The Language of Reproductive Rights

David Morris takes on the issue of how we talk about reproductive rights in this country. As he points out, terms like “pro-life” and “pro-abortion” are pretty useless; no one is “anti-life,” few people are really “pro-abortion,” and a lot of people who are “anti-abortion” still don’t think it should be illegal and are actually pro-choice. Then there’s the problem with the representatives of the self-identified “pro-life” and “pro-choice” camps. The majority of “pro-life” individuals really don’t fit in ideologically with the leaders of their movement; this is also true (but I would argue less so) for pro-choice people. Indeed, a lot of people who identify as “pro-life” don’t want to see abortion illegalized; they think other women should have reproductive choices; they probably make reproductive choices (like using contraception) that “pro-life” leaders argue are part of our supposed “culture of death” (are you sick of quotation marks yet?).

I personally use the terms anti-choice and pro-choice, because when it comes to even the mainstream reproductive rights/anti-repro rights organizations, that’s what the issue comes down to. The National Right to Life Committee, the Pope, and fundamentatlist Christians don’t believe exclusively in preserving life. If that was the case, we’d see completely different behavior from them. Their MO is more about identifying a single choice as not only ideal, but the only one that women should have. They’re anti-contraception. They tend to harp on “traditional values,” which is basically code for the disempowerment of women. The only way reproduction should happen, in their view, is in a married heterosexual relationship, and it should happen as often as God wants it to, with no interference from the people doing the actual reproducing. And not only do they believe that this is the best way (which, arguably, wouldn’t be that bad), they want to legislate this belief across the board, and legally compel all women to follow it. Hence, anti-choice.

But Morris has a new title: Pro-Sperm.

Let’s begin with sperm. Many “pro-lifers” are really pro-sperm. Basically, they insist that the sperm has an inalienable right to try to get to the egg. Joe Scheidler, founder of the Pro-Life Action League once even flatly announced that he thought contraception was “disgusting.”

The Pope and many Christian fundamentalists fall into the pro-sperm category (although as we shall see, only relatively recently did the Catholic Church itself adopt that position). In the 1990s, after 300 out of 1,000 students in one Chicago high school became pregnant and the school established a birth control clinic, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin lashed out at the “contraceptive culture.”

When Judge Bork advocated reversing the 1965 Supreme Court decision overturning state laws that made it illegal for married couples to buy contraceptives, he was clearly pro-sperm.

The vast majority of the U.S. population are not pro-sperm. Despite admonitions about the sinfulness of contraception by the last dozen popes, two-thirds of all American Catholic women now practice birth control.


Then there’s the people who are ok with preventing the sperm from getting to the egg, but have a rather tenuous grasp of biology and medical reality; Morris calls these people “pro-zygote”:

I suspect that most conservatives aren’t pro-sperm, either. They belong in the next chronological category: pro-zygote. They believe that once fertilized, the egg must be protected at all costs. The furor over the morning-after pill has thrust the pro-zygoters onto center stage in the reproductive rights debate.

Last July, when Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney vetoed legislation that would have allowed Plan B, the morning-after pill, to be sold without a prescription, he insisted, “If it only dealt with contraception, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.” In other words, if the morning-after pill prevented fertilization, he would support it. But it doesn’t. Rather, it prevents the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall, or induces bleeding to dislodge it. Romney intervened to protect the zygote.

Those who would invoke the name of the Lord to justify protecting the zygote run up against a challenging reality. Over 50 percent of all fertilized eggs are spontaneously aborted, washed out before they attach to the womb. Some 15 percent of the attached eggs themselves are aborted spontaneously. It is hard to figure out God’s will in all of this.

He’s right (although in my eyes, these people remain firmly in the anti-choice camp). And then to complicate things more, a lot of self-identified pro-life people are more pro-choice than they think; many don’t want to see Roe overturned, believe in limits on abortion but not in doing away with it entirely, and say that although they would never have an abortion they wouldn’t want to take that right away from the woman next door (although it’s interesting how many self-identified “pro-lifers” — even extremist clinic protesters — change their tune when they get pregnant unintentionally).

Those who think abortion should be legal, and even those who think their moral sensibilities should get to draw the line on where abortion is illegal (i.e., “it should only be legal in cases of rape, incest, or threat to the pregnant woman’s life” or “It should be illegal when it’s done for convenience” — whatever that means — or “Women shouldn’t be allowed to use abortion for birth control”) are still loosely anti-choice in my eyes, they just aren’t batshit crazy extremists. But Morris makes an important distinction, and I think it’s good to separate these people from the legions of batshit crazy sperm fetishists out there: These folks are pro-fetus.

And then, at the end of the continuum, there are the people who are actually pro-baby. Unfortunately, pro-baby ideals aren’t so much reflected by the group that self-identifies as “pro-life”:

Regrettably, many religious conservatives act as if life begins at conception and ends at birth. It is remarkable how closely pro-life and anti-baby policies track one another. A comprehensive review of abortion and child welfare policies in all 50 states found that states with the most restrictive abortion laws spend the least on education, facilitating adoption and nurturing poor babies.

The labels we use should more precisely reflect the complexity of the reproductive rights debate. One way to do this is to abandon the empty term, “pro-life,” and adopt labels that more accurately reflect a person’s values and policies. Pro-sperm. Pro-zygote. Pro-fetus. Pro-baby. Where do you stand?

I’m solidly pro-baby, baby. And pro-woman. Which is what makes me pro-choice.

My only issue with this piece is that he sought to address the languge of reproductive rights, and then didn’t talk about rights at all — he just used the “pro-life” framework that the abortion debate is all about the zygote/fetus and narrowed the terms to be more exact. Which is valuable, but too readily buys into the view that the debate is entirely about what does or does not happen in the woman’s uterus between ejaculation and birth. It’s a little trickier than that.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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47 Responses to The Language of Reproductive Rights

  1. Amanda says:

    I agree with you and use the terms “pro-choice” and “anti-choice”. The real argument is whether or not a woman should have the legal right to choose an abortion. Since the right to choose is the central issue, that’s the most accurate term.

    Of course, I could point out to the whiners that “anti-choice” is a better term than “anti-rights”, which is also what they are.

    But I thought the post was pretty funny. Wasn’t it supposed to be a bit tongue-in-cheek? His definitions are very close to the anti-choice strategy of rhetorically erasing the existence of women and pregnancy as best they can and pretending that the fetus is just bopping along minding its own business until an “abortionist” jumps out of the bushes to murder it at random.

  2. Jill says:

    Yeah, I thought the article was really funny too, and really good. I didn’t mean to give the impression that I didn’t… I just had a minor quibble with it. Overall, great stuff.

  3. Andrew says:

    Of course, I could point out to the whiners that “anti-choice” is a better term than “anti-rights”, which is also what they are.

    It’s really amusing when leftist feminists accuse anyone who opposes abortion of being “anti-rights” and “anti-choice.” Do you believe that a woman should have…

    …the choice to own a gun?
    …the choice to run her business and home without inteference from the federal government?
    …the choice to associate with whoever she wants?
    …the choice to hire whoever she wants at her business?
    …the choice to own, purchase, or manufacture pornography?
    …the choice to work in the sex industry?
    …the choice to use breast implants?
    …the choice to use any drug for any reason, medicinal or recreational?

    Or is your support for “choice” and “rights” limited to abortion?

  4. Creeping Jenny says:

    Jill, would you happen to know the source for this statistic people keep quoting about how many embryos fail to implant?

    I’d like to use the statistic, but not if it’s a version of the Eskimo/snow hoax. So far investigations on my part haven’t turned up much except papers about implantation rates in IVF. These look to be around 20-30%, but of course, it doesn’t make sense to extrapolate from IVF situations to situations where fertilization happens in vivo.

    I don’t mean to put you on the spot particularly (it’s not even you slinging the statistic around; it’s the person you’re quoting) but I was curious and thought you might know.

  5. That Girl says:

    Haha. Im so sick of these “pro-lifers” As one wit pointed out “I never tire of rich white men telling me how to live”.

    Every year they just prove that it’s all about controlling the P***y rather than “life”.

    Wouldnt their arguement be much more compelling if we saw all the stories about how great foster care is? How all babies are adopted at once regardless of gender, race or handicap? How the cost of rape and incest in terms of jail time is so expensive that rape stats are down and date-rape is non-existant. How contraceptives are free, safe and easily available? How all children have health care and are guaranteed food and a good education?

    Okay, so it wouldnt be more compelling but it would be a lot less necessary.

  6. Jon C. says:

    What a load of crap. For a minute, I thought Morris was actually going to contribute something substantive to the abortion debate. I shouldn’t have expected as much from Bill Clinton’s ultimate spinmeister. Instead, Morris chooses to denigrate the pro-life side of the debate by calling them “pro-sperm.” Thanks for the elevating the level of discussion to about fourth grade, Dick. And this is just rich:

    When Judge Bork advocated reversing the 1965 Supreme Court decision overturning state laws that made it illegal for married couples to buy contraceptives, he was clearly pro-sperm.

    Right, because it’s impossible to have any sort of merits-based dispute with the constitutional reasoning of Griswold without being “pro-sperm.” On the contrary, as with Roe, there are plenty of liberal scholars out there who aren’t pro-life but who think either or both decisions were at least at least poorly reasoned, even if they agree with the policy outcomes.

    I’ll stipulate that there are problems with the labels used in the abortion debate. My personal problem with the term “pro-choice” is, most of the people who apply the term to themselves (except libertarians) don’t really favor much “choice” in any sort of arena other than abortion. For the most part, they don’t favor giving poor American families school choice, they don’t favor giving Americans the choice to invest Social Security funds privately to get better returns, they don’t favor Americans having the choice to exercise self-defense by bearing firearms, and they favor imposing a massive one-size-fits-all government-run health care system that would, of course, limit Americans’ ability to make medical choices for themselves.

    Of course, that’s a generalization, as there are certainly some who consider themselve “pro-choice” with respect to abortion that also favor some or all of the other choices listed above, but I don’t think it’s an overly unfair generalization.

  7. Jill says:

    The argument that “pro-choice” isn’t a good term because pro-choice people don’t all believe in limitless choices in every single other arena of life is a really stupid argument. Everyone knows that the term “pro-choice” speaks to the person’s beliefs about reproductive rights. It would be sort of like if I said, “The term ‘conservative’ is a total misnomer, because these people only care about ‘conserving’ a few stupid traditions. They don’t care about ‘conserving’ energy or ‘conserving’ the environment or all kinds of other things. They don’t really favor ‘conserving’ at all.”

    Dumb argument, right? Yeah.

  8. Tex says:

    Thanks, Jill. I was about to go apoplectic on the same point.

    It should be duly noted that there is an ample amount of feminist criticism of the framework of “choice” as explaining the right to an abortion. Much in the same way that some feminists question whether “privacy” has historically been a right used to disempower women, lots of good shit has been written on whether “choice” assumes the sort of classical liberal subjecthood that has often far from inclusive.

    In short, I concur that it’s really stupid extrapolate from the popular rhetoric on the abortion question that everyone who favors a right to an abortion would favor hiring discrimination and the dismemberment of the FDA.

  9. Jon C. says:

    Everyone knows that the term “pro-choice” speaks to the person’s beliefs about reproductive rights.

    Well then why don’t pro-choicers call themselves “pro-reproductive rights” or some such? Or admit that you’re “pro-choice” in some areas and “anti-choice” in others. Or let’s just throw the phrase “choice” out the window entirely, since it’s a vague and not entirely relevant descriptor of what “everyone knows” we’re talking about anyway.

    I don’t think the comparison to the term “conservative” is apt- “conservative” refers to a social and economic philosophy that has existed in one form or another for centuries and means different things to different people. “Pro-choice” is a term that applies explicitly to a specific political movement that’s cropped up fairly recently.

  10. Jon C. says:

    And for the record, conservatives do favor conserving energy and the environment, even if they have different ideas-dare I say, more choice-based ideas?- about how to accomplish those things.

  11. Jill says:

    So because “conservative” has been around longer, it’s ok if it’s inconsistent? “Pro-choice” means different things to different people, too, it just generally refers to a philosophy about reproductive rights that has existed for decades.

    And while I agree that maybe it’s more accurate to call the sides “pro- reproductive rights” and “anti- reproductive rights,” that isn’t exactly accurate either, is it? Because the anti- choice side isn’t anti every reproductive right; there’s one (get pregnant many times while married, don’t use birth control, have babies) that they love.

    If everyone understands that “pro-choice” applies to a specific political movement, and that people who identify as pro-choice believe in choice with regard to reproductive autonomy, what’s the problem? It’s like criticizing the term “civil rights movement” because it wasn’t about civil rights for everyone — did that movement encompass civil rights for everyone, including gays and lesbians? No. But that doesn’t mean that it was wrongly named, or that we should now go back and change the title.

  12. AB says:

    I’m all for legalized abortion, and I don’t particularly like the label “pro-choice.” Most of my reservations are the type Tex talked about above–I’m not sure I particularly agree with how much feminism has been framed as a “choice” argument. (Incidently, although I probably disagree with 99% of what Jon C. believes in, I do agree that if we’re going to call bullshit on the “pro-life” label because they’re only in favor of fetus life in the narrow context of abortion, then it’s probably a fair critique that “pro-choice” is only in favor of choice in the narrow context of abortion.)

    Personally, when talking about the issue, I prefer “pro-legalized abortion” and “against legalized abortion.” (If only it had a snappier acronym or sounded a better rolling off the tongue.)Hey, it even has the advantage of making it clear exactly what the debate is about: I think that there’s a lot of people out there that consider themselves pro-life, or neither pro-life nor pro-choice, who would place themselves on the side of pro-legalized abortion. I mean, I think the pool of people who want to send women to prison for having abortions is much, much smaller than the pool of people that call themselves “pro-life” or sympathize with that label.

  13. AB says:

    See, Jill, but if we argue that

    If everyone understands that “pro-choice” applies to a specific political movement, and that people who identify as pro-choice believe in choice with regard to reproductive autonomy, what’s the problem?

    then why is not OK for someone on the opposite side to argue that “pro-life” applies to a specific political movement and everyone knows what they mean by it within that context? (I apologize if I’m assuming that you don’t agree with the pro-life label–I can’t remember offhand if you’ve ever critiqued it.) I’m honestly curious if you see a way out of that, because I can’t figure out an answer that doesn’t sound hypocritical to me.

  14. Jill says:

    then why is not OK for someone on the opposite side to argue that “pro-life” applies to a specific political movement and everyone knows what they mean by it within that context?

    But the term “pro-life,” even within that specific political movement, still claims to be all about babies and human life — including born human life. The difference is that while pro-choice people may not agree with limitless choice in every single aspect of human existence, we never claim to. The pro-life side claims to value life — fetal life and human life — and then they don’t.

    As for the suggestion that we break it down into “pro legalized abortion” and “anti legalized abortion,” I couldn’t stick with that. The pro-choice movement is about a lot more than abortion — it’s about giving people the widest range of reproductive options possible. In fact, if you look at the operating budgets of pro-choice places like Planned Parenthood, you’ll see that a lot more money, time and effort go into things like education and contraception access than abortion. To me, that’s a valuable part of the pro-choice movement, and bringing it down to just abortion is overly simple and innaccurate to the movement itself.

    Similarly, the “pro-life” movement isn’t just about abortion either. They’re anti-contraception, anti- comprehensive sex ed, and basically anti- any choice that doesn’t fit into their narrow world view. So anti- legal abortion doesn’t really explain what they’re about, either.

  15. AB says:

    Okay, I take your point about the narrowness of pro-legalized abortion and pro-criminalizing abortion. Although I do think that in certain cases (say, opinion polls and the like) people are talking narrowly about abortion, and it would be helpful if we had terms that laid it out like that. I really do believe the pro-choice side would benefit from being clearer about what the debate is actually about–my sense is that in the 1970s, the pro-choice label was adopted to avoid the “abortion” word, but at this point I feel like it obscures so much that we lose support we would otherwise have. Not too many people are shocked by the work abortion anymore.

    Hmm. I still don’t like the c-word (choice) but then again, I’m probably in a minority for that. I think I’d use terms like pro-reproductive rights or something. Part of it, I think, has to do with why you think abortion and contraceptive and sex ed should be legal and accessible for all women: if it’s about women being able to choose to be parents, the pro-choice label makes a lot more sense. Of course, then you run into problems trying to figure out arguments with MRAs about “paper abortions” and the like. If, on the other hand, you come to it from the side of believing in the fundamental, inviolable right to bodily integrity and bodily autonomy, then it fits less well. (Although I recognize in practice those two things shade into each other quite a bit, and are not easily separated.)

  16. Tex says:

    If, on the other hand, you come to it from the side of believing in the fundamental, inviolable right to bodily integrity and bodily autonomy, then it fits less well. (Although I recognize in practice those two things shade into each other quite a bit, and are not easily separated.)

    I think that “bodily integrity” is still probably too narrow, since it isolates a woman from all context. I’d go further to say that a woman who is constantly pregnant against her will is not able to be a full participant in society in a number of crucial ways. It’s her inability to have more equal say in relation with the world around her, not just the womb within her, that is most important I think.

  17. Camille Paglia calls herself pro-abortion & says ‘pro-choice’ is a cowardly euphemism & a tactical error, because it cedes the moral high ground to the anti-abortion claque. There are serious ethical issues with abortion that aren’t addressed by pretending it’s a civil rights quibble about a woman’s right to choose.

    Never mind that liberals are awfully choosy about the right to choose, which apparently doesn’t extend to owning a gun, even tho gun ownership is protected in the Constitution & abortion isn’t. And since it’s not in the Constitution, it should be left to state voters. Here in California, voters just passed an measure allowing minors to get abortions without parental consent. I don’t agree, but I can live with it. How magnanimous would liberals be if a majority of a state’s voters voted to outlaw abortion?

  18. piny says:

    Never mind that liberals are awfully choosy about the right to choose, which apparently doesn’t extend to owning a gun, even tho gun ownership is protected in the Constitution & abortion isn’t. And since it’s not in the Constitution, it should be left to state voters. Here in California, voters just passed an measure allowing minors to get abortions without parental consent. I don’t agree, but I can live with it. How magnanimous would liberals be if a majority of a state’s voters voted to outlaw abortion?

    “Let’s substitute ‘weapons-grade plutonium’ for ‘the morning-after pill.’ Not so pro-choice now, are ya? ARE YA?”

    Of course “pro-choice” doesn’t refer to being pro-every-choice, any more than pro-life generally includes militant agitation in favor of veganism. This is sad.

  19. Stacy says:

    There are serious ethical issues with abortion that aren’t addressed by pretending it’s a civil rights quibble about a woman’s right to choose.

    The only thing it can be argued on is a woman’s right to choose, however, which is why most debators on the issue stay in this realm. Arguing that it has a soul (or bestowing some other magical spiritual quality on it), and then forcing everyone to execpt your spiritual interpretation of it would be a violation of church and state.

    Unless, of course, you can “prove” that it is a person, rather than just saying so because you personally believe that it is.

    Never mind that liberals are awfully choosy about the right to choose, which apparently doesn’t extend to owning a gun, even tho gun ownership is protected in the Constitution & abortion isn’t.

    This is funny, I love that you think this is a liberal slam. If there is an inconsistancy in liberals in supporting reproductive choice and opposing gun choice, it would only follow that there is also an inconsistancy in conservatives supporting gun choice and not reproductive choice.

    Talk about selective blindness.

  20. Andrew says:

    The argument that “pro-choice” isn’t a good term because pro-choice people don’t all believe in limitless choices in every single other arena of life is a really stupid argument. Everyone knows that the term “pro-choice” speaks to the person’s beliefs about reproductive rights.

    Then why is it acceptable for pro-choicers to label pro-lifers “anti-choice” and claim that pro-lifers aren’t really pro-life because most of them support the death penalty and the Iraq War?

    It would be sort of like if I said, “The term ‘conservative’ is a total misnomer, because these people only care about ‘conserving’ a few stupid traditions. They don’t care about ‘conserving’ energy or ‘conserving’ the environment or all kinds of other things. They don’t really favor ‘conserving’ at all.”

    Dumb argument, right? Yeah.

    Actually, I agree with you. Most modern conservatives (neocons and the religious right) can’t accurately be called conservatives. They’re more like fascists.

  21. amaz0n says:

    “You want to talk about women’s reproductive rights? Well … guns! Why can’t I have guns?”

    I love it.

  22. marjani says:

    well i mean technically a women’s body is a weapon right? thats why we need protection!

  23. zuzu says:

    What a load of crap. For a minute, I thought Morris was actually going to contribute something substantive to the abortion debate. I shouldn’t have expected as much from Bill Clinton’s ultimate spinmeister. Instead, Morris chooses to denigrate the pro-life side of the debate by calling them “pro-sperm.” Thanks for the elevating the level of discussion to about fourth grade, Dick.

    Psst, Jon, it’s David Morris, not Dick the toesucker.

    But keep on believing it all comes back to the Clenis, even though Dick Morris broke with the Clintons years ago and he wasn’t even the guy who wrote this piece.

    I love the guns thing. Not too many people belong to well-regulated militias these days.

  24. Jivin J says:

    Jill,
    National Right to Life is anti-contraception? Since when? I was fairly certain they didn’t take a position on contraceptive forms of birth control. Fundamentalist christians are against contraception? Maybe some Catholics but I’m unaware of mainstream fundamentalist protestant denominations that are anti-contraception.

    It’s true that some prolife organizations (usually the ones that are Catholic like American Life League) are against the use of contraception but many and I’d even guess most prolife organizations don’t take a position on contraception. I’d also guess that most of them take no position on sex education. You seem to be painting every prolife organization with a broad and inaccurate brush. Do you have any evidence of National Right to Life taking a position on contraception or sex education?

    Morris has a weak grip on embryology facts- zygotes don’t attach to uterine walls – by the time an embryo reaches the uterine wall it is composed of around a hundred or so cells and can hardly be called a zygote.

  25. Stacy says:

    The National Right to Life holds the view that once an ovum is fertilized, destruction of it is abortion. Chemical birth control often does not prevent conception, it only prevents the egg from implanting in the uterus. The egg is already fertilized at the stage that it implants, which you pointed out yourself.

  26. Jon C. says:

    Psst, Jon, it’s David Morris, not Dick the toesucker.

    That’s my fault for reading too quickly. As for the “guns thing”- as I said, I know you don’t support freedom of choice for self-defense purposes,but go do some research on what the “militia” actually meant when the Bill of Rights was ratified, so I don’t have to hijack the thread.

  27. AB says:

    I think that “bodily integrity” is still probably too narrow, since it isolates a woman from all context. I’d go further to say that a woman who is constantly pregnant against her will is not able to be a full participant in society in a number of crucial ways. It’s her inability to have more equal say in relation with the world around her, not just the womb within her, that is most important I think.

    Tex–I’m not sure I understand your point here. I mean, in terms of feminist belief, I agree with the statement above. But I’m not sure how this applies to pro-choice politics. (Wait. That sounds wrong. Clearly, feminism and pro-choice politics have a lot to do with each other. But in terms of deciding what to call the political belief or movement that advocates legalized and accessible abortion, birth control, and sexual information, I’m not sure what you’re arguing for.) Eh, or I’m just missing your point because it’s almost five and my brain’s a bit fried.

  28. AB says:

    Okay, re-reading that, I think I get it. You’re arguing that the reason that abortion should be legalized is because if women have to be pregnant against their wills, it prevents full civic and political equality. (Got it.)

    I don’t know. It seems awfully close to arguing that any pregnant woman can not be a full participant in society, so women in general should not be pregnant. Or, to put it another way, pregnant women choose to give up their full membership in society by choosing to be pregnant. (I’m not sure where the distinction between being willingly pregnant and unwillingly pregnant would have an effect on the degree to which you can participate in society.)

    For me, even if being pregnant had no social or economic costs, and everything was all lightness and goodness, I’d still think abortion was necessary, because it all comes down to bodily integrity. I mean, not having control over your own body is pretty much the definition of unfree. So while I think abortion is necessary in order to have gender equality, I don’t think a society without sexism would not need abortion: there’s still the issue of controlling your own body and what it is used for.

  29. piny says:

    For me, even if being pregnant had no social or economic costs, and everything was all lightness and goodness, I’d still think abortion was necessary, because it all comes down to bodily integrity. I mean, not having control over your own body is pretty much the definition of unfree. So while I think abortion is necessary in order to have gender equality, I don’t think a society without sexism would not need abortion: there’s still the issue of controlling your own body and what it is used for.

    Exactly. And if that bodily integrity is violated, a woman ceases to be an equal and full participant in society. She has become a body, an object, rather than an autonomous person. I don’t think the argument is that pregnancy, in and of itself, makes you into an incubator–any more than having a healthy human body makes you into an organ bank. The question is what happens to your relationship with the world around you if you’re an egg carton rather than a human being.

  30. AB says:

    (Okay, now I feel like I’m just uselessly splitting hairs. Feel free to disregard the following.)

    I guess I view the equal + full participant bit as a positive outcome of legalizing abortion, but not the primary justification. In the same way that allowing women to choose when and how to be a mother is a positive outcome, but not the primary justification, for legalizing abortion.

    Plus, I’m not sure how you fit the piece about women’s liberation into a pithy-yet-concise label for supporting abortion/contraceptive/sex ed rights. “Pro-repro-rights-and-women’s-full-inclusion-in-society”! Eh. I was just never good with acronyms.

  31. Tex says:

    I don’t know. It seems awfully close to arguing that any pregnant woman can not be a full participant in society, so women in general should not be pregnant. Or, to put it another way, pregnant women choose to give up their full membership in society by choosing to be pregnant. (I’m not sure where the distinction between being willingly pregnant and unwillingly pregnant would have an effect on the degree to which you can participate in society.)

    This is an excellent point, and it might take me a while to think up a worthy response. In the meantime, here in Illinois, I know that part of the policy-based solution to that very dilema is that the local Planned Parenthood has strongly advocated adding pregnancy status to the state’s anti-discrimination laws. Any number of other pro-baby policies fit nicely into the crusade to make sure that no woman has to give up her membership in society because of her womb. It’s not just the ones who would abort who are entitled to that.

    As for the question on the distinction between willingly and unwillingly pregnant:
    If you’re carrying a baby to term because there are no abortion providers to which you have access, somewhere along the way, a decision has been made, most likely not by you, that has made it that way. In that way, I don’t think it’s a secondary question of outcomes. I think the inequality in services that persists even in a post-Roe America is fundamental.

    Plus, I’m not sure how you fit the piece about women’s liberation into a pithy-yet-concise label for supporting abortion/contraceptive/sex ed rights. “Pro-repro-rights-and-women’s-full-inclusion-in-society”! Eh. I was just never good with acronyms.

    I just say “feminist” since it’s reasonable consise and it pisses off the right people.

  32. Sara says:

    You say:

    1) Pro-life is a silly name, because no one is anti-life.

    then

    2) People who call themselves pro-life are actually anti-life anyway.

    This doesn’t really sit with me. I think it’s really pointless to be arguing about the labels the pro- and anti- camps have chosen for themselves anyway. These labels are about marketing a complex idea in a quick phrase, which is almost always useless, as we’re seeing with all this quibbling we’re having here.

    On the issue of pregnant women “participating fully in society,” I think you’re going in the completely wrong direction on the subject. The reason the right to an abortion exists isn’t based on the fact that it is aborting a pregnancy per se, but that a woman has a right to control her body. I can choose to have an elective procedure like a nose job because it’s my nose, not because having a pretty nose is such an imporant thing that a right to it ought to be enshrined in law. Some people are just fine with their ugly noses, just like some people are perfectly happy to give birth and send kids to college, so they decide to go ahead with what may seem like an unbearable hardship to some. It’s not the consequences of pregnancy that are important here, but a person’s right to bodily autonomy.

  33. zuzu says:

    As for the “guns thing”- as I said, I know you don’t support freedom of choice for self-defense purposes,

    I don’t think you know half what you think you know.

    but go do some research on what the “militia” actually meant when the Bill of Rights was ratified, so I don’t have to hijack the thread

    Perhaps you should look up “well-regulated.” I know perfectly well what a “militia” was back then. And I also know that strictly constructing that clause of the Second Amendment isn’t going to get you unfettered gun ownership.

  34. Tex says:

    On the issue of pregnant women “participating fully in society,” I think you’re going in the completely wrong direction on the subject. The reason the right to an abortion exists isn’t based on the fact that it is aborting a pregnancy per se, but that a woman has a right to control her body. I can choose to have an elective procedure like a nose job because it’s my nose, not because having a pretty nose is such an imporant thing that a right to it ought to be enshrined in law. Some people are just fine with their ugly noses, just like some people are perfectly happy to give birth and send kids to college, so they decide to go ahead with what may seem like an unbearable hardship to some. It’s not the consequences of pregnancy that are important here, but a person’s right to bodily autonomy.

    I don’t think that nose-jobs and abortions are comparable elective procedures. It would be unfortunate if there were a ban on nose-jobs. Lotsa folk would agree that it’s a silly, frivolous prohibition, but I can’t imagine more than a hanful willing to take to the streets over it. On account of that alone, I think that abortion is of a different sort of importance than just any old infringement of bodily integrity, however loosely defined.

    I don’t know quite where you’re going with the right to a pretty nose and how it compares at all to decisions that I consider much graver.

    Also, if it’s just all a big question of property rights (it’s mynose, i.e. I own it and you can’t tell me what to do with it), everyone has the right to a legal abortion, but only the privleged have the means to access it, since you would have to disrupt the right of ownership to make it otherwise. I think an ideology that leaves poor women sleeping on Jill’s couch is missing something.

  35. Julie says:

    Ok, so I’m confused. (It’s late, I’m tired, this isn’t hard). If I am: pro-contraception, perfectly ok with the morning after pill, extremely uncomfortable with abortion but don’t feel it should be illegal, believe that the abortion rate being lowered is a good thing when done by comprehensive sex education, encouraging (but not pushing or shoving down anyone’s throat) abstinence and increasing help for mother’s who want to continue their pregnancies and would never have an abortion myself (been there, done that, didn’t change my mind when it came to my situation) but would never judge someone who did and would personally prefer all pregnancies were carried to term but realize it’s not my decision, what catergory do I fall under? Am I pro-life, pro-choice, somewhere in between? Pro-choice with anti-choice leanings? Pro-baby? This is just such new territory for me, as it was only earlier this year that I came to the conclusion that I didn’t think abortion should be illegal, I don’t even know where I fit anymore. All I know is the pro-contraception takes me out of the pro-sperm camp.

  36. Jill says:

    Julie-

    What’s important about terminology is how you define yourself. If you don’t like the terms “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” you don’t have to be either. If I was to look at what you just wrote and put a label on it, I’d put you solidly in the pro-choice camp. You made the choices that were best for you. You think other women should have that same option. To me, that’s pro-choice, regardless of personal discomforts. But like I said before, it’s gotta be about how you self-identify.

  37. SarahS says:

    Julie –

    What Jill said. In the end we choose our own labels (I stubbornly feel pagan not neo-pagan) but its good to have a feel for what they mean.

  38. Julie says:

    Thanks Jill! That actually makes a lot of sense to me. I think just growing up in the atmosphere I did (you weren’t allowed to call anyone pro-choice, they were pro-abortion or pro-baby killing) calling myself pro-choice seems so foreign to me, yet I think it describes my beliefs now. I was just confused as to the personal discomfort part… can you be super uncomfortable with what someone is doing, yet not want to take that decision away from her or push it to the back alley and still be pro-choice. That’s why I am so much in favor of increasing access to contraception, the morning after pill and comprehensive sex education… it just seems to make sense that less unplanned pregnancies=less abortions and that should be something everyone can get behind.

  39. Jon C. says:

    Perhaps you should look up “well-regulated.”

    And you in turn can look up “the people”, which you seem to think means something different in one provision of the Bill of Rights than it does in the other four in which it appears. And because I said I wouldn’t hijack the thread, that’s my last word.

  40. Jivin J says:

    Stacy,
    First, you’d have to prove that chemical birth control or the pill causes problems with implantation if there is a breakthrough ovulation by providing scientific studies that back this up and then you’d have to show that National Right to Life recognizes and agrees with these studies. But they still wouldn’t be anti-contraceptive because true contraceptives should prevent conception not implantation.

    Or you could just give them a ring and ask what their position is on contraceptives. You’ll probably get something like, “We don’t take a position on contraception.”

  41. Sara says:

    Tex, you’re barking up several of the wrong trees.

    Firstly, your class issue is a red herring. You say poor people wouldn’t have access to abortion because it’s all about “property rights,” but while I know that poverty can be quite desperate, one still has their body. You’re making an erroneous conclusion that because I support freedom of choice when it comes to one’s body that I am a libertarian weirdo jerking off to Ayn Rand (to be fair, I am from northern Idaho,so I can see why you would be confused).

    You’re right that there’s a difference between a nose job and an abortion. That doesn’t mean that there’s a difference in why you can choose to undergo either. Freedom of speech guarantees William S. Burroughs’ right to stand on a street corner and say “Poopy!” over and over, just as it guarantees his right to publish Naked Lunch. One is a lot more important to people, but each action is derived from the same right.

    Considering the fact that abortion is a medical procedure that anyone should have access to when they find they need it, and the fact that access to it is considered to be a major quality of life issue, people do get more excited about it than nose jobs.

    It is not the job of the government to save women from their prefectly normal, healthy, (and as a biologist, I should say really cool) biology. Abortion and birth control are very important to female autonomy in our society, but they are technological fixes for societal problems. I am not going to rely on technology to level the playing field between men and women when cultural change is what we need.

  42. AB says:

    Well, I’m not sure the class issue is a *total* red herring. I mean, I think it’s a legitimate question as to whether it really means anything to have rights if you have no functional way to exercise those rights. Personally, I think that the right to abortion stems from the absolute right for autonomy over ones body (without that right women cannot be free), and the right of everyone to access an abortion thru insurance, Medicaid, etc in the same manner as any other medical treatment stems from the right of women to not treated unequally under the law by virtue of their gender (without that right women cannot be equal).

    I end up in the same place as Tex, more or less, I just have a bit of different way of getting there. As to using the label ‘feminist’ to describe this view–well, I think that politically it would be more useful to have a term that people like Julie above can embrace, even if they wouldn’t embrace the feminist label. In a sense, I want to get people on our side who agree with the first part of what I wrote above (the right to bodily integrity) even if they don’t agree to the second part (gender equality). Whether that’s a sound political strategy, well, I suppose people of good conscience can and do disagree. :)

  43. Tex says:

    Sara, I think we’re talking past one another a lot, or at least I’ll say that I don’t understand a few of your points. I don’t believe that abortion is some sort of technochratic cure-all to be used in lieu of “cultural change”. In fact, in emphasizing the cultural aspect of why we need it in the first place, I believe that cultural change, and not a fairly imobile rights discourse, is what ought to be driving the debate. So, perhaps on some level we agree that the playing field needs to be leveled. I think this was the fairly consequentialist point I was trying to make earlier; that a level playing field is a crucial part of feminist politics. Again, I think abortion is merely a tool in that, and a very important tool.

    I don’t understand at all what it means that class is a red herring so long as a woman still has the ownership of her own body. I don’t see the ownership of your own flesh as somehow ameliorating poverty. This may just be my own thickheadeness in action.

    I’m sorry if I implied you’re some kinda Ayn Rand wankin wacko. So, to be fair, I’d like to know more about what cultural change looks like if one starts off from each individual’s right to bodily integrity. How far do these changes reach and what else do we need for the full recognition of bodily integrity?

  44. Sara says:

    I’m speaking more to the reason why abortion should be legal, not whether it’s important to have some kind of economic power (it is). I’m also not saying that having bodily autonomy is going to make you less poor. The major cultural problem I’m talking around – of which abortion is just a facet – is the recognition (or not) of female autonomy and its larger part in achieving gender equity. Whether or not women have the power to choose abortion is a symptom of a paternalistic culture rather than a cause.

    I may be inferring some personal pet peeves of mine into your argument because, well, I don’t always do everything right. Some pro-choice advocates will argue their position not from the freedom of choice perspective, but from a freedom from pregnancy perspective. What I hear is that pregnancy and childbearing is a hassle/tragedy for women, and that women need access to abortion to circumvent this hassle/tragedy and really have power in society. Maybe I mishear, but that sounds like it’s heavily relying not on the way in which people think of women, but in the physical ability to erase problematic aspects of femaleness, to achieve equality. It’s not the fact that women aren’t always pregnant that makes it wrong to discriminate based on gender. We as a society should know enough about the moral equality of every human being that even if abortion were impossible, we could make progress on the front of gender equity. Abortion is used as a moral crutch where we make women more like men instead of appreciating the fundamental equality of the genders. Women being the ones who manufacture babies may have contributed heavily, in more ignorant times, to inequality but I like to think we’re not so ignorant now. For instance, we know goddamn well that women do not need to be the assumed primary caregivers, but the idea persists. It needs to be disattached from the fact that women are the child-bearers, because one does not imply the other. Relying on abortion/birth control to level the playing field keeps the ideas linked.

    Idealism aside, I realize that I can’t sit down and talk everyone into gender equity, and that’s why reproductive rights are so important in the present; in a backward society, being a child-bearer is a disadvantage, and often a major one. (For the record I personally derive a huge benefit from birth control, so there’s also that reason for my championing of it. But I’m speaking here in terms of its function in the acheivement of equality.) Women deserve the ability to fight for themselves and their happiness with whatever is available, and that’s why I am so staunchly pro-choice and vocal about reproductive rights. But in the end, it’s convincing the world that women can and should have the power to exercise those rights that’s important, less than the specific things you do with them.

  45. Tex says:

    Sara, that’s a really thoughtful response, and I want to start by saying thanks.

    From your argument, I hear echoes of a debate as old as feminism itself: is the connection between women and childbirth the root of patriarchy?

    You argue forcefully that it’s not the cause, but rather a result, and I agree. What I fear most politically as a feminist are half-assed allies who will stand up for Roe and then sell feminist interests out every other chance they get. I think that the language of personal autonomy gives a lot of people an easy out, to fall back on “choice” in lieu of a more systemic analysis of what screws women over. AB summed it up pretty well that for me it’s a question of what meaning rights have if you can’t avail yourself of them. Without a more primary focus on equity, I think that lots of “socially liberal” people leave important rights behind, as though pregnancy were the only issue worth debating on feminist grounds.

    Along with AB, you raise a really, really good point about not treating pregnancy as a nuisance that makes women less man-like. Your point about fundamental equality regardless of pregnancy status is well taken, but that doesn’t my opinion that focusing on personal autonomy is detrimental to and not necessarily conducive to a more thoroughgoing critique of issues beyond “women=babymakers y/n?”.

  46. Sara says:

    The common problem in every type of oppression is a lack of personal autonomy. I’m not sure why you’re trying to separate it from issues like poverty, racism, etc. These things are detrimental to one’s autonomy, and restoring autonomy is to eliminate the oppression. If someone is arguing that women are pefectly autonomous so it’s their choice that female representation in Congress is so abysmal – they’re just wrong, not avoiding the issue. The problem is less that people won’t consider the more complex issues, but that they wrongly interpret the decision-making power that is appropriate for a group to have to begin with. A robust current of female empowerment would make the consequences of not having access to birth control, or any other practicality that constrains our options, less dire. That doesn’t mean that access to birth control isn’t important, just that a more systemic change that allows for more autonomy is going to make every bad situation easier to get out of.

  47. Tex says:

    I think the politics of personal autonomy causes people to think selfishly and in doing so, they leave other people’s claims to equity behind once they’ve gotten their own slice of justice. I think a broader focus on participation, as opposed to autonomy, is perhaps ever so slightly less prone to leading people to close the door behind them once they’re in, since it doesn’t rely upon the individuated and personal but instead focuses on the social, which better encompases the intersection of many types of oppression. Overall, I think we’re digging into the same mountain from opposite ends.

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