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Why No-Fault Divorce is the Key to Abortion By: Robert Locke
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, March 26, 2001


THE ABORTION ISSUE is usually debated in terms of the metaphysical absolute of the sanctity of human life. Whatever may be the ultimate truth on this question, there is another dimension that should to be examined: abortion's deleterious social consequences. And to really understand these, abortion must be linked to no-fault divorce. No-fault divorce allows men to evade their responsibilities to their children just like abortion allows women to do so. Although in theory divorce is not sex-specific, in practice it is overwhelmingly a tool for men to abandon their children. Linking it to abortion is also key to the political struggle against abortion, because one ineradicably plausible argument against banning it is that it burdens the female sex alone to solve a problem created by both sexes. The key to basic fairness on the issue is to take no-fault divorce away from men in the same breath as taking abortion away from women. Whatever the metaphysical status of the fetus, this would bring a number of social benefits. .

The fundamental social problem with abortion is that it permits, indeed inexorably produces, what we can call the "get-laid society." If women know they can get abortions, they have an easier time being of what used to be called easy virtue, and if men know that women can get abortions, then women have less of an excuse to withhold their favors, even if they want to. Worse, since other women are in the same position, they are forced to be "easy" or lose their man to a more willing partner. Thus the availability of abortion affects not only those who choose to avail themselves of it or rely on its availability. It affects all women, because it forces them into a sexual competition that would be vastly reduced if abortion were not available. Abortion has loosed on this country an army of sluts and enabled men to demand that women who are not sluts behave like them. This dynamic is particularly cruel to older or simply less attractive women, because they are worse off in sexual competition. It is also notably unequal between the sexes, given that women are generally more willing to accept older or uglier men than the reverse. This is all of course a great irony given the egalitarian pretensions of the liberals who started the sexual revolution.

This all gives the lie to the argument that abortion is solely an issue of individual autonomy, because individual behavior is subject to social pressures that people are not free to choose or avoid, particularly when the behavior in question is of its essence social because it requires the cooperation of another person.

It is only fair to note that some men, particularly but not exclusively those with Christian (or just plain traditional) views on free love, can also be oppressed by the expectation, enforced as noted above by social competition, of a swinging lifestyle. Is there a man in America who has not, in some bar or locker room, felt compelled to lie about his lifestyle in order to conform to the social expectations of his peers? Many American men go through life pretending to be someone they are not because this warped ideal is presented as not just fashionable but normal, something one could only dissent from because of personal inadequacy and not on moral grounds. They also, in a society where women have been similarly corrupted, must corrupt their own behavior to find a woman simply because that is "where the girls are" today and what they expect from a man.

Turning the social world into an arena of sexual competition has a generally coarsening and brutalizing effect on social life: it makes men and women view each other as prey and their own sex as competitors to a degree that corrodes civility, undermines the possibility of non-sexual friendship, and distracts workplaces, classrooms, and other institutions dedicated to non-erotic pursuits. And it is certainly worth slyly noting that ugly or shy people who are not destined to find much satisfaction in this arena can, under a regime of traditional values, congratulate themselves on their obedience to moral law rather than spending their lives seething with the frustration of losers. Meritocracy, to which we are uncritically committed in this as in other areas, of necessity adds the sting of moral judgment to the fact of inequality, and therefore does not necessarily make people happier. One almost suspects that the sexual meat market appeals to the contemporary zeal for the market economy: we have sexual free trade, with no government regulation, no tariffs, and businesslike relationships that have to pay off or be terminated.

The effect on people's emotional life of the repeated heartbreaks that are the normal consequence of a succession of partners is something we just accept as normal. Is there really no connection between this and the phenomenon of half the country needing to be artificially pumped up with anti-depressants simply to make it through the day? Were people always this way, and might this be one of the things that changed? The popular alternative is attaining the state of total emotional numbness (called "ironic detachment" by the hip) that has come to be regarded as the "sophisticated" attitude. This is in itself an incredible irony given that the sexual revolution was launched in the name of romanticism against what was thought to be the emotionally repressed culture of the 1950's. There is a fundamental wisdom in the traditional view that sex is a fierce and cruel power among people and that it is therefore a passion that needs to be damped down, not inflamed. But we are also discovering that if anything goes, people burn out and true passion is undermined. If everything is permitted, then nothing matters. The ultimate achievement of the sexual revolution, still over the horizon but detectable in such films as Less Than Zero, may be to make sex boring. Whether this itself will be a sentiment favorable to a sexual counter-revolution remains to be seen.

If our sexual mores as a culture are hurting us so much, why do we still believe in them? People get conned into this unsustainable lifestyle because most of these hurtful dynamics are masked in the case of teenagers, who are perhaps the only people for whom the chaotic emotional life that the get-laid society implies is actually attractive. There are millions of adults out there who are trying to live like teenagers, and the establishment of teen sex life as the tacit ideal is the reason they are doing it. The ideal doesn't have to be explicitly teen: the fundamental social rules of easy abortion and easy divorce incarnate attachmentless, consequenceless sexuality as the only choice that society will support. The key concept here is that of social support, because it is intrinsically difficult, as explained above, for people to live a traditional life in this respect without a traditional society around them. Modern sexual liberalism thus does not just liberate: it coerces.

People denounce abortion as a restriction on female sexuality. But given what most of us know perfectly well about the relative frequency of the desires in question, it is far more of a restriction on male sexuality.

No-fault divorce is the other bulwark of the get-laid society. It also tends to promote economic liberalism because if women can't rely on male financial support, they seek a surrogate husband in the state. The famous "gender gap" is statistically only true for unmarried women; married women vote almost as Republican as men do. Therefore, Republicans are paying a real price at the polls for easy divorce, and should systematically think about social policy measures designed to reduce it. Naturally, there will not be one great silver bullet to solve this problem, but every policy choice should be examined from the point of view of its consequences for the divorce rate. We should enact a ban on divorce in the presence of minor children, the restoration of serious alimony payments, strict child-support enforcement, and a repeal of the so-called marriage penalty of the tax code.

Easy abortion undermines marriage by increasing the temptations to stray from it. But it also puts men in a position to say to women, "since you chose not to have the abortion, that child of ours isn't my responsibility," undermining fatherhood. The glamour of the swinging lifestyle undermines the social prestige of the married condition. Since families, not swinging singles, are the only possible foundation of an enduring society, it is a mistake for any society that wishes to endure to tolerate this.

Several favorable cultural consequences could be expected if easy abortion and easy divorce were curtailed. For a start, if people know that they will not be able to satisfy their sexual urges easily, they will start to demand a culture not organized around inflaming them. This would imply not just the obvious crackdown on pornography and titillating advertising, but a shift in other things like music. It will be psychologically uncomfortable to be constantly bombarded by titillating messages, and people will demand an end to them, both by not buying offending items and by political action to curtail the extreme cases. If people know that they will have to seek happiness in the form of a contented married life rather than in a swinger lifestyle, then they will seek out a mellower and more tranquil culture that expresses the satisfactions of contentment rather than excitement. Therefore without easy abortion, people are necessarily motivated to adopt a cultural attitude of self-restraint. In fact, in retrospect this must have been a key factor in producing the more restrained culture we used to have. And if people know that they are destined to remain married, they will take the goods of this estate, like children, more seriously. In a nation that will probably not allow censorship, it may be that these are in fact the _only_ policy levers available to bring these changes about.

What political strategy do these insights point to for pro-lifers? For a start, they must get beyond arguing the absolute moral case to the public and start presenting the social case. To some extent they have intuitively grasped it for years, but have not made it sufficiently baldly explicit, perhaps because some of the arguments needed to do so are a little bit after bedtime.

There is enormous accumulated resentment in this country over the sexual revolution, but no-one has clearly articulated a plan to roll it back. The only exception has been the preposterous sexual Stalinism of those leftists who have been promoting draconian sexual-harassment codes coupled with the intellectual fantasy that sex is an arbitrary construct in the first place, a pathetic attempt to wish the problem out of existence on an abstract level. With half of generation X the children of divorce, the time is ripe to capitalize on this resentment.

Pro-lifers must also cultivate the small but growing leftist and feminist opposition to abortion. The early feminists were pro-life, and at the very least, to split and sow discord in the camp of an enemy that has become corrupted from this stand is a good thing. This must be done without succumbing to the obvious temptation, which the left exploits, to engage in useless politically-correct gestures to buy their friendship.

The most viable strategy to actually ban abortion is to use various policy levers to gradually reduce the annual abortion rate. At some point in the long run, if the numbers get low enough, banning it outright will be a trivial and thus politically feasible step. The key is to quantify the issue, and evaluate policy choices from the standpoint of their effect on the numbers. Quantifying the problem would also provide a rational framework for the spectrum of pro-life groups to coordinate their activities, a measure of success, and a way to discourage the more excitable pro-lifers from extremist tactics without asking them to abandon their beliefs. It also places the opposition in the untenable position of defending a high abortion rate as such, as they probably understand full well that abortion is only politically viable because it is common. If there were, say, 10,000 abortions a year in this country, it would have no constituency and would be banned in a minute. Even at a rate of 100,000 per year, there would be a vastly better chance of banning it than there is now. (The current level is about 1.4 million.)

Fundamentally, banning abortion will require civilizational change in this country; it is a 30-year war that is not going to be won by a single legislative assault, or any combination of short-term assaults. Pro-lifers should cease short-term agitations that merely energize the other side and focus on this pragmatic structural program of winning the social debate plus cutting the annual numbers.




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