We have an ongoing debate in this country about abortion. For those of you unfamiliar with the topic, abortion is the intentional termination of a human pregnancy. Usually, an abortion occurs when a fetus is about a month old, but it can be done much later in the development of a fetus.
Why is this such a hot topic? Well, some people say abortion should be made illegal (pro-life) because it is essentially murdering babies before they are born. In this line of thinking, a baby becomes a human at conception, so aborting a fetus means murder.
Other people say abortion should be a legal and available choice for women with unwanted pregnancies (pro-choice), because there are many reasons to terminate a pregnancy, rape being the leading reason. In this thought process, a fetus isn’t a human until a later (vaguely determined) stage of pregnancy, or even birth according to many.
This issue has become a black and white– well, red and blue– issue. It is either one or the other. It has divided politicians into two general camps: Republicans are the pro-life, and Democrats the pro-choice. It has also caused social partitions in other areas of our culture.
But here’s a secret: It doesn’t even matter. Whether or not abortion is legal doesn’t matter. Whether it should be legal or illegal doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you are Christian or Atheist. It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican or Democrat. Pro-life or pro-choice. It does not matter.
Unprotected sex happens. Rape happens. Failed birth control happens. Unwanted pregnancies happen.
Look at these numbers from an Orlando abortion clinic website:
- “Nearly half of all pregnancies among American women are unintended,”
- “4 in 10 of [unintended pregnancies] are terminated by abortion.”
- “22% of all pregnancies end in abortion.“
Abortion happens. Illegal abortions happen just as often as legal abortion, meaning lawmakers have very little impact on whether abortion happens. Abortion, especially when conducted illegally, is very hazardous to the mother. From the same source as above: “One woman dies every 7 minutes around the world due to an unsafe illegal abortion.” So, to start with, the legality of abortion doesn’t truly matter, except that decriminalizing abortion does make it safer.
But, the real problem here isn’t abortion. The problem is really pregnancy prevention. Why would we need to terminate fetuses? Why do abortions exist? Because we have pregnant women that don’t want a child.
Pro-choice is often construed as a woman’s choice to have an abortion, and abortion being controversial, we pick sides. But “pro-choice” should really be about a woman’s choice in having sex. In that case, it would probably be far less controversial. Outside of failed birth control, unprotected sex is the cause of pregnancy.
So let’s talk more about women’s choice in having sex. Why are women having unprotected sex that ends in an unwanted pregnancy?
First, women (especially young teenage women) and men are under-educated about sex in general. Second, the absence of quality sex education has caused our society to create a perverted, overly-glamorous sexual culture that pressures both men and women into a dishonoring sexual stereotypes. Third, women’s choice is many times blatantly removed: Rape and domestic abuse. Fourth, the definition of marriage and family has broken down in the last century, making it more difficult for women to raise children. All of these issues are related to each other, and the result? Abortion.
Let me break these out a little more. Author Nancy Jo Sales has been conducting research and writing about teenagers for 20 years, and last month in an interview with NPR, she discussed our society’s current sexual culture. After looking into these apps, Sales talks about the increasing levels of sexual, almost pornographic, imagery and the glamorization of sex on social media apps. Today, social media apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and Vine are commonly in use by kids and teens as young or 11 or 13. In school, sex education may begin around the same time. However, school-based sex education is not always comprehensive, and is not as fun or attractive to a teenager as a social media app.
Consider this story Nancy Sales tells:
“[My] book opens with a girl talking about being asked for nudes by a boy. The boy just simply sends her an Instagram message that says, “Send noodz”… She’s a 13-year-old girl. She doesn’t really know this boy very well. He’s not her boyfriend. She doesn’t have an intimate relationship with him… We’re talking about nudes and sexting… because kids are watching porn. You know, there’s multiple studies that say that they are… And yet, nobody really talks about it or talks about the fact that it has an effect on how they behave and… what they think about sex and sexuality and how they deal with each other. And there’s really no guidelines for girls about how to react to all this… I think back to when I was a girl and… the things that would come up in your life that were difficult or troubling or whatever. There was always a Judy Blume book for it… There’s no Judy Blume book for that.
“There’s nothing for them to turn to to know… how do I react to this? This picture popped up on my phone. How do I respond to this – that some boy that I barely know is asking for a nude picture of me? Should I be flattered? Should I be outraged? Should I send it? What if I don’t send it? Uh-oh. What is he going to say about me if I do or if I don’t?”
As kids are growing up into our society, they are first exposed to sex through social media, where, as Sale says, “images of girls and objectified images of girls are… normalized.” Modern social media images are, more and more, being influenced by pornography, and planting a distorted view of sex in the minds of young teens.
Here is another potent story from Sales’ interview:
“When it comes to social media and girls… likes and followers in a quantitative sense have become… [a] popularity contest… there’s now an actual number of people or followers or likes that you can get to quantify how good you are, how interesting you are, how popular you are, and this is a new thing…
“I talked to an 18-year-old girl who was talking about looking at Tinder with her older brother… She’s an 18-year-old and she’s not on Tinder but her older brother is… She was struck by the way in which the boys’ and men’s pictures were very different from the girls’. Guys tend to have a picture like… they’re standing on a mountain looking like they’ve climbed the mountain, or they’re holding a big fish or… they’re doing something manly. Or in their car – there’s a lot of pictures in their cars… But the girls’ pictures… tend to be very different. They tend to be a lot more sexualized… a lot of it is this idea of are you hot or are you not and this kind of binary idea of a woman’s attractiveness.”
This is the society that teenagers are entering. Men and women have overly-exaggerated stereotypes of hyper-masculinity and -sexuality.
The choice is not about abstinence anymore. The choice is now to be over-the-top sexy and give it away or feel like an outcast. In addition, young boys are under the same pressure. In their case, the choice is to be overly-masculine, dishonoring, and disrespectful, or be uncool. Here is another example from Sales’ interview:
“I was in some situations with girls… that I just couldn’t believe… what the atmosphere was like – in terms of the kind normalized harassment – you know, degrading comments… this kind of [thing]. I think a lot of people are not aware of how the atmosphere has really changed in social situations where… teenagers are together in terms of how the girls are treated and how the boys behave… This is a kind of sexism and misogyny being played out in real time in this really kind of extreme way that I was really appalled by. And when I would talk to girls about it, I would say, ‘Wow – what’s this all about?’ And then they would just say, ‘Oh, you know, that’s just what they’re like.’ They think that they can do it… Boys now think they can do anything and say anything and it’s OK, and it’s not OK.”
After knowing this, is it so hard to imagine the number of unwanted pregnancies we have? How can a young girl choose to govern her own body when faced with this kind of culture? Our culture has removed female choice from the social vocabulary for men and women alike, starting with simple interactions. Gender stereotypes have now become so engrossed in sexuality, that there isn’t really a way out for young girls.
Now, the statistics on abortion look more reasonable. But, abortions are still the symptom of the problem, and not the cause.
Finally, look at marriage and family. The modern-day landscape for
“family” looks dreary at best. In what kind of conditions would a young girl choose to birth a baby instead of abortion? In the context of a committed family.
Children raised by two loving, committed parents are almost always better off than those raised by a single parent. Being a single mother is one of the most difficult things in our world– having to be a mom, run a household, and make a living is a lot to juggle. Couples are not as committed to each other as they used to be. Couples don’t get married anymore, they simply move in together. Married couples get divorce more often. The stability that a committed, solid marriage provides is no longer an option for many young women.
Religious views aside, if unmarried boyfriend and girlfriend couples stuck together forever and always, committed for life, perhaps marriage would be unnecessary. Whether you believe that marriage was instituted by God, or if you believe marriage was a social construct that evolved to keep us all in line, marriage still has an extremely valuable social function, especially for today’s world. Divorce and adultery are not sad because God frowns on them. Divorce and adultery are sad because children need the stability of life-long, committed marriages and partnerships in which to grow.
The red and blue issue of abortion is really a symptom of this cocktail or problems our culture has created. The problem is bigger than murdering babies. The difference between murdering babies versus terminating a fetus actually does not matter, because many times abortion is the only positive choice a woman can make.
What matters is why we have lost track of the value of life-long marriage in our society. What matters is why women feel pressured into being sexual objects, and feel like they don’t have a choice until after they get pregnant. What matters is why men feel pressured into treating women with dishonor and disrespect, why they feel like harassment and rape is okay. What matters is why 13-year-olds are sending 15-year-olds nude pictures of themselves to boys without their parents knowing anything. What matters is why 15-year-olds are asking little girls to send them pornographic pictures.
What matters is why pro-choice is about abortion, and not about our children.
- Emphasis added.
- “Abortion Stats” Orlando Women’s Center. 29 Feb 2016.
- “Teen Girls And Social Media: A Story Of ‘Secret Lives’ And Misogyny.” Terry Gross and Nancy Jo Sales. Fresh Air, NPR. 29 Feb 2016.