Isolating Women and Encouraging Jerks
by Rachel MacNair
I recently received an email from a fellow Quaker in response to my emails on the availability of insights at prolifequakers.org. I think she made points that are important to address.
I mainly focus on her statement: “Preventing a woman who needs one from having an abortion is in many cases a more violent act than an abortion.”
Point 1: What Abortion Availability Causes
My observation is that advocates of women having access to abortion tend to be considering the woman in isolation. They see her situation as a given, without taking into account something very important: is the ready availability of abortion a part of what causes the situation?
At the extreme, we have cases of rape and incest – many people who otherwise oppose abortion will make an exception for pregnancies resulting from these causes. Yet we need to take into account that men inclined to commit rape, pedophilia, and incest are keenly aware that the abortion clinic is handy. While in theory those taking under-age girls there should be reported to law enforcement, in actuality, perpetrators often navigate the system with ease. And know in advance that they can.
For some cases where sexual abuse went on after the abortion(s), see Abortion Facilitates Sex Abuse: Documentation. More generally, in How Abortion is Useful for Rape Culture, I ask the question (and give a case as an illustration): “What does having abortion handy do to men who have a sense of male entitlement to female bodies?” For a movie with a realistic story in which the director didn’t catch the implications, I offer the implication I saw: The Message of “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”: Abortion Gets Sexual Predators Off the Hook.
But we don’t need to go to that extreme, since there are plenty of men having a sense of male entitlement in entirely consensual adult relationships. Consider this tweet still available online from a famous comedian several years ago, after the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) had decided to knock down some abortion regulations in Texas:
Someone who feels a sense of male privilege over women’s bodies, writing only to male readers presumed to have that same sense? What does this say about the connection of abortion to women’s genuine rights?
And if her situation is that the father of the child is vehemently against her continuing the pregnancy and will resist paying child support? This circumstance isn’t merely a given; abortion makes it more likely. As Julianne Wiley put it:
There will always be men who, at any given moment, want sex but don’t want a child; some of these men will get women pregnant. But sexual intercourse now implies for each of them – exactly nothing, no responsibility.
It’s only the woman’s subsequent and separate option that determines everything. That being the case, why should any man feel he’s acquired an obligation if the woman decides to give birth? Because he deposited sperm in the woman’s vagina? Don’t be medieval.
Am I predicting that the elevation of sexual autonomy to the status of a “right,” coupled with the availability of abortion, will cut men loose entirely? That paternal responsibility will sink to zero? That men are not only going to take off, but feel justified about it?
Hell, no. I’m not predicting that. I’m reporting it. I’ve done my share of women’s shelter work. I saw it all the time.
Importantly, thousands of women who’ve had abortions have joined the pro-life movement, and hundreds of people who used to work for abortion facilities have as well. That’s pretty amazing when you consider what they have to admit to in order to join the movement.
And the movement wouldn’t have lasted this long, and had the successes it had, if this weren’t true. If a merely philosophical view on when life begins were all that were driving it, it would have folded long ago. It’s because activists keep hearing stories from women that often include feeling trapped in their situations, traps which would not have been there had abortion not been so readily available.
Point 2: Just War and Pacifism
Since this argument comes from a Quaker, from whom a pacifist stance would normally be expected, I point out the parallel to the just war theory. A common argument for just war theory says, “Allowing people to be oppressed is in many cases a more violent act than a war.”
She further says: “I also believe that peace is not simply the absence of violence. To have true peace we need justice and freedom from oppression for all.”
That’s a basic understanding of pacifism. We oppose not only direct violence, but also structural violence – poverty, pollution, and other forms of harming people as a side-effect of the way societal structures are set up.
She develops the thought: “Maybe in an ideal world all women who become pregnant would choose to carry their pregnancies to term without coercion or fear. However, that is not the world we live in.”
That is quintessentially the argument for “just war.” In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have people attacking and oppressing others. But that’s not the world we live in. So, the argument goes, we need a “strong defense.”
Pacifists are aware of the problem, but come up with a variety of nonviolent solutions. A major insight of pacifism is that while nonviolent solutions often take more time and effort in the short term, they work better in the long run. The simplicity of the quick violent solution is deceptive because the damage lasts over time.
Advocates of just war theory think that pacifists are naïve to think that there aren’t times when violence is necessary to protect the innocent. Pacifists think that just war advocates are naïve to think that wars can be done within the strict limits the doctrine sets. It’s in the nature of wars to get out of hand. This is how violence works. Once violence has its foot in the door, it snowballs.
Point 1 above flows from this point: I think abortion availability advocates are naïve to think that, once violence is proposed as a problem-solver, it will stay strictly limited to women who want it. That other people in her life won’t try to push her into it or blame her for not doing it.
I think it’s also naïve to think it won’t spread to other forms of violence as a problem-solver. Are those men who have sex in the knowledge that their own child could die because of it going to remain limited in using violence to solve problems?
I think the image of the woman alone being the one who decides whether or not an abortion happens is about as realistic as any Hollywood movie where the good guys win all the violent confrontations and the bad guys always lose. You’d be more inclined to support that violence if you believed this. But that’s not the world we live in.
For more posts from Rachel MacNair engaging arguments from those who favor abortion availability, see:
For more on pro-life Quakers, see the website of our member group: