Over and over and over again people tell me to leave religion out of the debate over abortion. “Many Christians believe in the right to abortion, at least in cases of rape or incest,” I am often told, “So, why alienate them by bringing up religion?”
It is true that a huge number of people who identify as Christian also support the right of women to abortion. It is also true that an even greater number of Christians will get an abortion in a desperate situation even if they believe it is “wrong.” However, we do ourselves NO FAVORS by leaving religion out of the debate over abortion.
The reason for this is that the movement in this country to restrict, criminalize, and shame women out of their right to abortion is entirely driven by religion. The Christian Bible in particular.
Here is how it works: According to the Bible, Eve (woman!) caused the fall of man when she tempted Adam into eating the forbidden fruit, gettiing them kicked out of the “Garden of Eden.” This story is at the core of Christianity; there would be no need for Jesus to allegedly have died on the cross except to make up for this “original sin.” But, that is not all. The human beings who wrote the Bible, their thinking shaped by the patriarchal society they lived in, weren’t content with merely one myth that blamed everything on women.
In 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul insists: “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”
It is this biblical mandate that has animated the anti-abortion movement from its inception and which drives it today. This is why there is not a single anti-abortion organization that is fighting for birth control. Their motivation has NEVER been about “protecting fetal life.” It has always been about insisting that women stay in their place; that wives “submit to their husband as their husband to the lord” (Ephesians 5:22, a commandment Michelle Bachman has upheld publically!) and make babies.
Of course, there are many people who oppose abortion who don’t believe in this scripture. But that doesn’t change the nature of the movement they are supporting or the retrograde, theocratic horror show it is fighting to impose on women. Every day is punctuated with new examples – Rick Santorum’s opposition to abortion even in instances of rape, the arrest of women who have miscarriages, the assassination of the doctors who provide abortions, etc. — demonstrating where the logic of restricting abortion is leading.
Confronting people with the theocratic core of the movement to end abortion is necessary to begin to win people away from the movement they are lending their support to. Either you should uphold that Biblical scripture and the world it would impose, or you should fight against it, including through defending women’s right to abortion.
Aside from openly genocidal rationals (for example, the Nazis criminalized abortions for “Aryan” women), this Biblical mandate (or similar patriarchal mandates of other religions) is the only reason there is to oppose abortion. (Worth noting: there has been significant overlap between the genocidal and religious opposition to abortion, for example the Christian Ku Klux Klan was among the first to march against abortion in this country and there remain many Christian fundamentalists who invoke the spector of “auto-genocide” among white women.)
Once scriptural commandments and genocide are stripped away, there is no reason left to oppose abortion. Scientifically, fetuses are NOT children. Therefore there is absolutely no reason for anyone to have any moral qualm about a woman choosing to terminate a fetus. A fetus is a subordinate part of a woman’s body. It has the potential to become human, but it is doesn’t become a human until it is born and becomes an independent social and biologial being. That is why we mark our time as living human beings from the day of our birth.
Any society that does not wish to enslave women to their biological ability to give birth, that doesn’t want to reduce women to human incubators, needs to uphold and defend and destigmatize women’s right to abortion. If women cannot decide for themselves when and whether to have a child, they cannot be free. If women are not free, then no one is truly free.
Sure, bringing up religion may offend some people who support the right to abortion (or, who at least oppose criminalizing all abortions for all women). But, the truth is there has been a pro-choice majority throughout the whole period where abortion rights have been eroded, doctors have been killed, and women have been shamed. Any attempt to keep religion out of the debate over abortion, in order to hold together an alliance has passively allowed abortion to become increasingly more difficult, dangerous and stigmatized to access over the past two decades, is a losing strategy.
It’s time to set different terms and to fight for a different dynamic.
Christians, like everyone else, need to be confronted with the horror of taking the Bible literally. They should be forced to decide where they stand in relation to this and where it leads, not in relation to some romanticized notions of fetuses as just smaller versions of infants (which is both untrue, and has nothing to do with the true motiviations of the movement against abortion). They should also be confronted with the science of reproduction. They should be challenged – and given the opportunity – to reject this scripture. If they do, whether they choose to continue to believe in Christianity (or another religion) in some non-literal way or whether they forsake religion altogether, they have a responsibility – like all the rest of us – to speak out against the horror of the Bible being enforced on society, including as it pertains to denying women the right to abortion and birth control.
For those Christians who still cling to their literal scripture, even as it is revealed for the Dark Ages nightmare it is, they should have to own up to what they are really promoting. Let’s make them defend 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and all the other crimes mandated by their Bible (stoning non-virgin brides, killing disobedient children, killing homosexuals, blaming people’s “sin” for falling ill, and more!). The more they are forced to own up to what they actually are fighting for, the more clarity others will have about who they want to stand with. Even if it ruffles some feathers at first, wouldn’t this only work to the advantage of those who believe women are full human beings, deserving of the right to decide for themselves when – and whether – they will bring a child into the world?