Abortion - The Politics of Sexual Control

Sex, Power, and Partisanship: How Evolutionary Science Makes Sense of Our Political Divide - Hector A. Garcia 2019

The Politics of Sexual Control

Research finds that the availability of contraception stems the use of abortion as a means of birth control.40 Yet political conservatives, far more often than political liberals, tend to oppose both birth control and abortion. The issue of abortion is complicated. One factor making abortion a complex and emotionally charged topic is evolutionary—the profound human empathy for children. Protecting children is central to our survival, especially in the face of human offspring's epic stretch in dependency. Debates as to how many cells constitute a full human aside, when embryos are framed as human offspring—which they often are for political, rather than scientific, reasons—the topic of abortion taps into powerful emotions designed to help us protect our young.

In truth, it is difficult to engage in a scientific debate on the right or wrong of abortion. As Malcolm Potts and Thomas Hayden succinctly put it in their book Sex and War, “Religious assertions about when life begins are philosophically parallel to religious beliefs about life after death. They are both strongly held by different groups, but they go beyond the realm of science to prove or disprove.”41 Therefore a foray into the morality of abortion would need to be lengthy but is beyond the scope of this book.

Nevertheless, there is a widely expressed argument on the political Right that access to abortion leads to sexual freedom, the old enemy of males programmed to avoid cuckoldry, which bears some consideration. An excerpt from Conservapedia.com, an “encyclopedic” conservative website (which to date has had over six hundred million views) expresses this connection in plainest terms:

Abortion and promiscuity refers to the liberal trait of using abortion as a way to deal with unwanted pregnancies caused by promiscuous sexual behavior. Due to immoral public school sex “education” many liberal youths view contraception and abortion as a license to engage in unhealthy premarital sexual relationships.42

While religious convictions are often cited for antiabortion stances, the Bible does not comment on when a fetus achieves personhood, nor decree restrictions on abortion. In fact, it may be shocking to learn that in the Old Testament the god of Abraham was described as anything but pro-life. In Numbers (5:11—5:31), for example, God instructs Moses to give women he suspects of having cheated on their husbands poisoned water to make them miscarry—thus eliminating competitor genes. Further, in Hosea, God punishes the Ephraimites for worshipping other gods, which is framed throughout as sexual infidelity: “O Ephraim, thou committest whoredom”43; “They are all adulterers.”44 Here God causes the Ephraimite women to miscarry: “Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit: yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb.”45

Similar disregard for the unborn is seen throughout the Bible, particularly in the context of infidelity. Later in Hosea, Samaria, an ancient city that was considered to be one of God's wives, was also punished for adultery: “Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.”46

There are several points to be taken from these darkly gory narratives. First, again, is that the god of the Abrahamic religions, who conservatives so often cite for their moral guidance on sexuality, was a jealous male god who did not suffer infidelity. Second is that God is purported to actually cause abortions himself, or command his male representatives to cause them. Third, the preponderance of feticide (and infanticide) in the Bible makes the stated biblical reasons for conservative opposition to abortion greatly suspect.

In fact, before Nixon, Democrats and Republicans were relatively more evenly divided on the topic of abortion. Nixon himself initially took a proabortion stance—for instance, in 1970, he authorized all military hospitals to perform abortions—but quickly changed his position at the influence of political strategists in order to secure the Catholic vote during the 1972 presidential election, framing abortion as an issue of religious morality.47 A year later, Nixon revealed his true feelings about abortion on tape. Not only did Nixon reiterate the timeworn male stance that abortions lead to sexual promiscuity, or “permissiveness” as he put it, but he also claimed abortion should be allowed to eliminate the genes of outside races—“There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white.”48 In Nixon's candid words, the importance of controlling women's sexuality in competition with outside races is evident. Whereas the Bible does not explicitly disallow abortions, it certainly emphasizes reproductive competition with the out-group, a sublimated (thus less commonly understood) evolutionary motivation for the Right's pro-life stance.