February 4, 2023 | Reading Time: 2 minutes

Mom was right: the point of the ‘pro-life’ movement was making pregnancy the penalty for sex

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Editor’s note: The following letter is from subscriber Don Hammond. He responded to last week’s piece in which I wrote about how “pro-life” is really anti-women-enjoying sex. If you’d like to write a letter to the editor (me), send it to johnastoehr@gmail.com. Thanks! –JS

Your excellent piece on anti-abortionists and their true intentions is spot-on, and it parallels what my late mother told me a few years after the original Roe decision came down.

She grew up on a small Missouri farm in the 1920s and 1930s. Both of her parents were active in the local Southern Baptist-affiliated church, although they were both college-educated and were not fire-and-brimstone, pound-the-pulpit types themselves, to my recollection.

As a result of this upbringing, my mother was very familiar with standard Baptist theology of the day, as well as with the general Christian fundamentalist norms of morality regarding sex and procreation. She eventually moved away from those attitudes and beliefs after she left the farm and went off to college.

I still remember the moment in the conversation when she said the ultimate goal of the “pro-life” movement was not just to stop abortion — its goal was to make contraception itself illegal again.

One day in the late 1970s, I was home during a college break, and we were talking about abortion at the dinner table. She had raised four children, but she was nonetheless a staunch proponent of abortion rights and birth control, and was a strong supporter and frequent donor to Planned Parenthood.

I still remember the moment in the conversation when she said the ultimate goal of the “pro-life” movement was not just to stop abortion — its goal was to make contraception itself illegal again.

My immediate reaction was skepticism. In my youthful naivete, I thought the idea of re-criminalizing birth control was so nutty that I wondered if she was indulging in a bit of hyperbole.

She was adamant, and said clearly and forcefully:

“They want to return to the days when the penalty for sex was pregnancy.”

She was well-acquainted with the prevailing fundamentalist attitudes toward sex — the idea of sex for its own sake, for non-procreative recreation, was anathema, especially the idea of women enjoying that kind of sex.

To the strong Baptists and Evangelicals she knew, a woman’s primary function in life was to have children by her husband and to be a loyal and unquestioning helpmate and mother.

Even though she loved raising her children and didn’t work outside the home until they were of middle-school age or gone altogether, those were her decisions. She was fiercely protective of her independence, her right to make her own decisions about what to do with her body and her life.

And she was as fiercely protective of the rights of her two daughters to make those decisions themselves as well.

The years after that conversation have proved her claim — that as soon as the reversal of Roe came down, anti-abortionists all over the country would predictably talk about curtailing contraception rights.

They want to eliminate the right of a woman to have agency and control over her body and what happens to it. Those decisions are to be made by religious fundamentalists who justify that control by their interpretation of Biblical scripture (or Papal decree).

I miss my mother every day, but for her sake I’m glad that she passed several years before Roe‘s reversal.

She would have been crushed to witness it.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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