Hatred & aggression
The first motivation can be explained by the thought of Sigmund Freud. Freud pointed out that human beings have an innate drive towards hatred and aggression.
…Men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, and who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctive endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbour is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on them, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus.[ii]
This of course is not a new discovery; what is new in Freud is his clear understanding of how human societies typically deal with these aggressive urges. Life in society imposes the necessity of restricting these urges, but restricting them does not get rid of them. They still exist, and seek an outlet. Societies deal with them by singling out a group of people upon whom it is permissible to vent our innate hatred and aggression; the Jews in Europe, the untouchables in India, the burakumin in Japan. (This is not of course a conscious mechanism for dealing with aggression, nor does it require everyone in the society to actually inflict violence. Most people can participate in the aggression vicariously, like the Englishwomen in the First World War who handed out white feathers to men who did not join the army.) Freud points out that having a group to hate not only avoids tensions that could result from aggression, it actually strengthens the bonds of love between the members of a society.
In Western societies, the principal group that serves this purpose is the unborn. It is instructive to note that abortion was legalized in the United States only a few years after the granting of full civil rights to blacks. I would not deny that blacks in the United States still experience racial discrimination. However, prior to the ending of legal discrimination it was possible for whites to personally witness the humiliation of blacks, and to lord it over them, in a way that they could not do afterwards. When this could no longer be done, a new group was needed to receive the hatred and aggression that was previously slaked on blacks, and Roe vs. Wade provided it. People sometimes express surprise that vehement opponents of racism are often pro-choice, and that one can find pro-lifers who are racially prejudiced. In fact, nothing could be more natural.
Although society has chosen the unborn as objects of aggression, it cannot inflict violence on them with the carefree spirit of the soldiers of Genghis Khan. Most people still feel horror at the prospect of killing. Pro-choice advocates deal with this horror through the mechanism of projection. This mechanism comes into use when we feel guilt and revulsion towards some of our acts or desires, yet are not willing to renounce them, or even to admit that we possess them. In projection, we deal with these feelings by attributing the evil that gives rise to them to someone else, and hating that person on account of the evil we attribute to him. Often enough we choose to hate the very person we act badly towards. Supporters of abortion can scarcely do this, so they project their aggression onto pro-lifers and men. Opponents of abortion are accused of trying to oppress women and take away their rights, a reflection of the fact that abortion is the greatest possible oppression and denial of rights. The violence inflicted by men is vehemently denounced. It would seem almost beyond belief that anyone can campaign against male violence while supporting abortion, a form of violence for which women are primarily responsible and that in Western societies kills far more people than are killed by men by other means.[iii] When we understand how projection works, however, such behaviour is no longer mysterious. Projection explains why supporters of abortion are angered, and not convinced, by such pro-life tactics as displaying pictures of aborted children that clearly indicate their humanity. Such tactics increase the unpleasantness they feel about the killing of humans. Since the way they deal with this unpleasantness is by projecting it on pro-lifers, the sole result is that their hatred of pro-lifers increases.
An Aristotelian point should be added to the Freudian one. The aggressive drives that Freud mentions are not constant. They are reinforced by being acted upon. Scruples and feelings of pity that once would have been strong, vanish when they are repressed sufficiently often. What once would have been too horrible to contemplate becomes normal and accepted.
Freud can help us to understand the debate over abortion, as well as the reasons why people support it. The following reflections will strike a melancholy and familiar note for anyone who has tried to argue for the pro-life cause, and could indeed be repeated word for word by pro-lifers;
…There is, however, another symptom in our fellow-citizens of the world which has perhaps astonished and shocked us no less than the descent from their ethical heights which has given us so much pain [Freud is referring to the violence of the First World War]. What I have in mind is the want of insight shown by the best intellects, their obduracy, their inaccessibility to the most forcible arguments and their uncritical credulity towards the most disputable assertions. This indeed presents a lamentable picture, and I wish to say emphatically that in this I am by no means a blind partisan who finds all the intellectual shortcomings on one side. But this phenomenon is much easier to account for and much less disquieting than the one we have just considered. Students of human nature and philosophers have long taught us that we are mistaken in regarding our intelligence as an independent force and in overlooking its dependence on emotional life. Our intellect, they tell us, can function reliably only when it is removed from the influences of strong emotional impulses; otherwise it behaves merely as an instrument of the will and delivers the inferences which the will requires.[iv]