Pro-lifers are against abortion because abortion kills humans, and we think you should not do that.
But there are people who don’t believe our real motivation is protecting babies. They think that’s just the stated motivation we use to cover up our more nefarious goals — usually having something to do with controlling people’s sex lives and/or enforcing traditional gender roles including the idea that women should be mothers.
These theories poorly explain the evidence.
Example 1: Contraception
If opposition to abortion were primarily about making sure people have to endure the negative consequences of their sexual decisions, there would be an equivalent opposition to contraception (which allows people to have sex without dealing with “punishments” like STDs or the stress and struggle of unintended pregnancy). But there is no equivalent opposition, not even close. The ferocity, tenacity, and passion with which people oppose abortion — many spending their whole lives fighting it — is totally unmatched with respect to contraception.
There isn’t a decades-long intractable campaign to outlaw tubal ligation or vasectomies or condoms. There are forms of contraception some pro-lifers object to, such as the pill, Plan B, and certain IUDs, but even those objections are based on the belief that these methods prevent zygotes from implanting, which many pro-lifers consider a type of abortion. (The evidence for that belief is mixed.) So even when some pro-lifers object to these forms of contraception, it comes back to abortion itself, not contraception in general.
Gallup’s Moral Acceptability poll demonstrates this contrast well. Gallup asks Americans whether they believe a variety of issues are morally acceptable or morally wrong. Contraception (“Birth Control” in the link) is consistently the most accepted issue they ask about: on average since 2012, 90% of Americans say birth control is morally acceptable compared to 7% who say it’s morally wrong. Abortion, in contrast, is consistently a lot more controversial: on average in the same time frame, 44% say it’s acceptable compared to 47% who say it’s wrong.
[Read more: I’m not anti-sex. I’m anti-crisis pregnancy.]
Example 2: Married women seeking abortion
If anti-abortion activism was about punishing people for certain sexual decisions — and not about the lives lost in abortion — then pro-lifers would care far less, maybe not at all, about women in stable, happy marriages getting abortions. Under the “controlling sex lives” theory, these women got pregnant while having the “right” kind of sex, so what’s the problem?
Yet, in reality, the pro-life reaction to happily married women aborting is almost the opposite: they are often more heartbroken, frustrated, or horrified by such abortions. Happily married women are more likely than women in toxic relationships or single women to have the support needed to care for the child, and so, to some, the abortion seems even more egregious.
Example 3: IVF parents seeking abortion
But wait, you say. Opposition to abortion isn’t about enforcing married vs. unmarried sex. It’s about enforcing couples being “open to procreation.” Let’s suppose that’s true. In that case, pro-lifers should be particularly supportive of couples who have struggled with infertility choosing IVF instead.
Counterpoint 1: They are not. Many pro-lifers are skeptical of and even directly opposed to IVF, in large part because of the many embryos discarded in the process, but for other reasons as well. Read more here.
Counterpoint 2: Similar to Example 2 above, if a couple conceives in IVF and then decides they want to abort, pro-lifers aren’t more accepting of those abortions compared to the abortions of couples who don’t want kids. It isn’t as if, as long as the couple really wants to have children overall, the abortion in this particular case is fine.
We’ve previously discussed a couple who conceived in IVF only to learn the child wasn’t genetically related to them (likely due to lab error/malfeasance), and so they aborted just shy of their state’s 24 week limit. The pro-life responses were decidedly not along the lines of “Well, I get it. They want a child related to them. At least they’re trying to have children.” Instead, like with Example 2 above, the responses were heartbreak and horror.
Example 4: Adoption
Pro-lifers get a lot of criticism (in my opinion, some of it rightly earned) for being glib about adoption. When pregnant women express fears or concerns about how they will take care of this child or how the child will affect other parts of their lives, some pro-lifers are quick to respond “Oh, you can place for adoption. Why not adoption? Adoption is an option.” And so on.
If anything, this eagerness to suggest adoption underscores the fact that the goal here is not to try to force women to become mothers, or to “punish them with a child” for having sex. You don’t want to be a mother? Okay! Just please don’t abort the child.
Example 5: Men paying child support
If opposition to abortion were about misogyny, and specifically about punishing women (but not men) for their sexual decisions, pro-lifers would oppose requiring men to pay child support.
First, under the worldview where outcomes that negatively impact you are “punishments,” child support would be “punishing” men for having sex. Second, child support would be helping and supporting women who had sex and so, on this worldview, would be mitigating their “punishment” (the stress and struggle of parenthood) for having sex. So, on aggregate, child support would undermine the alleged goal of subjugating and punishing women.
And yet, like Americans in general, pro-lifers are very supportive of men having to pay child support. (In fact, far more pro-lifers favor than oppose child support beginning at conception.) Again, the point here isn’t to subjugate women or to “punish” anyone for having sex. The point is to take care of the children resulting from sex.
[Read more: Child support]