The more I think about this story, the more I think it may end up being a really big deal. As has been extensively covered here, opposition to abortion with the Christian right has been grounded since basically forever in an authoritarian desire to impose the patriarchal family by force, and punish anything that could lead to dissent. And therefore, opposition to abortion tends to come with a whole host of beliefs about sexual and reproductive rights—disapproval of cohabitation and premarital sex, hostility to contraception (especially for unmarried people), disapproval of homosexuality, anxiety about divorce. But of course, there’s a game that the Christian right has to play with its people, who are naturally going to struggle between their desire to live by the rules and their desires to be healthy human beings who actually derive enjoyment from life and sexuality. So they do things like look the other way on divorce while doubling down on gay marriage, knowing that gay people are a small minority and feeling like they’re easier to pick on than straight married people. Abortion, while common, is also hidden and therefore super easy to grandstand about. But contraception is a little more trouble. On the whole, the anti-choice movement has been opposed to contraception—especially for young women or unmarried women—but mostly they try to keep quiet about it, knowing how popular it is.
And now the National Association of Evangelicals has come out in support of contraception, which is a huge step in terms of giving in and choosing reality instead of continuing to grand stand about the evils of sex no matter what the pragmatic consequences, including a high abortion rate. For those of us who were skeptical that the “common ground” strategy could get anti-choice activists to relent on the subject of contraception, this could be evidence that we were overly cynical. Let’s hope. A quote:
The difference between abortion rights supporters — many of whom provide contraception — and abortion opponents has been that many abortion opponents have also opposed contraception and even sex education, which can help reduce unplanned pregnancy. Now the NAE is officially adopting the position that contraception and other services will help reduce the number of abortions by preventing pregnancy in the first place.
They even adopted a stance that anti-choicers usually decry as radical.
But the NAE resolution sends a hopeful message about working together toward a common goal that every baby should be wanted and loved.
Emphasis mine. Most of the time, the anti-choice movement acts like you’re proposing the Holocaust when you say, “Every child a wanted child,” which leads me to think they think no woman would ever really choose to be a mother if not forced. I had hopes that the recession would be a wake-up call on this issue. People lose their stomach for forced childbirth during hard times, because the number of people hurt by the cruelty grows tremendously, and sadly also because it ends up reminding folks that men have reasons to want to limit family size, too. (And if men want something, it’s just easier to get.) But I didn’t expect the wake-up call to be such a dramatic statement.
Of course, this is just the NAE. Who knows how much impact this will have? The activist anti-choice movement probably won’t move an inch. As Robin at RH Reality Check noted, LifeSite News can barely conceal how pissed they are about the NAE’s official pro-contraception stance. And this despite the fact that it’s downplayed in the original press release, put next to the usual nonsense that implies that there are ways to dramatically change the abortion rate through post-conception interventions. (Anti-choicers and common ground folks continue to live in hope that a huge percentage of women getting abortions simply never heard they could go through nine months of pregnancy and often wrenching emotional pain to give away their babies—and that if they just find out about this alluring option, they’ll choose it instead of a quick outpatient procedure.) The question is, will the NAE taking this stance impact anything?
Well, maybe. I think major evangelical political figures like Sarah Palin will continue to do what they usually do, which is to be generally anti-contraception without coming out and saying it, instead relying on platitudes about how abstinence is the only answer. But the delicate tension between the aspirational anti-contraception patriarchal morality and the brutal reality of contraception’s popularity might be upset by this announcement. We’ll just have to wait and see.
In the meantime, I want to highlight this comment by Thomas at Feministe, in response to Jill blogging about how 38% of Americans claim premarital sex is wrong, though only 5% wait until marriage.
In the West where Christian theology has had a huge impact, original sin has a huge place in the way cultural conservatism regards people, extending through Calvin’s view of people as essentially worthless and deserving an eternity of suffering.
Folks that think that people are awful and can’t ever be reliably good don’t believe in making rules that people can actually follow. That would be a waste of time. Instead, they make rules that are merely aspirational. They don’t see these rules as being unrealistic, or at least not any more unrealistic than any other set of rules. It’s the symbolic setting of the bar that matters, not whether people achieve it.
This is unlikely to change. Evangelicals condemn premarital sex, and start fucking before marriage younger than almost anyone else. They condemn divorce and divorce at really high rates. But while blathering about the evils of X, Y, and Z they sometimes accept the reality of X, Y, and Z and are willing to accept that it happens. As far as I’m concerned, a moral system more interested in saying than doing is useless, but at least it means that they’re not always going to have the stomach to stand by the consequences of their irrational, impractical “morality”. The high teenage pregnancy rates in red states is probably fueling this new willingness to be realistic. Let’s just hope it sticks.