A majority of pro-life Americans are willing to help friends and family get an abortion, while opposing it for others.
A new study published in the journal Science Advances demonstrates glaring hypocrisy among American conservatives. On one hand, they’ve made access to abortions more difficult, demonized those that get or perform abortions, and are working hard to reverse the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade. On the other hand, according to an analysis of hundreds of interviews and surveys from 2018 and 2019, the anti-abortion crowd is highly likely to provide emotional, financial, and/or logistical support to friends and family seeking abortions.
The authors of the study call this contradiction discordant benevolence, which they define as “the extension of help that satisfies one’s sense of responsibility to participate in supportive exchanges despite conflict with another strongly held value.” In other words, they can easily set aside their morals when it affects them or someone they know, demonstrating how flimsy and out of touch their moral code actually is. The authors identified 3 types of discordant benevolence: commiseration, exemption, and discretion, each of which shows the mental gymnastics of American conservatives.
Commiseration is a rationale in which those who are morally opposed to abortion will provide support for a woman seeking one because they see her as a person in need of help. Their compassion for who they see as a victim of misfortune outweighs their moral opposition. The researchers explained that “They, like all of us, live in a troubled world and are vulnerable to hardship, adversity, bad luck, and oppression. Casting the woman seeking an abortion within this context of misfortune, commiseration enables morally opposed interviewees to help someone whose choice they disagree with, perhaps adamantly.”
For example, one interviewee named Maxine identified as a conservative Republican, yet she drove a friend she had met at an addiction recovery group to an abortion clinic. Maxine believed that abortion was certainly murder, but after learning of her friend’s traumatic upbringing, she developed “a more human view.” That is, she was adamant that abortion is morally repugnant, but her empathy for her friend was more powerful.
Roxanne, another conservative Republican, had a similar story. After getting an abortion herself, she understood how traumatic the experience can be, so if she was ever in a position to help another woman in a similar situation, she’d be willing to help. In the interview, she said abortion was killing, but she used commiseration to rationalize it. “We make bad choices, but we’re still good people.”
Exemption is a logical rationale in which a person will set aside their moral opposition to abortion when it involves close friends or family. In other words, a different set of rules exist depending on how close the relationship is. If it’s a random person, American conservatives have no issue forcing their morals on others and society in general. But if it’s someone they know, then they feel free to choose how and when to apply them.
A good example of this is the decision Ken, another conservative Republican, was forced to make. When his girlfriend became pregnant, they prayed for a miscarriage, but when this inevitably didn’t work, they were forced to admit they did “a lot of praying for the wrong thing.” His girlfriend eventually went to an abortion clinic for the procedure, and Ken rationalized it by convincing himself that it was their only option. Ken still supports bans on abortions, except when it affects him or someone close to him.
Ken’s mental gymnastics are similar to Ellie, who claimed that she would support her own daughter’s decision to get an abortion, despite identifying as a conservative Republican. She knows it would be a difficult and unfortunate situation, though she would ultimately respect her daughter’s decision and would “support her and do whatever I would need to do.” Ellie rationalized her discordant benevolence by putting her family before her morals.
The 3rd type of discordant benevolence identified by the researchers is discretion, which can be defined as “moral individualism.” This means that “Abortion can be morally wrong ‘for me’ (the help-giver), but the decision belongs to you (the help-recipient), a distinction that enables helping behaviors.” People that use this type of rationalization, understand that abortion is a personal choice, though they wouldn’t make the same choice.
For example, one interviewee named Veronica said that “For anybody in my life, I’ll encourage them to keep [the baby] and I’ll break down every way possible for them to make it work. But if they make that choice, there’s nothing I can do about it.” Likewise, Melanie believes people should be free to make their own decisions but, as a close friend or relative, it’s her job to be supportive. “Again, I’m not there to judge. I’m there to provide guidance and support for whatever the decision is.”
Let’s Look at the Data
The researchers of this study used data from the General Social Survey (GSS), a large database of opinions stretching back 50 years on a wide variety of social issues, run by the University of Chicago and funded by the National Science Foundation. Using data from 2018, they found some enlightening trends:
For Americans in general, 88%, regardless of their political or moral leanings, would be willing to provide emotional support; 72% would help with planning, arranging, and facilitating a trip to an abortion clinic; 50% would help pay for extra costs; and 25% would pay for the abortion itself.
When it comes to those that are morally opposed, 76% would provide emotional support, only 6% would contribute financially, and 40% would help make arrangements for a woman seeking an abortion. For the not morally opposed, 96% would provide emotional support, 54% would help pay for the procedure, and 91% would help make arrangements.
In this writer’s opinion, the above demonstrates glaring hypocrisy when it comes to abortion, but the researchers urge caution before jumping to this conclusion. “At first blush, these people may appear as hypocrites. They are not. They are at a moral crossroads, pulled by their opposition to abortion and by their inclination to support people they care about.”
But here’s the problem with this statement: anyone sitting at a moral crossroads for abortion understands that there’s a reason for abortion, that it can be a woman’s only solution, albeit an unfortunate one. If abortion is as repugnant as they say it is, then there wouldn’t be a moral crossroads. Would these people say the same about murder? Would they do the same mental gymnastics and have the same discordant benevolence if a friend or family member asked them to help kill someone? Of course, not.
The only solution to this riddle is that they’re hypocrites. On the surface, they scream “abortion is murder,” while privately they understand it’s different than murder. Like liberals, they understand that abortion plays a pivotal in women’s rights, family planning, etc. Therefore, the only real difference between conservatives and liberals when it comes to abortion is that liberals say and do what they’re actually thinking, yet there seems to be little agreement between what conservatives are thinking, doing, and/or saying.
Originally published at http://thehappyneuron.com on March 2, 2022.