Monday, July 8, 2013

Is criminalizing abortion the sociological equivalent of spanking children?

I've said it before, but it is worth repeating:  I think everyone wants to minimize abortion. Some by criminalizing desperate women, others by obviating the need for abortion through compassionate, evidence-based strategies like improved sex education, birth control access, paid parental leave, expanded early child initiatives, etc. Personally, I choose the humane approach that supports women's autonomy and cares about children even after they are born. (related 10 Things You Can’t Do and Still Call Yourself “Pro-Life”)

As the Texas omnibus abortion restriction legislation continues its slow, expensive, infuriating roll towards law, I find myself considering time and again the similarities between criminalizing abortion and beating spanking children. Which isn't really that surprising, considering my tendency to make everything about toddlers and religion If you're confused, don't be. I'll explain:

Criminalizing abortion, like spanking children, does not address the real issue. 
Children don't misbehave because they have a physical violence deficit. They misbehave because they lack the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral resources and strategies to communicate and interact effectively. Spanking does nothing to address those deficits. In fact, it does the opposite. It exaggerates them by modeling violence and promoting shame and humiliation. 

Likewise, women don't get abortions because of a lack of transvaginal ultrasound probing or general governmental mismanagement of their lady parts. Most women get abortions because they lack the financial, psychological, or personal resources to raise a child (here's a good read to drive that message home: Knocked Over: On Biologiy, Magical Thinking, and Choice). Criminalizing those women, again, does nothing to address those deficits and, in fact, does the opposite. Sound familiar?

Criminalizing abortion, like spanking children, is not effective
"Negative reinforcement or any kind of punishment simply does not work to change your child's long-term behavior." (source) Of course, this makes sense when you consider my first point, that it doesn't address the real issue.

Likewise, criminalizing abortion does not work to reduce it: "Roe didn't mark the beginning of an abortion era — it legalized an already widespread practice." (source) Similarly, if you look at countries with less abortion restrictions (and better access to health care), like Canada you'll find that "the teen birth and abortion rate is more than 50% higher in the United States versus Canada and the abortion rate is about 25% higher in the Unites States" (source). If you want to reduce abortions, then address the root causes of abortion. But to do that, you'd have to stop it with the pejorativization of the word "socialism" (to mean, anti-American instead of compassionate legislative and economic policies).

Criminalizing abortion, like spanking, is dangerous
Spanking your kid not only ineffective, but it also increases the chances your kid will be dumb, violent or suffer from mental illness. And yet, some parents swear by it. Weird, right?

Likewise, criminalizing abortion means you are setting yourself up for more nightmares like this: Anatomy of an Unsafe Abortion. And if you are okay with that, well, then that doesn't sound very pro-Life of you. So that is strange.

Criminalizing abortion, like spanking, is endorsed by the evidence-phobic Religious Right
Just ask Focus on the Family (where you can find advice on how to hit your kid (or dog) and why we need to ban abortion). Or ask the Duggar family, who is allegedly being bussed in for today's senate hearing. The parents are anti Roe v Wade, and they support the disgusting book, To Train Up a Child, which has been implicated in cases of child murder. Again, I just can't conjure up a lot of "Pro-Life" images when considering this.

Criminalizing abortion, like spanking, is a litmus issues for the Religions Right, and those who question either are vilified by the Religious Right.
Christians/Republicans started a ridiculous smear campaign that portrayed Pro-Choice advocates at the Texas Capitol as Satan worshipers. Which is ridiculous because you know who believes in Satan? Religious fundamentalists. That is it. People who don't believe in God (and even some who do), don't believe in Satan. They certainly don't worship him. To the irreligious, Satan is on par with dragons (which interestingly...there is a dragon exhibit at the Creationist "Museum" if you are up for a laugh/cry), werewolves and the tooth fairy. But in the black/white world of fundamentalism, if you don't agree then you are "of the devil." Of course, there is no room for nuance when you are considered a bad parent for not spanking and a bad Christian/person for not supporting abortion restriction legislation. 

I'd be interested in a correlation study between those who are for/against these issues. I have a strong suspicion that it would further illustrate this connection.



  1. You make an interesting point that I think underlines an inherent problem in the debate--sometimes our solutions are simply ineffective. But sometimes our solutions (or lack thereof) to a problem don't even really speak to the morality of the issue. Criminalizing abortion may not be the answer to reducing them, but the pro-life (read: anti-abortion) movement is mostly concerned with the issue from a moral standpoint--i.e., what is the right/moral thing to do.

    By comparison, if we believe violence/assault is morally wrong, but incarceration isn't really effective to reduce it or change people (versus maybe psychological therapy or something), does that mean we should just decriminalize it since our solution isn't effective? Of course not.

    We need to find solutions that actually work without just ignoring the very significant moral aspects of the debate. Some pro-choice folks just pretend there is no moral qualm--this is also a serious mistake.

    1. About your last sentence, YES. That is really hard for me to stomach when I see that. I see pro-choice people make very Ableist-based arguments for abortion (e.g., useless clump of cells) and I get so upset. As someone who has been very much in love with a "useless clump of cells" and has also considered very seriously the fact that my own child could have been diagnosed with a neurological issue that rendered her unable to talk/work/etc (as some pro choice people claim is the exact reason a fetus is not worthy of consideration), those arguments make me really, really upset.

      I also read an article recently about other countries with a 20wk abortion ban. To me, there seemed to be two "types" of countries. There were the super Catholic countries with laws that have killed/nearly killed women because of their rigidity, and then there were quasi-socialist countries with such improved access to health care and other safety net supports (paid maternity leave, subsidized child care, etc, etc) that I was like, I'd be way more comfortable with a 20wk ban (that included some exception language) if we had those other safety net systems in place. But the article didn't really get into that distinction. It was just like, other countries are doing it! Which is like, eh. if it wasn't a good enough reason to make decisions in HS, it is not a good enough reason to make decisions as a state/country. What a wasted opportunity to expand their argument, you know?


  2. I know what you mean when you mention your child-- had never put much thought into abortion in the past, but once my daughter was born, I CAN'T not see it through that lens too. I can't say I've had any direct experience with abortion, but I like to think having kids puts some things in perspective. So I can (sort of) relate to the discussion (a little)! :)