Since its release in 2018, millions of people—myself included—have read Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. For the uninitiated, you might call it a book-length treatise of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change. Peterson—who has become a cultural phenomenon in his own right—puts it this way: “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.” That’s Rule 6, and while I might question the inclusion of the word “perfect,” maybe that’s the whole point. So long as there is work to be done in my own life, why waste precious time blaming my ills on someone or something else?
Personal responsibility is at the heart of the Jordan Peterson empire, and though that empire has taken a hit recently—as Peterson slowly recovers from a near-fatal dependence upon benzodiazepines—his basic message remains unscathed. “Making your life better,” Peterson posits, “means adopting a lot of responsibility, and that takes more effort and care than living stupidly in pain and remaining arrogant, deceitful and resentful.” There’s nothing particularly revolutionary in Peterson’s message, but plenty of today’s enlightened elite hate him for it. And while there isn’t anything new in the shirking of personal responsibility (see: Adam & Eve), bending over backwards to excuse and reward such behavior is a thoroughly modern development.
In light of Peterson’s emphasis on personal accountability—along with the title itself—I got to thinking about how the 12 rules (for life!) might relate to abortion. Is abortion chaos or order? Those who sell abortion frame it as a responsible choice—a loving choice, but I would counter that abortion is the most quintessentially irresponsible choice a person can make. Killing your own unborn child is the antithesis of responsibility. To do so—for fear of subjecting that child to a life of want—is like torching a field of saplings to spare them from pollutants. It’s a “solution” that’s qualitatively worse than the threat.
That being said, Jordan Peterson plays things close to the vest when it comes to abortion. He rarely discusses it. And though he’s on record saying that abortion is “clearly wrong”—and believes everyone knows this, he equivocates when it comes to making abortion against the law. “Should everything wrong be illegal?” he wonders aloud. All that to say, the thought experiment I’m embarking on here—which will apply each of Peterson’s rules to the condemnation of abortion—is entirely my own. It is not Peterson-approved, nor is it the way I normally work—beginning with a conclusion and working backwards to make it fit. Some might argue that I could just as easily interpret Peterson’s 12 rules the other way, as a defense for abortion—but I don’t believe that to be true. And truth is paramount! (Rule 9) Were I to start from scratch and craft my own 12 rules for (protecting) life, these aren’t the ones I’d have chosen. But that’s what makes this exercise so interesting. The constraints. Nietzsche—who shows up frequently in Peterson’s work—was no fan of Christianity, but he admired the rigor of Catholic theologians. Peterson notes the following in his lecture “Beyond Order: Another 12 Rules for Life”:
One of the things [Nietzsche] believed was that the attempt over several thousands of years to force every phenomenon into a framework that could be explained by the axioms of Catholic belief disciplined the European mind. It made it capable of producing rigorous and coherent theories, independent of whether the theory was correct.
It should go without saying that I believe in the correctness of the theories I’m putting forth, but even if you disagree with my interpretations, there is value in the process itself—independent of the conclusions that are reached. Peterson’s 12 rules for life are not meant to be comprehensive. There’s a randomness to them for the simple fact that they were culled from a list that originally included 42. It’s also true that “order” is not the highest value Peterson has in view. Chaos may be an existential threat, but so is too much structure—which simply trades anarchy for tyranny. Peterson writes:
Order is God the father, the eternal Judge, ledger-keeper and dispenser of rewards and punishments. Order is the peacetime army of policeman and soldiers. It’s the political culture, the corporate environment, and the system. It’s the “they“ in “you know what they say.“ It’s credit cards, classrooms, supermarket checkout lineups, turn-taking, traffic lights, and the familiar routes of daily commuters. Order, when pushed too far, when imbalanced, can also manifest itself destructively and terribly. It does so as the forced migration, the concentration camp, and the soul-devouring uniformity of the goose-step.
My hope in all this is twofold. First, I want to vet the validity of Peterson’s rules against the validity of my own opposition to abortion. If both are valid, then they should be able to fit together in perfect harmony. Second, since Jordan Peterson’s age-old ideas have already transformed the lives of countless persons around the globe, I’d like to turn the collective gaze of those persons to an issue which Peterson seems reluctant to visit himself—at least publicly. In my mind, the practical ramifications of 12 Rules for Life must be given as wide an application as possible, and that certainly includes abortion. So without any further ado, here are the 12 Rules for (Protecting) Life as they apply to therapeutic abortion.
Rule #1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back
The way you carry yourself matters tremendously. When you display more courage and confidence than you actually feel, you wind up becoming a more courageous and confident person—which yields exceedingly better results. This positive feedback loop can literally transform your brain, but the inverse is also true. When you act cowardly or ignobly, your brain concludes that you must be a coward and adjusts itself accordingly.
At the psychological level, abortion is a declaration of fear—and perhaps shame. When you have one, you unconsciously proclaim to yourself that you are a person who lacks competence and courage. When you recommend abortion to a pregnant woman, you thereby infer that she is not capable of overcoming difficult life challenges. Birth, by contrast, is a declaration of courage and hope. Consider the remarks of this woman from Massachusetts who shared her birth story with Abort73:
I found out I was pregnant when I was nineteen… I was living over a thousand miles away from any friends and family, in an apartment with an abusive boyfriend who threw me out when he heard the news. I had only attended college for a year and had no money, no job, and nowhere to turn… My daughter turns fifteen tomorrow. She's a gifted student, a creative writer and a brilliant artist. Within a few short years after her birth, I finished college, got a graduate degree, married a wonderful man, and bought a house… The people who tell you that having a baby destroys your future are lying. My life is better than I could have ever imagined all those years ago, and my daughter's life is amazing and irreplaceable. Being her mom led me out of a place of such darkness and selfishness. I am grateful that I became a mother at a young age, because it forced me to become a better person.
If this young college coed had had an abortion—as virtually everyone around her recommended—there would have been no compelling pressure for her to become a better person. That’s the irony of unintended consequences, and it’s illustrated quite painfully in this abortion story:
Everything was supposed to go back to normal (after the abortion). No one told me I would have nightmares of burning in hell, waking in a panic. No one told me I would cringe at the sight of a newborn baby for the next year or two. No one told me I would come to hate myself for what I had done, and no one told me I'd turn to drugs and alcohol to drown out the regret and sorrow. No one told me I'd go from one abusive relationship to the next. Maybe that's what I thought I deserved. No one told me that one day would affect the rest of my life.
“The forces of tyranny expand inexorably to fill the space made available for their existence.” Jordan Peterson wrote that in the first chapter of 12 Rules for Life and it’s worth considering in the context of abortion. I think Jesus expresses the same basic sentiment in Matthew 12:43-45 when he warns that an unoccupied house—or life—is an open invitation to evil. For anyone struggling to make something of themselves or to finally adopt a greater measure of personal responsibility, being backed into a corner isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, it might be the best thing—and this is precisely where an “unwanted” pregnancy puts you. You can either take responsibility and fight your way out, or you can kill your unborn baby. Those are the only choices.
When you have an abortion, you essentially clear the field so that all of your bad habits and self-destructive behavior can continue and multiply—unabated. But what if you didn’t allow yourself to take the easy way out? Would you find the strength to do what needs to be done? Would you discover that necessity is indeed the mother of invention? You almost certainly would. Abortion accommodates the continuation of puerile habits; parenting does not. Parenting forces the adoption of responsibility, which is good for the child and profoundly good for the parent.
Rule #2: Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping
Human beings, it turns out, are far more likely to fill prescriptions for those in their care—even pets—than they are to fill prescriptions for themselves. Why is that, do you think? And is it a bad thing? Failing to sufficiently care for yourself is a bad thing, Peterson argues, though he’s hardly surprised by it. Each of us has a front-row seat to our own failings, which gives us plenty of fuel for self-loathing. When it comes to unhealthy behavior, we seem to give ourselves a much longer leash than we’re willing to give those we’re responsible for. I see this quite clearly in the allowances I give myself that I don’t give my children—specifically in the realm of diet and entertainment. It doesn’t affect me in the same way it affects them, I rationalize—and maybe that’s true. Or maybe it’s just a convenient lie that I tell myself. Either way, Peterson believes we are all “morally bound” to treat ourselves as an object of intrinsic worth. He writes:
You do not simply belong to yourself. You are not simply your own possession to torture and mistreat. This is partly because your being is inexorably tied up with that of others, and your mistreatment of yourself can have catastrophic consequences for others... But, metaphorically speaking, there is also this: you have a spark of the divine in you, which belongs not to you, but to God.
With echoes of I Corinthians 6:19, Peterson suggests that caring for yourself is not an expression of narcissism but is rather a recognition of the duty you owe the cosmos. Though some might argue that the admonition to better care for yourself could be a justification for abortion, that would be a shallow and misguided assessment. Consider again the two women we’ve already heard from. While it’s fair to say that caring for yourself is a precursor to caring for others, it doesn’t follow that caring for yourself might necessitate the killing of an unborn child. Abort73 has published hundreds of abortion testimonies—all of which emphatically indicate that abortion is not self-care.
“You wouldn’t recommend that someone that you love have [an abortion].” Jordan Peterson made that statement during the Q&A portion of one of his biblical lectures. Since lots of people do recommend abortion to people they ostensibly love, I think the statement needs some clarification. What he means, I believe, is that no one recommends abortion for its own sake. Having an abortion isn’t on anyone’s bucket list—unless they’re severely masochistic, and no sane parent dreams that their little girl will someday get to have a D&C. At best, abortion is a necessary evil. At worst, there is nothing necessary about it; it is merely evil. No matter which view more closely matches your own, the material point is this. Abortion is not something you would wish upon a woman you love. Remarkably, a number of the post-abortive women we’ve heard from go even further:
- “I wouldn't wish this (pain) on my worst enemy.”
- “I wouldn't wish the pain I'm feeling on my worst enemy.”
- “I can't say that I am anti-abortion, but I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy.”
- "I learned the hard way and I would never wish this type of pain on even my worst enemy."
The admonition to treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping precludes abortion on two fronts. First, it eliminates many of the lifestyle choices that are predictors of abortion. The National Abortion Federation (NAF) reports that women who have abortions are “more likely to smoke and (more likely) to be exposed to sexually transmitted infections [because they've had a] greater number of sexual partners, (and an) earlier age at first sex.” People who care for themselves as beings of intrinsic worth don’t smoke cigarettes, they don’t start having sex in adolescence, and they don’t sleep with a wide range of partners. If you doubt that, just put your parenting hat on for a moment and consider your real or imagined teenaged daughter. Do you want her smoking? Do you want her having casual sex with a wide range of partners? If this is not the kind of risky behavior you would endorse for the daughter in your care, then it’s not the kind of behavior you should be embracing yourself.
The second way that self-care precludes abortion is more direct—and difficult. That’s because women who undervalue their intrinsic worth are far more likely to sleep with the “wrong” guy and far more likely to find themselves pregnant and alone. Who is the wrong guy? In large measure, it’s the guy you’re not married to. I realize that sounds terribly parochial, but consider this. In the United States, 84% of abortions are performed on unmarried women. And women who live with a man they’re not married to are 2.5 times more likely to have an abortion than women at large. Abortion is the price we pay for unmarried sex—and the cost is beyond measure. This came to Abort73 from a 26-year-old woman in Ohio:
I had an abortion almost a week ago. The day following the procedure I attempted suicide. I was hospitalized and am now starting counseling to help me cope… Regret can’t even describe how I feel… why should I deserve to live? I hate myself… I murdered my poor innocent baby. I'll never forgive myself, nor do I deserve to be forgiven...
When a woman finds herself in a crisis pregnancy, she is at a crossroads. She can either have an abortion—which is almost always a manifestation of self-loathing—or she can treat herself as someone worth caring for. Abortion is the natural continuation of self-destructive behavior—as evidenced by the fact that women who have abortions experience “a higher rate of violent death (including accidents, homicide, and suicide)” than those who deliver. Why is that? Because women who abort don’t hold their own lives in high enough regard. But one noble, righteous and courageous choice can change your trajectory forever. The answer isn’t: Love yourself no matter how you act. That’s not really possible. The answer is: Do things that make it easier to love and care for yourself. If abortion is not something to be wished upon the people you love—or even upon the people you hate—then why would you even consider it for yourself?
Continue to: "12 Rules for Protecting Life (Part Two)"
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. Subscribe to Michael's Substack for his latest articles and recordings. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.