One common argument for legal abortion is the claim that it “liberates and empowers women” – granting a level of personal autonomy that leaves the decision to the woman rather than the state.
This isn’t a claim we should just brush aside. It’s a serious argument that can (and should) be addressed by those of us who identify as pro-life. Gregory Koukl offers a strong response to this argument over at STR, which I highly recommend.
Pro-Life Demonstrators at “March for Life” 2013
For the sake of this post, however, I’m more interested in exploring how legalized abortion has indirectly worked to empower sex-seeking men…and not in a positive way. Though many fail to recognize it, Roe v. Wade (along with our society’s abandonment of the traditional virtues of manhood) has actually undermined the dignity of women, and contributed to a culture of consequence-free sex that’s destructive for everyone.
As Jennifer Fulwiler points out in her outstanding critique of the pro-choice movement:
The fundamental truth of the pro-choice movement, from which all of its tenets flow, is that sex does not have to have life-altering consequences. I suddenly saw that it was the struggle to uphold this “truth” that led to all the shady dealings, all the fear of information, all the mental gymnastics that I’d observed. (continue reading)
In a culture that destigmatizes extra-marital sex and regards abortion as a viable and morally acceptable solution to unplanned pregnancy, men and women who are otherwise unwilling or unprepared to raise children regard casual sex as something they’re entitled to. When an unplanned pregnancy occurs, both partners naturally feel as if this “entitlement” has been violated.
Yet the man and woman oftentimes disagree over how to proceed, and this is what opens the door for coercion and abuse. (I’ve personally met one woman, through Silent No More, who became pregnant by an unsupportive boyfriend as a teenager. She was escorted – sobbing and against her will – to a local abortion clinic by her father, where she received an instillation abortion and delivered her stillborn child.)
Instillation Abortion Diagram
There aren’t a lot of high-quality studies on the issue of coerced abortions, but I did track down a couple papers. The Guttmacher Institute (a not-so-impartial affiliate of Planned Parenthood) reported in 2004 that 14% of women cite “encouragement from their husband or partner” as a factor in their decision to abort, and 12% cite “unwillingness of their partner to get married” as a factor. These numbers are down from 24% and 30% (respectively) in 1984. (1)
Another study from 2004 found that 71% of women receiving abortions claimed that their partner “did not desire the pregnancy”, and 64% reported “feeling pressure by others” to end the pregnancy. (2)
Regardless of which numbers you believe, I think it’s pretty non-controversial to conclude that a significant percentage of abortions involve coercion from irresponsible and self-serving male partners.
Certainly such males (I refuse to use the word “men” in this context) ought to be held personally accountable for their actions. Yet we should also recognize how public policy contributes to these patterns. Since our legal system has effectively separated the “act of creation” (sex) with the “granting of personhood” (a decision by the woman, at some point AFTER sex), males are placed in a really perplexing situation:
“The reason the woman has sole right to decide to have an abortion is that the status of the fetus somehow depends upon how she chooses to regard it: thus, the fetus is not a child until the mother decides that it is, say, at some point later in pregnancy. But then a consequence of this is that the man, through having intercourse with the woman, does not conceive a child. Rather, he conceives only a fetus, and the fetus at some later point becomes a child, only because of the woman’s deciding that it is. But then the man’s role in intercourse is not a cause of a child. He brought into existence only a fetus, and it was the woman’s decision to “continue the pregnancy through term” that made it a child.
But if so, it is not clear why the man should have any responsibility for the child. How could the woman bring a claim for paternity support against him? After all, he could rightly reply: “You decided to regard the fetus as a child; so the child is your responsibility”…So it seems that either we grant the father an equal role in the abortion decision, or we must conclude that fathers cannot be held responsible for their offspring. If total responsibility for abortion rests with the mother, then total responsibility for birth should rest with her also.” (continue reading)
Legal abortion and the second-wave feminist movement have thus undermined fatherhood in a significant way (contributing, perhaps, to the skyrocketing rates of divorce and single parenthood in the years following Roe v. Wade). Given this bizarre legal definition of fatherhood, modern men need to be extremely careful in whom they choose to establish relationships with. According to a 2005 cross-sectional cohort study, 17.2% of women presenting for elective abortions at a clinic in Texas chose not to disclose the abortion to their partners. (3)
For the man who calls himself “pro-life”, this should highlight the foolishness of promiscuity. He who impregnates a woman before taking the time to learn her views on parenthood and unborn life is literally rolling the dice with the fate of his child. He can only ask himself, “Do I feel lucky?”
This is where a passage from CS Lewis’s “The Abolition of Man” comes to mind:
“We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
So how has public policy influenced sexual outcomes? What effects does “abortion on demand” have on the health and psyche of men and women? I’ve collected just a few brief examples:
The five years following Roe v. Wade saw a dramatic increase in the rates of pre-marital sex, unplanned pregnancies, and out-of-wedlock births. (4) The experience of an abortion within a relationship has been linked to higher rates of arguing about children, sexual dysfunction, conflicts about money, male jealousy, and conflicts about drugs. (5) More recent studies have found significant correlations between sexual restraint and emotional well-being, and between promiscuity and depression. (6)
While these social ills would certainly exist even if abortion were illegal, they are clearly exacerbated by the “hookup culture” and the widespread sense of entitlement to recreational sex that, in turn, can only exist in the setting of “safe and legal” access to abortion.
(1) Finer LB et al. “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives”. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. 37(3), 2005.
(2) Rue VM et al. “Induced Abortion and Traumatic Stress: A Preliminary Comparison of American and Russian Women”. Medical Science Monitor. 10(10), 2004.
(3) Woo J et al. “Abortion Disclosure and the Association with Domestic Violence”. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 105(6), 2005.
(4) Lott JR “Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and Other Half-Baked Theories Don’t”. 2007.
(5) Coleman PK et al. “Induced Abortion and Intimate Relationship Quality in the Chicago Health and Social Life Survey”. Public Health. 123(4), 2009.
(6) Regnerus M and Uecker J. “Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying”. 2011.