Ruth Speaks Out

This blog is maintained by the Ruth Institute. It provides a place for our Circle of Experts to express themselves. This is where the scholars, experts, students and followers of the Ruth Institute engage in constructive dialogue about the issues surrounding the Sexual Revolution. We discuss public policy, social practices, legal doctrines and much more.


Jenet Erickson: Abortion's culture is antithetical to women's equality

By Jenet Jacob Erickson

This article was first published on August 5, 2018, at Deseret News.

Once again, Roe v. Wade finds itself at the center of a Supreme Court nomination battle. And regardless of whether Roe v. Wade is ever overturned, there is no question that scientific advancements have “remade” the abortion debate. With ultrasound imagery and innovations in neonatology, a developing fetus is no longer referred to as “a mass of tissue,” even by abortion advocates. Public opinion reflects this change. Strong majorities of Americans, across demographic groups, oppose abortions in the second (65 percent) and third trimesters (81 percent). And even in the first trimester, a majority (53 percent) agrees abortion should be illegal when the woman’s only reason is not wanting to have a child.

Whether abortion means terminating a developing life is no longer debated. That is clear. The debate now centers on what abortion means for women. In the face of public support for some abortion restrictions, pro-choice advocates argue, “abandoning abortion rights means abandoning women.” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue claims that those who advocate for restrictions on abortion are “not really anti-abortion. … They are against a world where women can contribute equally and chart our own destiny in ways our grandmothers never thought possible.”


But Hogue’s claim belies a damaging assumption. One we must take seriously. She assumes that women cannot be equal to men unless they act destructively against their bodies and the developing life they carry. Essentially, women are told that by sacrificing life they can achieve an “equal” life.

As Harvard visiting scholar Erika Bacciochi explains, abortion advocacy assumes a “troubling natural inequality” for women because they get pregnant and men do not. Abortion eliminates that difference so women, like men, can enter into sexual relations without commitment, “free” to become, both socially and economically. But to do so, women must act “affirmatively and destructively” on their bodies to imitate men.

In the words of pro-life scholar Camille Williams, in essence, women are reduced to “defective men,” living “at the mercy of our bodies, too weak, irrational and incompetent to resist irresponsible men who impregnate us, and too politically weak to shape our educational institutions and workplaces” to accommodate the gift of our fertility.

Abortion does not remedy inequality for women. It entrenches it by refusing to acknowledge and respect the sexual difference between men and women. Instead of shaping our educational institutions and workplaces to respect, protect and support women’s childbearing, abortion encourages us to ignore it. Instead of seeking remedies for the challenges and injustices faced by pregnant women, abortion “submits” to them, masking and not responding to the realities women face.

The assumptions underlying abortion have also undermined the responsibility men and women feel for each other, and the life they create. Abortion on demand teaches that relationships are terminable at will — that love, sacrifice and commitment are contingent upon self-interest and fulfillment. It says not only to a developing person, but to the mother herself, “I will love and care for you when it works for me.” But in the rejection of her pregnancy, she is also being rejected. To denigrate the gift of life unavoidably denigrates the person who carries that life.

As sociologist Mark Regnerus’ research found, “Sex among singles used to occur in and during the search for someone to marry. … The average woman could and did count on seeing evidence of commitment before sex, because sex risked pregnancy. … Now having sex and thinking about or committing to marry are two very different things.”

The tragic result is fewer marriageable men, less commitment, and a sexually permissive climate where women are easily objectified. Permissive abortion allows men to be absolved of responsibility for the gift of life that may result from their sexual relationships, whether aborted or not. And so, ironically, since Roe v. Wade, the out-of-wedlock childbearing rate has grown from 5 percent to 41 percent with profound negative implications, especially for low-income women and children. Although abortion is often marketed as a means of planning for child-rearing, easy access to it has undermined our capacity to form the committed relationships children depend upon.

A culture of abortion is ultimately antithetical to the equality women deserve, and it undermines the desire many women have for committed relationships with men as husbands and fathers, and with the children of those fathers. Given the long-term implications of the assumptions underlying a culture of permissive abortion, we can and must do better for women.


Jenet Jacob Erickson is an affiliated scholar of the Wheatley Institution at BYU.


Why Moms and Dads Both Matter in Marriage

by Jenet Erickson, a Ruth Institute Circle of Experts member

This article was first published at Public Discourse on May 18, 2015.

Mothers and fathers are not interchangeable—they both add distinct benefits to the development of children. Courts and legislatures can change legal definitions, but they cannot alter biology or psychology.

As the Supreme Court considers whether to redefine marriage in genderless terms, scholars supporting gender-diverse parenting filed an amicus brief urging the Court not to eviscerate this fundamental norm of marriage given its crucial benefits to the development of children. If same-sex marriage is constitutionalized, the message the law will send is that the gender of parents becomes valueless, since any two adults will do.

Gender Diversity Is in Our Genes


In the late 1970s, Azim Surani tried to create new life using two sets of genes from only a mother, or a father. Everything then known about genetics suggested that with the right number of chromosomes, life would develop normally, even if all of its genetic material came only from a female or a male. But the eggs with only the mother’s genes could not survive. A similar fate met the eggs implanted with two sets of father’s genes.

As science reporter Paul Raeburn describes, Surani discovered that mothers and fathers each contributed something in their genes that was critical to sustaining life. These “paternal” and “maternal” genes appeared completely indistinguishable in every way, yet expressed themselves differently depending on whether they came from the mother or the father. And both were essential to the survival of the egg.

The essential need for both a mother and a father to provide genetic material for survival parallels what social science tells us about the importance of mothers and fathers in children’s development. Fathers and mothers bring similar, even indistinguishable, capacities that enable healthy child development. But like the complementarity of the left and right halves of the brain, they also bring distinct capacities that provide complementary, irreplaceable contributions to children’s healthy development.

Coo and Cuddle vs. Tickle and Toss

Consider what social science research reveals about how mothers and fathers distinctively influence children’s social and emotional development. Mothers are biologically primed to provide nurturing oriented toward creating a strong attachment relationship. Dramatic increases in oxytocin and oxytocin receptors during the process of giving birth and caring for infants act like a switch in mothers, turning on maternal behaviors. New moms find themselves expressing positive feelings, affectionately touching and gazing at their infants, and engaging in “motherese” vocalizations. Infants’ levels of oxytocin parallel their mothers’, producing feelings of calm and well-being that similarly bond mother and offspring.

Fathers also experience significant physiological changes that “prime” them for bonding. But the same hormones elicit different types of responses. Instead of inviting “security-inducing” behaviors, fathers’ levels of oxytocin are associated with “stimulatory” behaviors, like tickling and bouncing. This suggests a biological foundation for what we observe all around us. While mothers are more likely to “coo and cuddle” their infants, fathers are more likely to “tickle and toss." These differences foreshadow more extensive complementary patterns exhibited across children’s development.

Identity and Emotional Capacity vs. Social and Relational Capacity

Find the rest of the article here.


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