Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about something once said, somewhat surprisingly, by Jordan Peterson. On an episode of the Femsplainers podcast, Peterson made the statement with regards to discussions about abortion, “it is not a very productive discussion because you’re talking about a problem way too late in the sequence of problems. So, by the time the discussion starts to be about abortion, there’s fifty problems that have already emerged that no one has addressed”.
While I maintain that the broader abortion conversation is certainly necessary, I agree with what he’s saying.
When we discuss abortion, it is important to recognize that beneath the phenomenon are underlying issues pervading every nook of the surrounding culture. This includes changing attitudes on sex, sexual expression, identity, marriage, parenting, and even children. There are worldview issues to be aware of. But there are also the real complexities of life which we should never neglect in any conversation. Behind abortion is a realm of more nuanced and complicated conversations to be had and this is perhaps the area where we struggle the most–well, where I struggle the most. I should speak for myself here.
Cultural and individual formation of sexual ethics seems to have a loose connection to positioning with regards to the ethics of abortion. For example, a person who is sex positive might be anti-abortion just as well, at least conceivably. Most of the time, it’s those with traditional or conservative values towards sexual expression, in my experience, who tend to be pro-life. But, the relationship between sexual ethics and positioning on abortion is loose in the sense that there is room for various philosophies on sex to be functionally pro-life because the pro-life position is one primarily concerned with the intentional act of abortion, not sex.
But, the way I see it, we need to talk about sex as well. Peterson makes the observation that “the fundamental problem is how human beings should regulate their sexual behavior.” This is a valid point. Can sex be legitimately treated as a casual activity or is there such a thing moral boundaries beyond the stricture of consent? Should we hold ourselves to a higher standard of sexual morality such that we must take responsibility for the necessary and natural consequences of intercourse? It seems like many want to draw a firm line between a decision to have sex and a decision to have children. Technology has allowed us to do this–Plan B, condoms, vasectomies, abortion, etc. But then the next step in our thinking should be to ask, just because we can, should we draw that line in the first place and with whatever means available to us?
The #sexstrike response to the abortion bills having been passed through the state of Alabama and Georgia, initiated by Alyssa Milano, further suggests that maybe attitudes towards abortion and sexual practice are more closely correlated then I previously imagined. There is after all an obvious logic to it: if you don’t want to be pregnant or have children, don’t have sex. The message attempted to be sent is that we should be able to have sex without being forcibly burdened with its consequences. But, in the end, what resounds is a concession of the winning strategy of abstinence.
With regards to children, it’s disturbing how the argument has turned from “abortion is right because the fetus isn’t human” to “abortion is right because a child shouldn’t have to live if they’re unwanted”. It speaks to the depth of human depravity and unwavering loyalty to self-preserving mechanisms. We saw this argument in an abortion advertisement last year by The Agenda Project (link here). We saw this argument in Jameela Jamil’s more recent testimony. See below.
Is it a total searing of the conscience or a total lack of logical consistency and awareness that would bring a person to make such a statement? It’s wrong in at least two ways. No child should be unwanted and the decision to not want a child is every bit as free a decision as the one to abort. Granted, circumstances are often difficult but difficulty never negated personal freedom or erased our immediate responsibilities. Secondly, that a child is unwanted makes for a hellish justification for killing that child. The message being communicated with this line of reasoning is clear and simply awful.
I think when we have important conversations about abortion, we ought to keep these questions in the back of our mind. I’ve only scratched the surface in attempting to grapple with the bigger picture with regards to abortion. We must also continuously remind ourselves that if we’re truly pro-life, we ought to be not just willing but enthusiastic about providing practical, tangible support for women, expectant or not, who are in a state of crisis. This requires us to listen, pay attention, and act. It is good to dig deeper and to consider the underlying concerns in which the perceived need for abortion as a way out is rooted.