Kristin Luker’s Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood 6: Worldviews

In my latest reading of Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood, Kristin Luker discussed the difference of worldview between pro-lifers and pro-choicers.  She doesn’t mean that all pro-lifers or all pro-choicers adopt the worldview that she ascribes to them, but rather she notes trends that she observed in her interviews with activists.  So please keep in mind that what follows is not absolute, but it may describe general trends, at least during the 1980’s, when Luker wrote this book.

According to Luker, pro-lifers believe in moral rules, even though they don’t perfectly live up to them, since there are pro-life women who have had abortions.  Pro-choicers, by contrast, don’t have as rigid a view regarding morality, and they make moral decisions by looking at competing claims and what’s good for people involved.  Luker states that pro-choicers have a New Testament approach to ethics, one that subordinates rules to love.  For example, pro-choicers don’t think that putting a child up for adoption is preferable to abortion, for the former would put the child into a world where he or she might not be loved or receive adequate care.

On a related note, pro-choicers regard personhood as social, and so they maintain that one becomes a person at birth, when one first socially interacts with people.  Pro-lifers, by contrast, are frightened by this suggestion, for they regard personhood as innate rather than socially-conditioned, and they fear that valuing people based upon their contribution to society is similar to Nazism.

At the same time, according to Luker, pro-choicers are not for women carelessly getting pregnant and having multiple abortions.  Luker states that they dislike this because the women had other alternatives—-such as birth control—-and multiple abortions usurp “the potential rights of the embryo by trivializing them” (page 180).  I can’t say that I entirely understand the pro-choice position here, for, if abortion is acceptable, what would be wrong with having more than one abortion?  Something tells me that even pro-choicers are seeing the embryo as something other than a blob of tissue.  But this position calls to my mind a conversation that I was having with pro-choicers back in my conservative college days.  A pro-choicer said that she was against abortion personally but did not think that the law should ban abortion, and so I asked her why she was against abortion personally.  Her response was that abortion was too easy of a solution—-that sex and pregnancy should be considered as more weighty than an attitude of “Oh, I’m pregnant again—-time to have another abortion!” would suggest.

Pro-lifers regard sex as sacred because it produces children, whereas pro-choicers regard sex as sacred in terms of intimacy.  Pro-choicers also think that sex should not only be for procreative purposes, as Luker says on pages 176-177: “From their point of view, if the purpose of sex were limited to reproduction, no rational Creator would have arranged things so that an individual can have hundreds or even thousands of acts of intercourse in a lifetime, with millions of sex cells—-egg and sperm—-always at the ready.”  Regarding the sanctity of sex, this, too, reminds me of a discussion that I had with a pro-choicer in my college days.  I was saying that people should wait until they are married to have sex because anything else would cheapen sex and its sanctity, and one lady wondered what exactly was so sacred about sex: she saw it primarily as a physical act!  She converted to Islam sometime after that discussion, so I’m curious as to whether her view is different, now.

Pro-lifers think that God has a plan, and so they believe that an unexpected pregnancy is part of that plan.  Pro-choicers, by contrast, are less religious (or are spiritual but not religious), and they don’t believe that any ills of society are God’s will, which is why they believe that it’s important for human beings to stop them.  This, presumably, would include preventing a child from growing up unwanted.  This debate recalled to my mind Richard Mourdock’s comments during the 2012 elections.

On whether or not Luker’s characterizations gel with my experience, I’d say not entirely.  On the issue of abortion, yes, pro-lifers probably have a rigid sense of rules whereas pro-choicers are more open to situational ethics, but what about other issues?  On a number of issues, it seems as if the Left is absolutist whereas the Right conditions ethics on the situation.  I think of the use of torture in interrogation techniques, or funding violent groups to fight Communism, ideas that the Right has championed.  And, regarding sex, I think that conservatives, too, value sex as a means of intimacy.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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