I was raised by a single, working-class mother until she remarried when I was 10. Given her own upbringing plagued by fatherlessness, it’s no surprise that I was conceived out of wedlock. She had every reason to end that pregnancy. 

But she told me she loved me the very moment she knew I was there. I’m alive because of the tenderness of a good woman’s heart. 

It’s been one year since the Supreme Court’s holding in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that abortion is not a constitutional right. Though I am against abortion, I recognize that changing hearts on the matter will require more than just changing laws. 

As philosophy professor David McPherson has recently written, “to move the abortion debate forward in our post-Dobbs world, we need more than argument.“ McPherson says that differences in the abortion debate are not so much differences in values as they are differences in vision. 

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I think he is right. Arguments in favor of protecting the unborn cannot rely solely on appeals to responsibility, restraint or logic, as valuable as these may be. A truly sustainable path toward ending abortion requires a positive vision that cultivates a reverence for human life and shines a light on the way abortion oppresses, rather than liberates, women.

A cynical solution

Most of my friends who support abortion rights have no personal preference for abortion. They just don’t want to interfere in the lives of women who may be facing unique hardships, and they believe that education and contraception are better than removing the option of abortion altogether. I get the sense that they see many abortion opponents as being less concerned about human life and more concerned about punishing women for their sexual choices.

I share the larger concern for vulnerable women and the resulting caution about unfairly burdening them. That’s why it’s so important to recognize that abortion punishes women. It is a cynical solution to a sexual culture that harms women.

In the U.S., contraception use is high and yet abortion is not rare. Despite the fact that 88% of women not seeking pregnancy use contraception, about 15% of all pregnancies are aborted (not including miscarriages). Half of all women seeking abortions were using contraception when they conceived. 

This points to an important but overlooked flaw in our sexual culture, which abortion allows us to ignore: that women disproportionately bear the costs of our culture’s embrace of the lie of inconsequential sex. 

If the #MeToo movement has shown us anything, it’s that the supposed benefits of uncommitted sex have failed to materialize for the vast majority of women. In contrast with the Hollywood invention of the self-assured woman enjoying guilt-free one-night stands, the reality of hook-up culture for many women is one of coercion, bad sex and emotional disappointment. Most women are having sex sooner than they want and receiving less commitment in return.

Rates of single motherhood have concurrently risen dramatically, exposing growing numbers of women and children to increased rates of poverty, incarceration, educational underachievement and poor mental and emotional well-being. 

The best way to ensure that men bear the responsibilities of sex equally with women is marriage. It’s not a coincidence that this is the option chosen by many in the middle and upper classes. At the same time, abortion is too often the option we proffer to the poor and less educated women who lack the resources to get commitment from men. When viewed in this light, abortion is not a boon to women; it is a way to cover up the injustices of our destructive sexual culture. 

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Responding to the real hardships which our culture imposes upon women by offering to terminate their babies is not progress or liberation, no matter what rights-based language we use to frame it that way. Abortion is not painless or inconsequential, it’s not rare, and while it’s most often defended by the most educated, it’s most often endured by the poor and uneducated.

Valuing life is progress

When Christ is asked how to obtain eternal life in the 10th chapter of Luke, he gives the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor. When his interrogator tries to justify himself by asking “Who is my neighbor?” what he’s really asking is “Who is it OK not to love?” 

Christ’s answer, in the form of the parable of the good Samaritan, is essentially “your neighbor is whoever needs you.” Asking “who is my neighbor?” confines us to loving only those who serve our interests, which is perhaps not love at all. To ask instead, “who needs my love?” is to see loving others as its own goal.

Many abortion questions are similar. To ask, “when does personhood begin?” or “until what point is it OK to end a life?” misses the whole point. If a unique human life has entered the world and we are asking when it’s OK to end it, then our vision is missing something important. If we cannot see that a zygote is a precious, wondrous miracle, then to what other truths will we remain blind? 

While a word like “miracle” evokes religious imagery, as McPherson points out, valuing all human life is not — and should not — be limited to the religious.

And to be clear, reducing the meaning of a life to its physical components is a philosophical choice, not a biological conclusion — and one that truncates our humanity. By asking instead “what can be done to save this life?” we assume that life is inherently valuable. That is a question from which miracles can proceed. Placing value on human life from the moment it begins will help us order our lives and our society toward the well-being of women and children. 

Valuing human life as a supreme good does not mean that there aren’t exceptions, but it will ensure that those exceptions remain exceptional. 

This is, once again, not something that can be proven or argued. It has to be cultivated. Overturning Roe was a step in that direction. And I believe construing abortion as a constitutional right is incompatible with a moral vision capable of bringing about real progress for vulnerable women and children.  

Meagan Kohler is a Latter-day Saint convert and writer who studied philosophy, French and Latin at BYU. She lives in Utah with her husband and four sons. She writes on Twitter @TresClare.