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Why Choose Abortion?

In a circa 1983 brochure published by the Moral Majority, a conservative, anti-abortion organization founded in 1979, Rev. Jerry Falwell describes his base as “made up of millions of Americans […] who are deeply concerned about the moral decline of our nation, and who are sick and tired of the way many amoral and secular humanists and other liberals are destroying the traditional family and moral values on which our nation was built”26. This descriptive statement very clearly pits Falwell and his followers against a society they see as overwhelmingly secular. Falwell blames cultural secularization for the “moral decline” of the United States, maintaining that the only valid moral code is one based on Christian doctrine. Because they see the United States as a Christian Nation, conservative Christians “refuse to face the fact that the ancient moral ethos reflected in scripture is not always noble by our [modern] moral standards and has been superseded by a more adequate morality” that is more appropriately dispatched in a multireligious society27. By attempting to force scriptural moral
codes onto a nation that is not Christian, organizations such as the Moral Majority, which dissolved in the late 1980s, fail to acknowledge either modernization or individual choice as valid philosophies.

The organizers of Moral Majority and other organizations that made up the new Religious Right might have chosen any number of issues as their central concern. These groups argue that their positions are derived directly from the Christian scriptures. Yet they choose their issues quite carefully. In addition to opposing the legalization of abortion, the Religious Right supports the State of Israel because of Christian Millennialist teachings and opposes the Federal Department of Education because it provides secular education and curricula do not contain Christian doctrine. Later, opposition to homosexuality became a major issue. They do not, however, oppose liberalized divorce laws, even though the Christian Bible is far more critical of divorce than abortion or homosexuality28. Perhaps the Religious Right refused to address divorce because their own divorce rates are indistinguishable from national divorce rates, which indicates that in this area conservative Christians have accepted some aspects of the secular marriage model29.

Some Religious Right organizations have embraced opposition to divorce as one of their issues, though always as one of several areas of focus. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family states that its mission is to “cooperate with the Holy Spirit in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible by nurturing and defending the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide”30. The organization lists six guiding beliefs:

1. The Preeminence of Evangelism
2. The Permanence of Marriage
3. The Value of Children
4. The Sanctity of Human Life
5. The Importance of Social Responsibility
6. The Value of Male and Female

Issues relating to marriage, family, and children are prominent in Focus on the Family, which is in line with the name of the organization and the greater focus of the Religious Right as a whole. Procreation is considered a fundamental part of marriage and human purpose. Both men and women have God-given purpose, both within the family and in society at large. Responsibilities within the family are gender specific, as each gender has “unique and complementary qualities,” while “social responsibility” is both within the family and in society at large. Focus on the Family argues that their purpose is to “protect [family, church, and government] against destructive social influences” through active political involvement and Christian organizing31. The social responsibilities of men and women are similar, as they both relate to specific family values, but differ based on the belief that women are inherently more invested in children and home life32.

The focus of Christian opposition to reproductive choice centered on women. Men are rarely, if ever mentioned in their rhetoric. Although the Religious Right arose in the wake of the Sexual Revolution, which made sexual freedom accessible to both men and women, it had previously been women who suffered the most from sexual stigma. Both daughters and sons were, on the surface, supposed to be chaste until marriage, but women bore far harsher consequences if they were sexually active, and their sexual activity was likely to be more obvious if they accidentally became pregnant. The Religious Right inexorably ties female sexuality to moral decay; to whit, the Christian Voice argued that “the unmistakable signs of moral decay are all around us: Sexual promiscuity and perversion, […] legalized abortion, the disparaging of marriage, family, and the role of motherhood […] are rampant in our schools, our government, and even in many churches”33. Note that the moral decay is tied specifically to the
declining role of motherhood, but not fatherhood. Thus, women are made responsible for moral uprightness, and it is their sexual freedom, and not men’s, that causes “America’s rapid decline”34. The view that women are responsible for moral decline is complicated by the fact that no modern Christian can truly see changes in sexual moors from outside the his own context (I use his in this case because the majority of anti-abortion leaders are male).

Sexuality, specifically abortion was one of the last areas in which Christian influence exercised control over public morality:

“[S]ecular norms displaced earlier Christian influence on public morality in the political and economic spheres [throughout the 20th century], [but] biological fertility increasingly remained an unchallenged image for God’s direct action in human life. Because the birth process seemed so ‘natural’ and ‘mysterious,’ it remained sacralized long after most human activity had ceased to be understood as accessible to direct divine intervention”<sup35.

Modern medicine removed much of the mystery associated with the reproductive process. Although it was still clearly natural, the processes of fertilization, implantation, and fetal growth could be monitored visually as doctors began to use ultrasounds in the second half of the 20th century. These developments made pregnancy and birth more science than religion, and took away much of the sacralized mystery.

Part 6

26. Steve Bruce, The Rise and Fall of the New Christian Right: Conservative Protestant Politics in America 1978-1988 (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1988) p. 81.
27. Beverly Wildung Harrison, Our Right to Choose: Toward a New Ethic of Abortion (Boston: Beacon Press 1983) p. 71.
28. Balmer p. 69.
29. The Barna Group, “New Marriage and Divorce Statistics Released,” 31 March 2008. (Retrieved 2 May 2010).
30. Focus on the Family, “Focus on the Family’s Foundational Values.” (Retrieved 3 May 2010).
31. Ibid.
32. Focus on the Family, “How do Men and Women Differ Emotionally?” . (Retrieved 3 May
33. Harrison p. 59.
34. Harrison p. 59.
35. Harrison p. 66.