Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman


Would Pro-Lifers Accept More Premarital Sex If It Meant Fewer Abortions?

posted by swaldman

To me, the most important points in my email exchange with pro-life activist Jill Stanek were:
1) She believes that contraception and sex ed increase the number of unintended pregnancies
2) Even if she could be convinced that sex ed reduced the number of abortions, she still would not support it.
Many in the comment threads have attempted to rebut point #1 and I’ll return to it later, but I’m fascinated by point #2. She says she would never support sex ed because:

a) “The logic behind them is hypocritical. Assuming you’re married, would your wife send you out of town on a business trip after slipping a condom in your suitcase and saying, “Honey, I want you to be faithful, but here’s protection just in case you slip up…”?
b) Contraceptives are the root of abortion. “Contraceptive” means anti-conception. Contraceptives establish a mindset of hostility toward the blessing of children.
c) Sex outside of marriage is a sin…. We do not say, don’t murder but here’s how in case you can’t resist…. We do not say, don’t commit adultery but here’s how in case you can’t resist. We have to resist the culture and think the same way about premarital sex.”

I don’t happen to think pre-marital sex between consenting adults is inherently sinful but as a thought experiment, I accepted Jill’s assertion that sex education leads to various unfortunate consequences — let’s even call them sins: the sin of hypocrisy, the sin of devaluing the blessing of children, the sin of sanctioning premarital sex.
But here’s what I don’t get. Even if those are sins, aren’t they lesser sins than murder, which is what Jill thinks abortion is? Wouldn’t she accept more premarital sex in exhange for fewer abortions?
No — and her reason is fascinating and important.

“The idea of authorizing ‘lesser sins’ to decrease ‘greater sins’ is not Scriptural. In fact, Scripture teaches the opposite phenomenon occurs: Little sins lead to bigger sins. They don’t sate. You should know satan works in quite the opposite direction, enticing us in small, seemingly innocuous ways.”

This surprised me. Most religions differentiate between the severity of sins, I thought. Is it possible that a different theology underlies some of the pro-life thinking?
I asked David Gushee, a moderate evangelical professor at Mercer University, to respond Stanek’s scriptural interpretation. He wrote:

“At one level, all sins are the same, if we define sin as disobedience to God’s will. All violate God’s will and displease God.
But all sins are not equally weighty. This can be clearly shown from scripture, as when Jesus condemned certain Jewish religious leaders for “neglecting the weightier matters of the law.” Wearing suggestive clothing is not as weighty as having extramarital sex. Slapping a face is not as weighty as killing someone. Weightiness has to do with the gravity of the sin as this is taught in scripture and also with its significance in impact on other people’s lives and on our own life.
Moreover, sometimes lesser sins appear to be affirmed in scripture where they prevent greater wrongs. The Hebrew midwives lied to save the Jewish babies from murder, and they are affirmed. Rahab lied to save the Jewish spies. She is treated as a hero. Divorce is against God’s will, but provisions are made for it in both OT and NT.
These examples are rare, but they do occur.
I think the category of concessions to sin is helpful. Jesus treated divorce as a sad concession to human sin and called his disciples to do better. But Matthew at least has Jesus saying that divorce is permitted (as a concession) to deal with sexual sin/adultery.”

Question for my pro-life readers. Let’s posit that that more sex education leads to more premarital sex. Let’s assume for the moment that it also led to fewer unintended pregnancies and abortions. Would you accept more premarital sex if it meant fewer abortions?



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Your Name

posted July 7, 2009 at 1:34 pm


Lets suppose for a moment that spending money increases your savings. The statement is just flat out false just like thinking more “safe” premaritial sex could possibly lead to fewer unintened pregnacies and abortions. If you increase sex “safe” or otherwise you increase pregnancy.
Even if it were true you’d still have premarital sex which is sinful, and you’d still have abortions which is sinful. Less abortions in your scenario but you’d still have abortions.
In Catholic theology both pre-marital sex and abortion are considered to be grave/serious matter. Your not dealing with a lesser sin to protect against a greater sin. Both can put you in hell.



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Turmarion

posted July 7, 2009 at 3:38 pm


I, for one, Steve, though pro-life, would countenance more premarital sex (which I disapprove of) if it would reduce the abortion rate.
Your Name at 1:34 PM: Lets suppose for a moment that spending money increases your savings. The statement is just flat out false
Ever heard the old saw, “You gotta spend money to make money”? If you go into business, you have to spend money to buy your stock, get a building for offices, etc. etc., before you start making money. You have to have capital to go into business, and to boil it down, capital is money or bought with money. Another example: you spend money to buy stocks which increase in value which increase your money through dividends (which, yes, can increase your savings) and stock value. Of course, spending to buy random items wouldn’t increase your savings–but I guess it depends on what you spend your money on, right?
If you increase sex “safe” or otherwise you increase pregnancy.
Maybe, but the the rate of increase would be less with safe sex. If everyone abstained it would be better, but people never have done that throughout history. In the past, fear of venereal disease and pregnancy might have dissuaded people somewhat; and many times marriages were the result of unexpected pregnancies. In any case, there is evidence that in the Middle Ages and Renaissance as many as a third or more of brides were pregnant at their weddings; and if you read history, the nobility had plenty of illicit children (the peasantry was probably inhibited only by relative lack of opportunity). It’s debatable that people are having more illicit sex now than they ever have.
In Catholic theology both pre-marital sex and abortion are considered to be grave/serious matter. Your not dealing with a lesser sin to protect against a greater sin. Both can put you in hell.
First, even among mortal sins there is a distinction. The Church would consider both theft of a large amount of money and murder to be mortal sins, e.g. That doesn’t mean we consider the bank robber who just robs the bank to be no better than the one who robs the bank and shoots a guard dead in the process. Both are mortal sins, but murder is worse in a temporal sense, anyway.
Also, there is the law of double effect by which even a mortally sinful action may be countenanced if it is not directly intended, if a higher good occurs. E.g. even the most pro-life, conservative, pre-Vatican II moralists agreed that abortion in the case of an ectopic pregnancy is permitted. Keep in mind, abortion kills a human being, and killing is a mortal sin. Yet it has been agreed that in this case, since the only way of saving the woman’s life involves the destruction of the fetus (foreseen but not directly willed), it is nevertheless permissible. Google it and read about it if you don’t believe me.
There has been debate in Catholic moral theology circles as to whether contraception in some contexts is indeed, under the double-effect principle, preferable to pregnancy produced by rape (this has been discussed in reference to nuns in Third World countries) or to pregnancies that might result in abortion. There is much disagreement, and it’s really complex; but my point is that it is not nearly as simple as you imply.



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John

posted July 7, 2009 at 3:54 pm


First, Is there any evidence that contraception and sex ed correlate with increased sexual activity?? Unless this is the case, her whole argument falls apart.
Second, the unwillingness to consider the relative weight or severity of various sins is indeed unusual, and probably unworkable and unscriptural as well. By her logic, those who hid Jews in Germany and lied about it to protect them shouldn’t have lied because the lies would lead to even greater sins. Huh? Doesn’t make any sense.
This is the kind of thing that makes me despair of finding common ground that might actually reduce the number of abortions.



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Bill

posted July 7, 2009 at 10:39 pm


Turmarion, I thought that was a fascinating post. And though you answered Steve’s question as he stated it (“Would you accept more premarital sex…”), would you also answer the question I wish Steve would have posed explicitly, i.e. keeping Steve’s assumptions as they were, “Would you support providing more sex education if it meant fewer abortions?” — and I’d also add the assumption that this sex education would include education about contraceptives, because this seems to be implied by Steve’s post.



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Bill

posted July 7, 2009 at 10:39 pm


Turmarion, I thought that was a fascinating post. And though you answered Steve’s question as he stated it (“Would you accept more premarital sex…”), would you also answer the question I wish Steve would have posed explicitly, i.e. keeping Steve’s assumptions as they were, “Would you support providing more sex education if it meant fewer abortions?” — and I’d also add the assumption that this sex education would include education about contraceptives, because this seems to be implied by Steve’s post.



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Salcia

posted July 8, 2009 at 10:13 am


“The logic behind them is hypocritical. Assuming you’re married, would your wife send you out of town on a business trip after slipping a condom in your suitcase and saying, “Honey, I want you to be faithful, but here’s protection just in case you slip up…”?
As a matter of fact, I would. It would be horrible if my husband cheated on me, of course. But it would be worse if he cheated on me and then brought home a lovely disease for me, or if he cheated on me and got her pregnant. There are degrees of morality and immorality, based on the degree to which you’re hurting somebody.



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Luce Imaginary

posted July 8, 2009 at 12:39 pm


“The logic behind them is hypocritical. Assuming you’re married, would your wife send you out of town on a business trip after slipping a condom in your suitcase and saying, ‘Honey, I want you to be faithful, but here’s protection just in case you slip up…’?
This statement is presupposed that all married couples define fidelity as only having sex with your spouse.
Not all of us do.



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Jen R

posted July 9, 2009 at 12:13 am


I’d be very wary of presenting Jill Stanek’s views as if they represent the thinking of most, or even a substantial number, of people who identify as pro-life. The vast majority of Americans favor contraception and comprehensive sex ed; it’s not just the pro-choicers. Stanek represents a particularly active and vocal segment of the pro-life community — one that often behaves as though it owns the pro-life movement — but it is just one segment.



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Jen R

posted July 9, 2009 at 12:14 am


from my comment above … “substantial number” is probably the wrong phrase, because there are a lot of them in sheer numbers, but they are still a small minority of those who consider themselves pro-life in this country.



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