(RNS) The abortion debate, newly rekindled by opportunistic politicians, reminds me of marital strife where one or both sides declare lifelong war.
When one side senses an opening for fresh invective, it attacks. Nothing has changed, there's no new information on the table, just the same tired absolutes. But the opportunity to assail the other is too delicious to resist.
Any event presents such opportunities. Time for a new car? Let's shout about the last wretched car-buying decision. Time for a child's wedding? Let's drag out the divorce decree and demand a redo of sharing expenses. Problems at work? Terrific, a fresh opening for the “you always” accusations of marital war.
In the case of abortion, the right wing's assault on the availability of women's health care presents a tactical opportunity. Bickering over the teaching of science presents another. Matters that have nothing to do with reproduction and unplanned pregnancy become fresh battlegrounds.
Nothing is allowed to get settled. Every Supreme Court vacancy becomes fresh meat for anti-abortion advocates.
Same with other presidential appointments. Meanwhile, abortion rates are falling, because the young are paying more attention to contraception.
Why, then, is contraception now under attack? Why the sudden interest in teenage sex and proposals that would turn back the clock on birth control and inevitably cause a surge of abortions? Shouldn't anti-abortion advocates be promoting, not discouraging, access to birth control?
This is where the ugliness comes into view.
Anti-abortion zealots are behaving like radical Islamists: trying to balance society's moral ledger by scapegoating women and taking away their freedom. The abortion debate isn't about the unborn, it's about the female.
It is about insecure men demanding the right to control women's lives. The more women become free and equal in modern society, the harder these men fight to reinstitute former ways — like making the woman solely responsible for sex and its outcomes, like making women pay for mistakes.
The abortion debate feels like a last-ditch effort to keep uppity women in their place. Rather than seek the mutuality and oneness that Jesus wanted, right-wing zealots quote the patriarchal code of ancient Israel as if it were fresh words for today.
The recent spectacle of old white men testifying before Congress about women's rights reminded me of the Taliban mob that has buried a woman up to her neck in the ground and is quoting sacred texts in preparation for stoning her.
Demonizing the female is a perfect smoke screen for hiding the forces that truly are corroding the nation's moral fiber. Women didn't cause the recession or the decades of economic inequality that preceded it. Women didn't cheapen entertainment, or cause corruption in government, or lead the nation into ruinous wars, or spew toxic chemicals into rivers, or send jobs overseas, or run massive budget deficits.
This was the work of a small, greedy cabal — some of its members female — who have systematically plundered the nation. As that cabal endures scrutiny, its funders channel vast sums to candidates who agree to pursue unrelated causes, like women's rights, in order to keep the gravy train running.
The so-called “culture wars” are an ideal cover-up for a pillaging that has nothing to do with gender, babies, teenage girls and boys, marriage, theology, or family values. Follow the money.
(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter (at)tomehrich.)