Many people have strong opinions about abortion—especially in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ruled Roe v. Wade, revoking a constitutional right previously held by more than 165 million Americans.
But what really drives people’s attitudes to abortion?
It is common to hear religious, political, and other ideologically driven explanations – for example, about the sanctity of life. If such beliefs were indeed driving anti-abortion attitudes, however, those opposed to abortion may not support the death penalty (many do), and they would support social security measures that saved the lives of newborns. Can (many not).
Here, we suggest a different explanation for the anti-abortion approach from our field of evolutionary social science—one you probably haven’t considered before.
Why do people care what strangers do?
The evolutionary coin of the realm is fitness – getting more copies of your genes in the next generation. What distant strangers do probably has a limited impact on your own fitness. So from this point of view, it’s a mystery why the people of Pensacola care so strongly about the bedrooms of Philadelphia or Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles.
The solution to this puzzle – and one answer driving anti-abortion trends – lies in the conflict of sexual strategies: people differ in how opposed they are to casual sex. The more “sex restricted” people abstain from casual sex and instead invest heavily in long-term relationships and raising children. In contrast, more “sexually unrestricted” people pursue a range of different sexual partners and are often slower to settle down.
These sexual strategies conflict in ways that affect evolutionary fitness.
The crux of this argument is that, for sexually restricted people, other people’s sexual freedoms represent threats. Note that sexually restricted women often marry young and have children early in life. These options are just as valid as the decision to wait, but they can also be detrimental to women’s occupational attainment and leave women more financially dependent on husbands.
The sexual openness of other women can destroy the lives and livelihoods of these women by sabotaging the relationships they depend on. So sexually restricted women benefit from hindering other people’s sexual freedom. Similarly, sexually restricted males invest heavily in their children, so they benefit from restricting people’s sexual freedom to prevent the high fitness cost of being cuckoo.
Benefits of making sex more expensive
According to evolutionary social science, restricted sexual strategists benefit from imposing their strategic priorities on society—by reducing other people’s sexual freedoms.
How can banned sex strategists achieve this? By making casual sex more expensive.
For example, restrictions on women’s access to safe and legal abortion essentially force them to bear the cost of having a child. Such an increase in the cost of casual sex can deter people from doing it.
This attitude is perhaps best illustrated by a statement by Mariano Azuela, a justice who opposed abortion before Mexico’s Supreme Court in 2008: “I think that a woman cannot be pregnant by any means.” She has to live with the phenomenon of being. Even when she does not want to keep the product of pregnancy, she has to suffer the effects during the entire period.”
Force people to “suffer” the effects of casual sex, and fewer people will pursue it.
Also note that abortion restrictions do not disproportionately increase the cost of sex. Women bear the cost of pregnancies, face life-threatening risks of childbirth and unequally bear the responsibility for child care. When women are denied abortion, they are also more likely to end up in poverty and experience intimate partner violence.
No one would argue that this is a conscious phenomenon. Rather, people’s strategic interests shape their attitudes in unconscious but self-beneficial ways – a finding strikingly similar in political science and evolutionary social science.
Resolving strange contradictions in practice
An evolutionary perspective suggests that general explanations are not the real drivers of people’s attitudes – both sides of the abortion debate.
In fact, the religious, political and ideological interpretations given by people are often full of peculiar contradictions. For example, many people who oppose abortion also oppose preventing unwanted pregnancy through contraception.
From an evolutionary point of view, such contradictions are easily resolved. Sexually restricted people benefit from increasing the cost of sex. This cost increases when people are unable to access legal abortion or prevent unwanted pregnancy.
An evolutionary perspective also makes unique – often counter-intuitive – predictions about which perspectives travel together. This view predicts that if sexually restricted people associate something with sexual freedom, they should oppose it.
In fact, researchers have found that sexually restricted people oppose not only abortion and birth control, but marriage equality as well, because they view homosexuality as related to sexual involvement and recreational drugs, possibly because they use marijuana and drugs. Linking drugs like MDMA to casual sex. We suspect this list includes transgender rights, public breastfeeding, premarital sex, what books kids read (and if drag queens can read them), equal pay for women, and many other concerns that are being tested. remains to be done.
No other theories we are aware of predict these strangely behaving bedfellows.
Behind the link between religion and conservatism
This evolutionary approach may also explain why anti-abortion attitudes are often associated with religion and social conservatism.
Rather than thinking that religiosity causes people to be sexually restricted, this approach suggests that a restricted sexual strategy can lead people to become religious. Why? Many scholars have suggested that people follow the religion partly because its teachings promote sexually restricted norms. Supporting this idea, participants in one study reported being more religious when researchers showed them pictures of attractive people of their own gender — that is, potential mating rivals.
Sexually restricted people are also highly invested in parenting, so when others follow norms that benefit parenting, they benefit. Like religion, social conservatism dictates norms of parental benefit such as limiting sexual freedom and promoting family stability. In line with this, some research suggests that people do not become more conservative with age. Rather, people become more socially conservative during parenthood.
banning everyone to your advantage
There are many answers to any “why” question in scientific research. Ideological beliefs, personal history, and other factors certainly play a part in people’s attitudes to abortion.
But so too, so do people’s sexual strategies.
This evolutionary social science research suggests that restricted sexual strategists benefit from everyone playing by their own rules. And as Justice Thomas in Roe v. Wade suggested when reversing, this group could take aim at birth control and marriage equality.