How a Death-Anxiety Theory Fires Up Abortion Debate
Thursday, June 23, 2022
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision on a case, which could upend abortion access across the country. The topic is a source of fiery debate, and one reason could be because of our anxiety about death.
At a webinar hosted by the Seattle-based Ernest Becker Foundation, panelists discussed the link between the anthropologist's work on terror-management theory and the issue of abortion.
Dr. Emily Courtney, social psychologist at the University of South Florida, said people manage their anxiety about death by constructing worldviews, such as religions, ideologies and political orientations. But it also makes people defensive when their worldview is challenged, making topics such as abortion more divisive.
"The fact that we deal with the death anxiety by putting more of our own kind of personal stake in the ideologies that we've adopted as human beings," Courtney explained. "When those things are threatened, we take a step back and things get a little bit more intense when we do confront those issues."
A leaked Supreme Court opinion on the Mississippi abortion case showed justices could be preparing to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, which legalized abortion.
Regardless of the ruling, the option will remain legal in Washington state.
Courtney pointed out death is a large part of terror-management theory, but there are other components to our fear of death, including existential threats to our identity and autonomy. Courtney noted threats can present themselves when someone is not able to make the choice to get an abortion.
"So by limiting those choices, you're presenting more of an existential threat to specific groups of people," Courtney emphasized. "Women, people who may be marginalized in society, people who may be in different socio-economic tiers who could simply not support children."
Dr. Lindsey Harvell-Bowman, associate professor at James Madison University and director of the Terror Management Lab, explored more hopeful messages of empathy and trying to neutralize the terror-management defense which can come up on issues such as abortion.
She recommended humanizing people on the other side of this issue from you, and using communication as a way to get there.
"We're all humans," Harvell-Bowman stated. "We all end the same way, and so really in order to enact change we have to engage in meaningful conversations with each other without completely ruining the other side."
get more stories like this via email
Groups working to curb climate change said a Supreme Court ruling limiting the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to control carbon …
Government labels on meat products that say "humane" or "raised in a stress-free environment" are meaningless, according to some animal-rights groups…
A new report found when high school students enroll in early college programs, it improves the chances they will go on to college after graduation…
As hurricane season kicks into full gear, Pennsylvania officials are reflecting on the impacts of Hurricane Agnes 50 years ago, and urging property …
Health and Wellness
Texas is home to one in 10 Americans of reproductive age, and mandated births due to the state's abortion ban will increase the number of maternal …
Community health centers are calling on state and federal lawmakers for added protections against drug manufactures for drastically cutting them out o…
The futures of tourism, wildlife and ranching in Mono County are now at the mercy of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power - according to …
Coming off a string of controversial opinions, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in a case tied to oversight of federal elections…