Why conservatives need the abortion issue

13 Apr

What is it about the abortion issue that makes it so popular with social conservatives? Do they really feel that equality between women and men and the act of a woman choosing not to bear a child represents a total meltdown of social order?


But beyond that fear, here’s my other theory: abortion is essentially the only issue on the social conservative platform that has at least the appearance of being about something warm and fuzzy: babies. “Save the children” is a simple battle cry that implies you still have some actionable human feeling for others.

Can you think of any other such warm and fuzzy issues on the social conservatives’ agenda?

Let’s ponder… poverty is the result of laziness, minorities and immigrants are ruining America, unemployed people aren’t trying hard enough, gays are unnatural and do not deserve equal citizenship, Muslims are evil and should be persecuted, global warming is fake and the environment is underexploited, tolerance is code for “homosexual agenda,” teachers are paid too much…

In general, American social conservatism reflects a fair amount of hostility towards the basic well-being of others.

So here we have abortion. It is the sole demonstrable political way in which conservatives show ardent positive feelings for abstract “others,” which perhaps tellingly are not yet actual individuals (and thus exempt from the hostility).

How did I get started on this? I saw this blog post in the National Review Online by Michael J. New:

What is frustrating for pro-lifers is that mainstream media outlets are always very quick to publicize research that calls into question whether obtaining an abortion increases a woman’s risk of psychological problems. In addition to the Daily Telegraph story, the Washington Post ran two separate articles this winter about research purporting to show that abortion does not pose a risk to the mental health of women.

During the past 12 months, studies finding evidence that abortion does pose a mental-health risk (e.g., of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse) have appeared in a number of peer-reviewed journals including The Journal of Reproductive and Infant PsychologyJournal of Pregnancy, and The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. There is also a substantial body of peer-reviewed literature about the negative impact that abortion has on the health of women. Unfortunately, this research is all but ignored by the mainstream media.

It goes almost without saying that Mr. New is not genuinely writing about women’s mental health. He’s writing about the medically imaginary effects on women for refusing to share his conviction. It mostly reflects the conservative belief that people who are suffering do so as a consequence of their actions. But he can frame it as an omission by the “mainstream media” couched in concern for uninformed women who don’t carry pregnancies to term against their better interests.

Here is the one safe, warm space where conservatives feel they can justifiably step in as the protectors of all “others,” not just themselves and their own (i.e. fighting to protect their “right” to not have their children educated against anti-gay bullying in school). Those anonymous “others” are both as familiar as the concept of babies and as conveniently distant as the abstractions of “freedom” and “God” since they are not real human individuals that require concrete, flawed interaction.

It also allows them to create a binary where women contemplating abortion are selfish and they are the opposite, since there is no sacrifice for anti-abortion foes in saying they want babies carried to term. It is nothing but unadulterated high ground free of charge.

If Mr. New were fair, he might have mentioned that parenting holds many of the same psychological perils that he imagines abortion to possess: last December, this study of over 13,000 adults showed that parenthood is linked to depression. Another study links depression to low-income parenting and lack of social support. This study observes that young women with children have a hard time not becoming overweight. But even mentioning that kind of research would possibly imply we should concurrently care about the health of parents if they’re struggling, and of course the children they’re caring for.

And we know how conservatives feel about helping everyone get access to affordable health care.


One Response to “Why conservatives need the abortion issue”


  1. Women have more degrees, blah blah, this is about men « pukingponies - April 27, 2011

    […] the people who are paid to be insane about women’s advancement are still in their caves still busily formulating some […]

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