How the pro-choice movement scared America

Jennifer Roback Morse
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Posted: Apr 17, 2006 12:06 AM

A book with a presumptuous title like, How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex, had better deliver. Cristina Page’s book of this title tries to motivate people by scaring them. Pro-life advocates will not recognize themselves in the cartoon caricature Ms. Page presents of them. The vast numbers of middle of the road Americans, to whom this book is presumably addressed, won’t respond to it either. But there is one thing Page does get right: America is engaged in a titanic struggle over the meaning of sex.

Her version of how the pro-choice movement saved America? If it weren’t for NARAL, Pro-choice America, women would be home baking cookies for children and would never have made it into the work place. Never mind that the trend toward increasing labor force participation of married women goes all the way back to the turn of the twentieth century. If it weren’t for the pro-choice movement, abortion and contraception would be illegal in all states. Never mind that both abortion and contraception were legal in some states well before the Supreme Court decisions that discovered constitutional privacy rights to these things. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, women will be reduced to trying to end their own pregnancies by having their boyfriends whack their bellies with a baseball bat. She never mentions the women who have died from legal abortions in this country.

Page criticizes crisis pregnancy centers, which pro-life groups have established all across America, because they don’t give "accurate information." The thousands of pro-life women who have donated millions of dollars worth of free medical care, baby clothes and supplies, and countless volunteer hours, will not recognize themselves in her description. In fact, I doubt that she grasps the significance of the term "pro-life women," since she barely seems to acknowledge their existence.

But let’s not quibble with Ms. Page about the caricature she presents of the pro-life movement. Let’s cut to the chase and address the question. What is sex all about?

Unlike Ms. Page, I am not going to try to pin the blame for the current condition of our sexual culture on any one group. Feminists, pornographers and certain parts of our corporate culture share some responsibility, along with abortion rights advocacy groups. But I do think groups like NARAL, Cristina Page’s employer, have a serious responsibility for the current condition of our culture.

The modern view holds that sex is a recreational activity with no moral or social significance. The freedom we have come to value is to be completely unencumbered by human relationships. We are entitled to end or walk away from any relationship with a person who might legitimately make demands upon us that we don’t want to fulfill. And reproductive freedom in particular, is the right to unlimited sexual activity without a live baby resulting.

I call this view of sex, Consumer Sex. The decision to have sex is comparable to the decision to go bowling or go out for pizza. If sex is a recreational activity, that makes our sex partners consumer goods, that satisfy us more or less well. And when we are no longer satisfied with our sex partners, we feel entitled to discard them. We believe it is morally acceptable to use another person, as long as they consent to being used. As long as the sex was voluntary and properly contracepted, it is OK. I need not say that this attitude toward sex would be impossible in the absence of abortion on demand and unlimited access to contraception.

The alternative view is the organic view of human sexuality. Sex has two organic purposes: procreation and spousal unity. Spousal unity is a fancy way of saying that sex builds up the relationship between the husband and the wife. Unbeknownst to critics like Cristina Page, the Christian view of sexuality has recognized spousal unity as a legitimate purpose of sex since the Middle Ages. Both of these organic purposes build up the community of the family. Procreation brings new people into being. And spousal unity helps to sustain the bond between the spouses, so they will be there for each other and their children over the long-haul.

Consumer Sex turns this organic reality on its head. Consumer Sex takes the sexual urge, which is a great engine of sociability, and turns into a consumer good. Instead of seeing sex as something that builds up the family and the community, we see sex as something that is all about me and my feelings.

Cristina Page and her companions believe they are promoting the view that sex is for pleasure. But who takes pleasure in being used? The sexual revolution, of which NARAL is so proud, has not made people happy. This is the primary reason why not: no matter how much fun we’re having while we are using another person, we don’t want to be on the receiving end of being used.

Adopting the label of "pro-choice" obscures the subject of the choice. When you spell out the pro-choice position, it is not really all that appealing. In my own book, Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love in a Hook-up World, I say nothing about what should be legal or illegal. I simply point out that many of our (perfectly legal) sexual decisions are just plain dumb.

I challenge Cristina Page to a debate. I will debate her on the airwaves. I will debate her in person. I’ll debate her on her own terms, in the style of the Yale Political Union: "Resolved: that contraception is the greatest thing since sliced bread." Then we will find out who is saving America and who is just trying to scare it to death.