It’s not actually about saving little preborn babies.
Back when this Republic was formed, the founders held absolutely no discussion about women’s reproductive rights. The all-male, largely Protestant and deist team that wrote up the Constitution would not have imagined addressing what they considered to be mere women’s affairs. The female sex quietly did what they could with the limited medical technology of the time to control reproduction via crude and unreliable contraceptive and abortion techniques. Only the Catholic Church had adopted a pro-life stance as part of the all-male clergy’s long-term program to keep women in their proper sociosexual place. A combination of sex-unfriendly Victorian mores, a growing U.S. Catholic population, and an especially successful project by the growing all-male physician community to liquidate competition from all-female midwives, led to bans on pregnancy controls in the 1800s. This went so far that the notorious Comstock Laws outlawed even the discussion of contraceptives in the public sphere, as well as sending information and literature of a sexual nature via the U.S. mail. A hundred years ago, the religious Right owned society. That makes it all the more interesting that the American eugenics movement was then at its height, passing forced-sterilization laws in most states, dominated by Protestants who did not share the pro-life attitudes of the Church of Rome.
Theoconservative opposition to induced abortion has always been both theologically and logically peculiar, not to mention hypocritical. It is obvious that if a creator exists, then he, she, or it gives not a hoot about the safety of the unborn. We know this because the human reproductive apparatus is such a Rube-Goldbergian mess that two-thirds to three-quarters of pregnancies fail to come to term, most failing just after conception due to failure to implant because of genetic defects. A few hundred billion conceptions have died naturally,* meaning that human beings have terminated far fewer of the preborn than has creation itself. Nor does the Bible ban abortion. Presumably Jehovah smiled as Israelite warriors regularly liquidated captured women en masse; presumably many were pregnant.
And be skeptical about a good deal of the shedding of tears over the murder of all the unborn. It is a dirty secret among those who serve in the abortion clinics that a good number of the women who protest outside them end up in the clinics when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. And there are those scandals when politicians and ministers are charged with coercing women whom they have illicitly impregnated to get an abortion that they pay for. These days, many on the Right oppose industrial and environmental regulations intended to protect the preborn. Although some anti-abortionists are not entirely insincere, it’s more about sociopolitical power. Here’s why.
In the 1920s, theoconservatives’ longstanding iron grip on American culture began to slip, as the first sexual revolution began to radically secularize Western democracies. The 1950s seemed to give the Right a respite: church attendance apparently peaked, openly having sex outside marriage remained a societal no-no, and contraceptives remained hard to get (in part because neither pills nor the intrauterine device were yet on hand). But in the late 1950s and 1960s, the Pill came on line. Courts struck down laws against public discussion of and access to contraceptives as violations of the First Amendment. It all came to a head with 1973’s Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion across the land. The Catholic Church was very unhappy. But Protestant churches, even those on the Right, were more mixed about the matter.
What was really freaking out Protestant theoconservatives was the unprecedented divorce boom among the World War II generation, combined with the shocking second sociosexual revolution. A new wave of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll surged among the baby boomers. To that, throw in a new emergence of feminism and nonheterosexual rights. The religious Right went into panic mode as theoconservatives realized that they were losing the national culture, even being reduced to minority status.
It was then that the evangelical Right became a potent political force, tied to the Republican Party, with a primary feature being opposition to ready access to legal abortion and even contraceptives. This would be a big factor in the election of the faux anti-abortionist Ronald Reagan—the media star and divorcee probably cared as little about the issue as does Donald J. Trump today.
The logic goes as follows: Theism is mere propaganda; it is no more true than—and does not actually offer what it promises any more than—astrology, psychic powers, ghosts, Bigfoot, aliens ancient or current, and the like. Consider that if souls on occasion returned from heaven and/or hell and solidly verified their existence, then Christianity would be far more popular than it is now, in the absence of any evidence for it. At the same time, research conducted in part by yours truly shows that religion is not as inherent to the human mind as many think it is, nor does it tend to be associated with the most successful societies.** Ergo, mass religion is extremely vulnerable to collapse if societal conditions are suitable for mass secularism—which they have largely become over the past century due to modernity. You know:
Science, which has gutted the argument for the existence of a creator;
Mass education, which informs the population about the above;
Industrial-scale manufacturing and the resulting consumerism that produces a large, prosperous middle and upper class—much of which no longer feels the need to seek aid and comfort from speculative deities—meanwhile swamping the population with real-world material goods and encouraging a mass focus upon sex and entertainment;
Digital social media, which causes folks to lose interest in organizations, including theistic ones; and so on and so forth.
What the religious Right has discovered to its dismay is that it has not been able to persuade the majority to be pious in the manner theoconservatives think necessary. In the face of the overwhelming secularizing power of modernity, that’s just not possible. It’s not the theocons’ fault; there very probably is not much they can do to turn the situation around merely by bringing the majority around to their point of view.
So, in their desperation, theocons are trying to use the government to achieve their ends. Here’s the scheme. First, they vote at higher per capita rates than the rest of the population, which is too often slack on election day. Then, they use various laws to suppress voting by the opposition—while relying on the Electoral College to get allies into the White House. This combo allows the theoconservative minority to achieve political power well above its numbers. Next, they pack the courts, especially the U.S. Supreme Court, with conservative judges with the intent of banning abortion and hindering access to contraceptives as much as possible. The aim is to return the nation, as much as it can be, to what things were like in the 1950s, when abortion and contraceptives were hard to get and women were reproductive wards of their husbands and the state. When they once again properly fear getting pregnant outside of holy matrimony, women will realize that they must maintain Christian chastity until they can be impregnated on a regular basis by their godly husbands. Thus, the nation and countless souls will be saved.
When moderate liberals ask why anti-abortionists are not interested in reducing abortion through, say, effective sex education and the promotion of contraception, they are being naive. Down that path lies the kind of sexuality-friendly societies seen in the rest of the First World, which theocons despise. The Right is not really trying to save babies; instead, it is engaged in a grand conspiracy to use the premise that abortion is murder—a religious doctrine with which many theists disagree—to remake society in its own controlling, misogynistic, traditionalist image. It follows that there is no point in trying to compromise with the anti-abortionists. All that can be done is to abjectly defeat them via the ballot box. Our ultimate aim must be to arrive at a Supreme Court that unreservedly defends a fully sovereign citizenship status for women.
* See http://www.gspauldino.com/Philosophy&Theology.pdf.
** See http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/147470490900700305.