Joseph Backholm is senior fellow for Biblical worldview and strategic engagement at the Family Research Council. This article appeared in WORLD Magazine on May 8, 2023.
Creating a pro-life culture requires reforming our culture's deceptive view of sex
Fifty years after the Supreme Court’s ominous Roe v. Wade decision, pro-life Americans are celebrating the Dobbs decision that reversed Roe. No longer is the Court pretending the Constitution contains an invisible but fundamental right to kill your preborn children. But in the months that followed that hard-earned victory for life, we have learned that Roe made an impression on the soul of our nation that will not be quickly undone. Indeed, ballot measures in several states have made it clear that building a culture of life will require much more than pro-life political strategy.
Immediately after the repeal of Roe, six states voted on abortion-related issues. Voters in three blue states, California, Michigan, and Vermont, voted to make abortion more accessible. Though disappointing, these outcomes were not surprising. More surprising was the defeat of pro-life measures in red states like Kansas, Kentucky, and Montana. Despite attempts to move in a pro-life direction, voters sided with the abortion industry instead.
What we learned is that there is a significant voting block that will vote for conservative political candidates but also votes to keep abortion legal. Indeed, polling from last summer found that 39 percent of Republicans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
This doesn’t mean the pro-life movement has been unpersuasive. To the contrary, despite billions of dollars invested in the effort to make abortion acceptable over the last 50 years, most Americans do not believe abortion is morally good. We understood this when Bill Clinton famously argued that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare”, an implicit—if not accidental—admission that abortion is not desirable. While the “shout your abortion” movement is an attempt to erase social stigma around abortion, most abortion supporters still see abortion as, at best, a necessary evil.
For millions of Americans, the idea of abstaining from sex is more outrageous than the idea of killing the child that results from sex.
But why would Americans believe abortion is immoral but still want it to be legal? Why would it ever be necessary? It isn’t primarily because of “hard cases” like rape and incest. While those questions take up much oxygen in debates over abortion, they still represent 1 percent or less of all abortions and aren’t the primary concern of most abortion supporters. We know this because abortion supporters do not limit their support for abortion to cases of rape and incest. Even if they knew there would never be another pregnancy from rape or incest, the abortion industry would still want abortion available at any time for any reason.
A primary reason Americans believe abortion is necessary is because millions of Americans believe happiness is impossible without sex. Since sex is necessary for happiness, abortion makes it possible to be happy without experiencing the inconveniences associated with sex, like children. The suggestion that someone should abstain from sex until they are prepared to be (married) parents is, for many, laughable. Indeed, for millions of Americans, the idea of abstaining from sex is more outrageous than the idea of killing the child that results from sex. Fundamentally, tens of millions of Americans see abortion as happiness insurance without which we would be forced to choose between two equally miserable paths, parenthood or chastity.
The problem, of course, is that none of this is true. Sexual frequency doesn’t necessarily make people happy, and children don’t make you miserable. In fact, the casual sex that is supposed to be the source of our joy has been linked to depression. Of course, none of this means sex is meaningless. Sex within marriage can improve life satisfaction, which is why many studies find monogamous, married couples are the most sexually satisfied people there are. But a healthy view of sex has implications far beyond personal satisfaction and healthy relationships. For millions of babies, an unhealthy view of sex is a matter of life and death because mom and dad have been convinced their sex life more important than their children.
If we are going to build a culture of life, we must do more than convince voters that unborn babies matter. After all, most Americans already believe preborn babies have some rights. To build a culture of life, we must destroy the lie that sex is the key to happiness. Until then, Americans are likely to continue believing abortion is evil, but a necessary evil.