Anti-Abortion* Rhetoric: Where It Fails

*Note: I do not accept the term “pro-life” as a valid or accurate description of those who claim to be against abortion, and hence I use the term “anti-abortion” instead. Read this to find out why.

After Wendy Davis’s epic 13-hour filibuster, successfully delaying the Texas senate from voting on an anti-abortion bill that would’ve closed nearly all the state’s abortion clinics (for the time being – sigh), I thought it would be a good idea to examine some of the arguments coming from the anti-abortion side. Sometimes what they argue, and what they’re actually implying, are two quite different things.

First, as this Patheos blog post points out, Anyone who makes the “take responsibility [for having had sex]” argument, regardless of whether they also believe abortion involves “murdering babies,” opposes abortion at least in part out of a desire to control women and their sexuality. If abortion is murder, then it doesn’t matter how or why the woman got pregnant, and whether one makes an exemption for rape or incest – and yet those arguments and exemptions are made.

If abortion is murder, then why talk about women needing to take responsibility for the choice to have sex? What this comes down to is, you can’t have it both ways. Or rather, if you try, you expose yourself as someone who believes that women’s sexuality should be controlled, and they should be punished for being sexually active. If you really, truly believe that abortion is murder, fine, go about trying to end abortions – but do not, do not, play the “sexual responsibility” card. It exposes the flaws in your logic (and also makes you look misogynistic).

Which brings us to my next point: if you care about women’s lives at all, if you want them to not die in tragic, unnecessary ways, then abortion must be legal. And birth control must be easily accessible. Before Roe v. Wade, as many as 5,000 American women died annually due to unsafe abortions. According to the World Health Organization, 47,000 women die annually worldwide from complications of unsafe abortions. That accounts for almost 13% of maternal deaths. Those deaths are mostly preventable – if abortion is accessible.

And on to the next point: having free birth control makes the abortion rate drop dramatically. If anti-abortion folks were really into making abortions cease like they claim to be, they’d be all over accessible birth control as one means to lower the incidence of abortions. But they don’t tend to be, at least not in the same numbers as they rail against it, which reinforces the main point of the paragraph above deconstructing their anti-woman rhetoric.

Two more points and then I’ll end this rant. First, imagine (as author Jim Hines does here) that you’re a perfect match to donate an organ to a suffering child on the brink of death. It’s a risky procedure that you’ll have to pay for yourself, and the time you spend recovering may cost you your job. Would you have second thoughts about going through with it? Most people probably would, and legally, you’d have every right to do so, as American law protects the integrity of the individual’s body, even into death… unless you’re a pregnant woman. Where’s the sense in that? How does having a uterus mean that suddenly my rights to bodily integrity evaporate?

Finally, this blog post deconstructs the “just have the baby” argument against abortion. There is no “just” in “just have the baby,” as the risks the potential mother incurs against her bodily health are grave. Did you know that pregnancy can give a woman temporary diabetes, which increases her risk of adult-onset diabetes later in life? I didn’t know that! What about the risks associated with the act of childbirth? What about the recovery time, which averages six weeks? When many American workers can barely get a day off for the flu, how is asking for six weeks off going to look? This is especially dire, given that access to health care is still often tied to one’s job.

My favorite quotes from the blog post include:

To say “Just have the baby” is to say “Just risk a prolonged illness, surgery, and the loss of your income when you have a lot of new expenses.” It’s to tell someone casually that they should sign up for the possibility of experiencing more physical pain and agony than they thought a person could live through, and maybe having a great deal of it continue for days, weeks, months, possibly even years. … Just have the baby? Only if you want to. Because no one else can take on any of the pain or risk, and it’s rare that you’ll be helped significantly with the costs—something I think anyone capable of becoming pregnant understands all too well and that forced pregnancy activists work very hard not to acknowledge.

I’ll end with the standard pro-choice disclaimer: no one’s saying abortions are great and they’re fun like playing with puppies and rainbows and we should all go get them. I am, however, saying that they need to remain legal in order to not further endanger women’s lives, and additionally, it is an individual choice that no ruling (predominantly masculine) body should make for a woman. Not when the price – bodily integrity, the ability to work and feed one’s family, and one’s own life – is so high.

About Jeana

Jeana

Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.