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Topics: Cultural Engagement, Current Events

More than Women’s Health: Responsibility and Consequences in the Abortion Debate

July 11, 2013

By Evan Lenow

TexasOn Monday afternoon, I boarded a bus at my church and traveled to the state capitol building in Austin, Texas to attend the Stand4Life rally. Texas has been in the spotlight recently for the pro-life legislation that has been making its way through the state legislature. The proposed bill would ban abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, require abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers, and ensure that doctors providing abortions had admission rights at a hospital within 30 miles.

Abortion-rights advocates have fought hard to keep the bill from passing, but it seems imminent that the bill will be signed into law in the coming weeks. Why would opponents of the bill work so hard to prevent the regulation proposed in the legislation? There are two main ideas that drive their thinking—choice without responsibility and sex without consequences.

Choice without Responsibility

One of the most interesting arguments made in support of abortion rights is that one’s freedom to choose is at stake. I understand what abortion proponents are trying to say. They believe that the right to privacy gives them unlimited rights to choose their own actions. Therefore, if a woman wants to have an abortion, she should have the right to choose such because she has complete sovereignty over her own body.

The problem with this argument is that it assumes freedom of choice without responsibility for the consequences of those choices. When a woman chooses to have an abortion, there are specific consequences that follow from her choice. First, the life of the child in her womb has been extinguished. The proposed law in Texas does not ban all abortions; instead, it bans abortions after 20 weeks of gestation except in cases where the life of the mother is at immediate risk. With the continued advancement of medical technology, children born at 21–24 weeks have been able to survive. Thus, the 20-week mark takes into account that a child in the womb can survive if born prematurely from that point forward. Choosing to take the life of that child attempts to absolve the mother from the responsibility for the child.

Second, the rights of the father are often ignored. While many abortions take place with the full knowledge and approval of the biological father, there are no laws that protect the rights of the father when he would like to take responsibility for the child. The proponents of abortion almost exclusively focus on the rights of the mother, and assume that the fathers are deadbeats who would never want the child in the first place. Freedom of choice without responsibility makes no attempt to determine the interests of the father prior to abortion.

Sex without Consequences

Another common argument made in the abortion debate revolves around the idea of unwanted or unplanned pregnancies. The typical way we see this argument made is through the statement, “You should be able to decide when and if you want children.” The more crass way we have seen this argument in Texas is that new legislation puts people’s “sex life at risk.” No matter how you phrase the argument, the underlying idea is that abortion-rights advocates desire sex without consequences.

Of course there are pregnancies that occur due to tragic circumstances of violence and crime; however, the vast majority of women seeking abortions are doing so because they don’t want children right now. The question to ask these women and the men that are their partners is: “Did you not know that sex can lead to pregnancy?”

If nothing else, the sexual revolution has led to the idea that the primary purpose of sex is pleasure—love should be free and sex should be casual. One argument I read, directed specifically toward men, said, “Making abortion essentially inaccessible in Texas will add an anxiety to sex that will drastically undercut its joys. And don’t be surprised if casual sex outside of relationships becomes far more difficult to come by.”

Notice the language—casual sex outside of relationships. This is sex without consequences. For virtually all of human history, sex carried with it the possibility of pregnancy. Only in the last fifty years or so have we seen a change in focus to sex for pleasure alone. This mindset drives the abortion rights argument because they believe sex should not have consequences.

What Next?

It seems evident that the legislation will be passed in Texas. Governor Perry has already announced that he will sign it into law. But where do we go from here? Legislation like this is only a small step in changing the culture. We can place limits on abortions and regulate who can perform them and what standards they need to meet, but we must do more. We need to take responsibility for the decisions in our lives. This extends far beyond sexual activity to all decisions. We also need to recognize that sex has consequences, and one very valuable consequence is the creation of new life.

However, change will not come to the culture through legislation alone. The mindset of the people needs to change. Ultimately, minds and hearts can only be changed on this issue through the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ


Evan Lenow serves as Assistant Professor of Ethics and Associate Director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. He is married with four children. You can read more of his articles at and follow him on Twitter @evanlenow.

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