascists. They are already in full swing on this, passing laws in South Dakota, Arkansas, and Mississippi that legally allow pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions on moral and religious grounds. And this is becoming the new Christian Fascist litmus test for running for office—in some states, like Kentucky, candidates who want the endorsement of Kentucky’s Right to Life must now oppose the use of standard birth control (not just the morning after pill).2 This lunacy, where contraception is now being equated with genocide, where sex that is not for procreation is evil, and where abstinence is government policy enforced not just here but all over the world, are the ground that politics is now being conducted on.
This is a matter of reactionary religious doctrine in service of a morality that wants to take society backwards. Bill Napoli, a state legislator speaking on behalf of the South Dakota ban on abortion, put it this way: "When I was growing up here in the Wild West, if a young man got a girl pregnant out of wedlock, they got married, and the whole damned neighborhood was involved in the wedding. I mean, they wanted that child to be brought up in a home with two parents, you know the whole story. And so it can happen again… I don’t think we’re so far beyond that, that we can’t go back to that."3
Napoli’s "whole story" is one where young people are forced —through the notorious "shotgun marriages"—to get married and where young women in particular are coerced into having children that they do not want. The "whole story" is one of reasserting and reinforcing the traditional order of things where a woman’s role is to be subordinate to her husband and the procreator of his children, where women are openly the property of men to be controlled by their husbands. It means going back to a morality that cuts women off from acting in the larger society, contributing all they can to that, and living full lives as productive human beings in every sphere and independent from men. This is the traditional biblical morality that says wives must "submit yourself unto your own husbands as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the Church" (Ephesians 5:22-23)—and these people want to return society to a place where THAT standard sets the law of the land. That would be a horror for women and a terrible thing for society as a whole.
The mass access to birth control and abortion has undermined religious doctrine and traditional morality that subordinated women for centuries. Though they are still held down by the underlying social relations of capitalism, this step enabled women to participate much more in every sphere of society—something that after 30 years we may take for granted but is actually a relatively fragile and new idea in this history of human society. And now these people want to rip this away!
Abortion on Demand and Without Apology
The movement for women’s liberation that arose in the 1960s and ’70s made widely known and accepted the whole idea of abortion on demand. This unapologetic position of women’s liberation changed the culture—it changed the ways people thought and changed the quality of human emotions. It shifted the way millions of people viewed reproductive rights and sexual equality, which paved the way for Roe v. Wade and the legalization of abortion in 1973. And this was overwhelmingly positive in emancipating the full potential of women and in benefitting all of society in doing so.
There is nothing immoral about terminating an unwanted pregnancy or removing a clump of cells that have not yet developed into a viable human being from a woman’s body. A fetus is not a baby. If a woman doesn’t want to continue a pregnancy all the way (for whatever reason), she should have the freedom to end it, safely and easily. There is nothing tragic about it—indeed, the real tragedy lies in the lives of women that are foreclosed and disfigured and even ended by being compelled to have children that they do not want, a tragedy that happens millions of times a day on this planet, with the connivance and support of the U.S. government.
The life of a woman who is forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy is endangered. From the dangers of illegal abortions to the disrespect for her own life, she is harmed and demeaned as a human being. Being forced by society to have a baby when a woman either does not want or cannot care for one is one of the age-old tragedies that are no longer necessary for anyone to have to suffer. But if a woman is not allowed to control her own body, her own reproduction, not allowed to decide whether or not or when to become a mother, she has no more freedom than a slave. This is for the greater good for the health and overall well-being of that woman, whose life we should value and cherish more than that of a partially formed fetus. And for the greater good of humanity—for don’t we want a society where all forms of slavery are ended?
The morality that should be supported and fought for is one that values the rights of women to lead full social lives. It supports social and intimate relations where people respect each other’s humanity and flourish together—and not where women are supposedly commanded by "God" to "submit themselves" to men. This morality sees children as a joy to society, and as ultimately the responsibility of all society, while not compelling anyone in any way to have children against their will. It does NOT, as these theocrats do, sanctimoniously shout hosannas to a clump of cells that might someday become a child—while feverishly upholding the murder of real live children in the war being waged by the U.S. in Iraq, and self-righteously dooming literally millions of other real live children, right in the U.S., to lives of deprivation and punishment—in the name of those same traditional values.
In fact, overturning the ban on abortion—a ban which consigned thousands of women a year to death or horrible mutilation, and millions more to humiliation and oppression—was a profoundly moral thing to do! It was and is part of a morality that corresponds to the fundamental interests of the vast majority of people in this society and worldwide. These values are also consistent with communist morality, which in addition to the emancipation of women aims at the elimination of all oppressive and exploitative relations among people and the establishment of a freely associating community of human beings. And at the same time, there are many, many people beyond communists who actually yearn for and even strive to live by values that promote and celebrate equality between women and men, and between peoples and nations; that appreciate both diversity and community; that put cooperation over cut-throat competition and the needs of the people over the accumulation of wealth, that oppose imperialist domination, and that cherish and foster critical thinking.
1. American Life League, "Introduction: The Abortion-Contraception Connection," Chapter 97 of Pro-Life Activists Encyclopedia. [back]
2. "Right to Life adds Pill to List" (Cincinnati Enquirer, April 2002). Original research from Cristina Page, How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics, and the War on Sex (New York: Basic Books, 2002), p. 19. [back]
3. Jim Lehrer NewsHour—"South Dakota Bans Abortion" March 3, 2006. [back]
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