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The Republican Crusade Against Sex

July 5, 2022 | 1,410 words | Politics, Philosophy

As a resident of Pennsylvania, I will be called on in a few months to help elect a new Governor.  As usual, I am less than thrilled with the two major party candidates we are able to choose between.  And also as usual in recent years, the Republican option in this election is even more of a concern to me than is the Democrat.

Doug Mastriano is what might be called a political novice, having won a special run-off in 2019 for PA State Senator, his first try at elected office.  He then won re-election to that seat by a wide margin in 2020.  Despite this skimpy track record, he managed to secure the support of Republican kingmakers in the state, win this year’s gubernatorial primary in a four-way race, and is running a well-funded campaign for the Governorship this Fall.

While I have no doubt Mr. Mastriano thinks of himself as a decent man who is trying to do the right thing, some of the positions he has staked out seem reactionary and a bit half-baked.  A little too knee-jerk conservative for my taste.  His unequivocal support of Donald Trump and the misguided effort to overturn the 2020 Presidential election are embarrassing, but might be chalked up to a measure of political naiveté.  His rigid stance on abortion is another matter.  Like many conservatives who consider themselves highly principled, he sees abortion as a clear-cut, black and white issue.  But presenting this as always being a harsh, selfish decision on the part of a woman to murder her unborn baby in the womb is presumptuous and dismissive, and hardly does justice to those women who find themselves in this difficult position.  He cites “the science” to support his contention that life begins at conception, as if nothing more need be said.  

Well, like Mr. Mastriano, I, too, happen to believe in the sanctity of human life that gestates in a pregnant woman’s womb.  I, too, believe that life begins at conception.  But I also realize there can be any number of medical complications during a pregnancy that threaten the life of a prospective mother, and the viability of the unborn child.  To say nothing of rape and incest.  

I think we need a much more informed discussion around the subject of “exceptions.”  The list we are all familiar with – rape, incest, and life of the mother – is but a starting point in what should be a broader and deeper conversation.  Medical professionals and ethicists should be invited into this discussion, with their rationales and ruminations widely disseminated.  Only then should our lawmakers consider formulating a new, more nuanced public policy.

But, of course, Mr. Mastriano is on record as being opposed to any exceptions whatsoever.


I guess Doug Mastriano is just the sort of politician Mara Gay, a member of the New York Times editorial board, had in mind when she sat down to write her provocatively-titled Op-Ed piece, “The Republican Crusade Against Sex.”  It appears in today’s edition of the newspaper.

Ms. Gay’s strident tone in this essay might be chalked up to the countless little (and not-so-little) indignities women have suffered at the hands of men over the years.  Those indignities now culminate in the outrage many women feel – and Mara Gay expresses so well – at the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.  Not to mention rumors the High Court may be considering a restriction on the availability of contraception.  

Mara Gay sees this as a special project of “puritanical tyrants seeking to control our bodies.”  She goes on to describe the radical right-wing minority behind this movement as being “animated by an insatiable desire to punish women who have sex on our own terms and enjoy it.”


While Ms. Gay may have gotten a little carried away with herself in penning that last phrase – an insatiable desire to punish women… really? – the recent turn of events over at the Supreme Court is not a good look for Republicans who appointed and confirmed this last batch of justices, resulting in a new conservative majority.  In fighting abortion so vehemently, pols like Doug Mastriano focus on what they call “abortions of convenience.”  As if the decision to abort is never a gut-wrenching one, as if a woman decides to have an abortion on a whim.  

Setting aside what are often serious economic and emotional issues, along with the aforementioned rape, incest, and life of the mother exceptions, many principled women face a basic, everyday problem men never have to face:  They want to keep having sex, but they don’t necessarily want to keep – or start – having children.    

Conservatives should not be alarmed when Mara Gay starts her Op-Ed with the declaration: “I have sex because I like it.  Sex is fun.”  This should not brand her as a radical feminist out to remake the social order.  Or a slut.  It just makes her a human being with a healthy sex drive.

I only mention this because many conservatives who oppose legal abortion under any circumstances also, generally speaking, are against the widespread distribution of contraception.  The traditional opposition to contraception is grounded in the belief it promotes promiscuity among the citizenry, and threatens marital fidelity by making adultery easier to indulge in without consequences.  While those concerns may be real, what about those principled women I just referenced above – married or single – who simply want a say in when they will become pregnant?


While all this would seem obvious, it’s something social commentators like J.D. Vance, the Republican nominee for Senate in Ohio, apparently need to be remined of.  Although Vance’s best-seller “Hillbilly Elegy” deeply resonated with me, Mr. Vance displays what I would call a tin ear on Twitter when he announces: “If your worldview tells you that it’s bad for women to become mothers but liberating for them to work 90 hours a week in a cubicle at the New York Times or Goldman Sachs, you’ve been had.”    

Gosh, J.D., that’s as bad as Mara Gay saying a radical right-wing minority has “an insatiable desire to punish women.”  While I’m far from an expert on the matter, I think the point women are making is that it’s okay to either be a mother or work at a demanding place like The New York Times or Goldman Sachs.  And, with a cooperative spouse and a suitable support system, the enterprising woman might even be able to tackle both without negatively affecting family life.


I am familiar with the language and statistics Doug Mastriano posted on May 3, on the impending overturn of Roe v. Wade.  Namely that Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was a eugenicist (Mr. Mastriano refers to her as a “white nationalist”) who used family planning to target minorities.  He cites “recent statistics” from the Department of Health that indicate the African American and Latino populations of Pennsylvania account for more than half of all abortions in the Commonwealth, despite representing only about 18% of the populace.

I am also familiar with evidence of grisly “abortion mills,” like the one run by the infamous Kermit Gosneel in West Philadelphia (a minority neighborhood) for decades.  Mr. Mastriano called attention to Gosnell during a televised debate among the four PA Republican Senate candidates last Spring.  The statistics are troubling, as are the existence of such mills.  But the targeting of minorities is only one aspect of the complex abortion issue.  And allow me to add this:  If conservatives are really so concerned about the health and welfare of our minority populations, they would do well to rethink their insistence on trickle-down economic policies, since those policies provide precious little opportunity to those populations.

Another way for conservatives like Doug Mastriano to show their true concern for our minority populations would be to boldly fund child care and other financial support aimed at the poorest families, who often must have both parents working to scratch out a meager living that barely registers above the poverty line.


Returning for a moment to the young, articulate Ms. Mara Gay of the New York Times editorial board, I enjoyed her edgy, well-written Op-Ed immensely.  As one human being to another, I sincerely wish her the best of luck in her continued search for happiness and fulfilment in the realm of sexual expression.  And in one day reaching her stated goal of becoming a mother.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr

July 5, 2022

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