Chastity & The Pro-Life Movement
Recently, a new wave has taken hold of my social media. Many of my well-intentioned friends have emphatically sympathized over the millions of lives lost to abortion while seamlessly arguing that these numbers would decrease if we increased education and access to birth control. They’ve argued that women wouldn’t have to abort their babies if they never got pregnant in the first place and operate out of a general assumption that the virtue of chastity doesn’t belong in the same conversation. Most frequently, I’ve heard that we “can’t expect” men and women not to have sex, as if the expectation imposes a prohibiting rule rather than a liberation to capacitate us for the highest virtue: charity.
I spent a few days thinking about this argument, knowing that the pro-choice vs. pro-life argument largely centers around people who genuinely want to decrease the number of abortions in our world. Yet, the facts do remain that since Roe v. Wade we’ve lived in a world where 58 million lives have been lost to abortion. That means 116 million people at the very least have been directly affected by abortion, the babies and the mothers who often feel forced into their situation (not to mention the fathers). And that’s obviously a GROSS underestimation. I think of my friends, and I know they’ve had an instrumental impact on more than just my life. How many lives have been robbed of the gift of just ONE person who has been lost to abortion? The loss is incalculable…and yet we’re forced to multiply it by 58 million.
I think that both sides readily agree that those are tragic numbers. But, if we disconnect the pro-life movement from the virtue of chastity, then it logically follows that we should increase access to contraceptions that prevent pregnancy in the first place, while silencing research that shows that promoting birth control to the youth isn’t effective.
But, why is it that so many of us argue that we shouldn’t expect men and women to refrain from sexual activity? This argument seems developed on a low anthropology, a lowered level of expectation that we can maintain for man and woman because we can’t expect people to live up to higher standards. But, why? And, if we truly are subject to this low level of anthropology, then why have millions of young people recommitted themselves to chastity? Is it because the Church and pro-life movements have just successfully managed to infiltrate us with an efficacious fear of pregnancy so we refrain from sexual activity?
The answer is, no, of course not. If we begin with an argument that says, “don’t have sex because you could get pregnant…” then I fully agree that 1) That’s not very effective and 2) Easily accessible contraception seems like an obvious answer. BUT, sex is so beautifully linked to our identity, to our desire for permanence, to our desire for a love that is sustained, infinite, and exclusive. It is also beautifully fulfilling in that it offers incredible pleasure. Many of us have readily seen and some unfortunately experience the fraudulence when sex occurs outside of its intended end (to enhance unity, permanence, exclusivity, and generative love). It isn’t fulfilling and we know it yet we live in a society that relativizes that pain and tells us that we shouldn’t expect much more from ourselves.
But, we were made for so much more than birth control to prevent pregnancies so we don’t have to bother holding to more difficult (yet infinitely freer & liberating) standards of chastity. We were made for lived experience of permanent love and beauty. When we diminish that, when we don’t hold ourselves to that and hold others to that, we don’t really love them. It tells them that they are in some way less than us because we might believe we’re good enough for these things, but that they are not.
So, ultimately, the argument for increased access to birth control really misses the point. While the pro-life movement prioritizes the fact of 58 million lives lost, the movement also largely champions chastity before marriage (I’ll only quietly mention that <1% of abortions occur from rape/incest…and I don’t think our answer to those girls either is that they should just use birth control). The reason for this is simply because we were made for more and we should demand more. I don’t want to spend my life settled into less than what I was created for – love: love that lasts, that chooses me, that creates life and not death.
Adrianna Garcia is a Master of Divinity student at the University of Notre Dame. Before returning to Notre Dame for a graduate degree, Adrianna served for four years in the United States Navy. She enjoys hiking, divine liturgy, and is passionate about sharing Jesus Christ with everyone she encounters.