One of the great ironies of American society is that most abortions in the U.S. are caused by conservative Christians. Read the statistics: Forty nine percent of pregnancies in this country are unintended, a rate that has been painfully stable for almost 30 years. Almost half of those pregnancies end in abortion. Or, to turn it around, over 90% of U.S. abortions are the result of accidental pregnancy. U.S. rates of unwanted pregnancy and abortion far exceed any other country with similar economic development. So does our rate of religiosity. The fact that we are outliers on both is not a coincidence.
Three aspects of conservative Christianity promote abortion: pro-natalism, an obsession with sexual sin, and an emphasis on righteousness over compassion.
- Biblical Christianity is not pro life. It is not even pro human life. Steven Pinker recently estimated that the Old Testament alone describes 1.2 million deaths at the hand of Yahweh or his servants. It is, however, pro-birth. Be fruitful and multiply. (Genesis 1:28) Women will be saved through childbearing. (1 Timothy 2:15). Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant reformation, put it in his own words: “If a woman grows weary and at last dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her only die from bearing; she is there to do it." Christian competitive breeding, a strategy for increasing adherents, is at the heart of the Catholic anti-contraceptive stance and the Protestant Quiverfull movement.
- Mama’s baby, papa’s maybe. We all know what it means. By the time the Abrahamic religions emerged, the male desire to invest in only their own offspring had taken the form of men owning women. You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17) Women caught in adultery (or missing their hymens) were killed by the ancient Hebrews, just as they are by conservative Muslims today. The Christian obsession with sexual sin or rather with female purity has produced the American virginity myth. In contrast to more secular, open societies, American teens typically don’t seek contraception for a year after becoming sexually active. Contraception would make them guilty of the sin of premeditated sex.
- 38,000. That’s the number of Christian denominations. Ever wondered why? Traditional Christianity is about right belief, orthodoxy, not about right living. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. Acts 16:31 Contrast this with the central virtue of Buddhism, ahimsa, or non-harm. “Catholic” (meaning universal) and “Orthodox” (meaning right belief) are competing turf stakes from one of the first splits after Christianity beat out paganism. But schism and fracture are just one consequence of beliefism. Many believers would rather be right than in community. They’d rather be right than compassionate. They’d rather be right than solve problems. They would rather oppose abortion than prevent it.
The numbers are in. The most effective way to reduce abortion is to de-stigmatize sexual education, de-mythologize virginity, and invest in broad access to the most effective contraceptives available. In the secular Netherlands, that formula has knocked abortion down to 7 per 1000 women annually, one third the U.S. rate. So why does the Religious Right keep their focus on restrictive laws instead of contraceptive access? Why do they promote person-rights for zygotes, in contradiction to the very essence of personhood? Why do they oppose medically accurate sex ed? Why do they pledge to defund Title X family planning? Because they’d rather be right than solve problems.
And because abortion isn’t really what interests them. They want purity. They want righteousness. They want designated breeders. Even those who don’t overtly promote more births are unable to see that competitive breeding was baked into the desert religions from the beginning.
The world is on the cusp of a contraceptive revolution. Compared to the best birth control available to your parents (the Pill), latest generation long-acting reversible contraceptives, also known as LARCs, drops accidental pregnancy by 10 to 50 fold. Each year one in twelve women on the Pill gets pregnant. Over a lifetime, that’s two or three extra pregnancies per woman – unsought children or abortions. With a Mirena IUD or Nexplanon, that drops to one in 500, because a LARC toggles the fertility default to “off.” If that wasn’t enough, some LARC’s also get rid of that messy monthly uncleanness (Leviticus 15:19-24) brought on by Eve’s curse.
Abortion isn’t really what interests them.Someone who wanted to prevent abortions would advocate showcasing LARCs in every teen health class in the country. They would be making sure that the most effective contraceptives available were available to all. They would be more focused on wise childbearing than on virginity. Those who say they are all about ending abortion, don’t—because they aren’t.
This is Trust Women Week, a week to honor the moral and spiritual wisdom that women invest in our reproductive decisions. Join the virtual march. Listen to Deborah or Deb or Angela or Joy tell her abortion story at the 1 in 3 campaign. If you are ready, tell yours. And spread the word!
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.