When the Supreme Court of the United States handed down the ruling in Roe v. Wade 42 years ago today legalizing abortion and annihilating nearly all state protections, it likely had no idea how that would wreak havoc on romance for a generation of young adults. Based in the privacy jurisprudence between a husband and wife from Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, Roe assisted in forming new law in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 that expanded and blurred notions of sexuality across all sorts of normative lines.
And the results have devastated romance for young adults engaging in sexual activity. Women’s rights, though thought by many to be dependent on reproductive choice, have been limited by Roe, as feminist scholar Catherine MacKinnon has argued in “Feminism Unmodified.” She posits that abortion does not afford women more authority over sexual activity or reproductive choice, but rather that “[a]bortion facilitates women’s heterosexual availability,” noting that “abortion is inextricable from sexuality.” MacKinnon observes that even while contraception would be a better choice for a woman than abortion, “[n]orms of sexual rhythm and romance that are felt interrupted by women’s needs are constructed against women’s interests.” This sexual liberation does not free women; rather, as MacKinnon states, “[t]he availability of abortion removes the one remaining legitimized reason that women have had for refusing sex besides the headache.” Abortion has permanently altered a woman’s bargaining power in romance and sexuality. As Richard Stith put it in his article “Her Choice, Her Problem,” published by First Things in 2009, the newly created right in Roe that was supposed to grant enormous freedom to women has had the perverse result of freeing men and trapping women.
Conflict pertaining to sexuality is readily observable in culture, having been outlined back in 1992 by Steven Seidman in his book “Embattled Eros: Sexual Politics and Ethics in Contemporary America,” analyzing the major dynamics and patterns of contemporary debate on sexuality as two sexual ideologies: the libertarian – where sex has no moral connection – and the romanticist – where sex is about romance and morality. Today the sexual sphere sometimes seems so confused and entangled that it defies both description and analysis, leaving young adults lost and wandering in the maze of sexual choices. Easy access to abortion has increased the expectation and frequency of sexual intercourse, making it harder for a woman to deny herself to a man without losing him. Therefore, the availability of abortion has eliminated a potential natural consequence of premarital sex and led to a casual sexual culture. In her book “Sex and the Soul,” on the intersection of faith and sexual experiences of college students, Donna Freitas discusses the complications created by casual sexual values. “The problem was that the hookup culture promoted reckless, unthinking attitudes and expectations about sex, divorcing it from their larger value commitments – religious, spiritual, or otherwise.” Although Freitas never explicitly considers abortion, her research deals in particularity with the casual sexual culture college students face today, reporting that students she interviewed were weary and fatigued by their sexual experiences. The pressure to participate in sexual encounters leaves them exhausted, spent and unfulfilled. Women particularly feel disempowered in this sexual culture - created by Roe.
Instead of power and control being promoted by the right to abortion, the paradigm of liberty has essentially magnified the power of uncommitted men. This has leveraged male influence over women, and damaged male-female relationships. Roe has hurt women, and ruined romance because the availability of abortion created a disconnect between sexual intercourse and procreation, removing or causing to disappear a level of sexual caution that dating relationships generally benefit from in terms of emotional protection. Romance is lost in a culture of sexual expectation. Those expectations of immediate intimacy are made possible by the availability of removing an unwanted pregnancy. Furthermore, women are compromised in their relationships with men by their own acquiescence to arguments made by a lover based on the availability of abortion. When Roe became a backstop for failed contraception, it had the unexpected consequence of facilitating the sexual exploitation of women and men. Sexual liberty, postmodern sexual freedom, and the hookup culture have not supported women or their exercise of so-called women’s rights, and they have not supported men in finding lifetime happiness.
Young adults can, however, salvage their love lives, even in this legal culture of abortion. The expansion of sexuality and privacy notions in the law do not have to govern choices or behavior. Though something might be permissible, that does not mean it is beneficial. Indeed, not every legal right is constructive. Rather than look to legal rights, look to intuitive moral understanding. And rather than seeking sexual opportunity, seeking the companionable, friendly, and affectionate good in a relationship is more fulfilling. Indeed, men who look out for the protection and best interests of women are most attractive. Women who value their own sexual purity and intimacy are more attractive than any easy mark. Sexual intimacy creates a body and soul oneness between two people that transcends the relationship in mysterious ways, emotionally, socially, personally, even professionally. Each man and woman is a valued individual, not a sexual commodity. Therefore, honor your body, and that of the one you love. Undeniably, studies have shown that sexual purity before marriage virtually guarantees sexual fidelity during marriage.
Young women and men in America today still desire above all other things the happiness offered by a life-long marriage – a romantic relationship of security and peace that allows a special space for legacy creation. Though Roe ruined romance, it does not have to rob anyone of a fantastic love life. Young adults should make their own choices, rather than allow the Supreme Court to do it for them.
- To read the full article “Roe’s Effects on Family Law,” published by Washington and Lee Law Review, see http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2441274.
Law is more than a profession - it's a calling.