In a column for The New York Times entitled: How to Really Defend Planned Parenthood, Katha Pollitt makes the case that women aren’t being ardent enough in defending abortion on demand. I’d offer that the push she demands shouldn’t happen, because going that direction would undermine the capacity for women to be seen as rational and responsible adults.
But the videos do cleverly evoke visceral feelings of disgust — graphic images, physicians using the words “crush” and “crunchy” — to activate the stereotype that abortion providers are money-grubbing baby killers.
Why women end up having second trimester abortions, why they choose to donate fetal tissue, what good the research achieves — who cares, when there is outrage to provoke and express?
There are two reasons abortion rights activists have been boxed in. One is that we’ve been reactive rather than proactive. To deflect immediate attacks, we fall in with messaging that unconsciously encodes the vision of the other side. Abortion opponents say women seek abortions in haste and confusion. Pro-choicers reply: Abortion is the most difficult, agonizing decision a woman ever makes. Opponents say: Women have abortions because they have irresponsible sex. We say: rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormalities, life-risking pregnancies.
These responses aren’t false exactly. Some women are genuinely ambivalent; some pregnancies are particularly dangerous. But they leave out a large majority of women seeking abortions, who had sex willingly, made a decision to end the pregnancy and faced no special threatening medical conditions.
The videos don’t cleverly evoke visceral feelings of disgust. People watching these videos, with any moral compunction, experience disgust and heartbreak over the destruction of life. The reason pro-choice folks fall in with messaging that encodes the vision of “the other side” is that there aren’t two sides to this debate.
It’s very clear that people are choosing to end a life of a baby. The discarded arms and legs and face staring back at us from the casserole dish solidify this intellectually, not emotionally. Pro-choice advocates are boxed in by moral and ethical values that have been treasured by civilized countries for a long time. The only way to break free of playing “defense” is to presume that killing is appropriate based on the whims of women, but that will hurt feminism.
What feminist would support the idea that women are so indecisive they need over twenty weeks to make a decision? What feminist would push that women are so irresponsible that they don’t understand how basic biology works? What feminist would support the idea that women’s compassion is a weakness not an asset? How can one support women’s intellectual capacity when obvious logic failures like this are thought to be clever?
She continues (emphasis mine):
Make no mistake: Those voices are heard in high places. In his 2007 Supreme Court decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy specifically mentioned the “unexceptionable” likelihood that a woman might come to regret her choice. That women need to be protected from decisions they might feel bad about later — not that there was any evidence supporting this notion — is now a legal precedent.
What else is selective abortion but a way to reserve the right to end a life because women need protection from their decisions? These same women who proclaim themselves as in need of being bailed out of consequences resulting from their own agency are asking for the right to eliminate another’s life. As if they are too weak of a gender to manage another 20 weeks of pregnancy to ensure the baby can go to someone who will love it, if they cannot. A desire to be seen as powerful and strong cannot stand as long as women continually prove themselves too fearful of their own biology.
How Can Feminism Succeed If It Remains At War With Who Women Are?
Women are gifted with the capacity to create life. I’ve never understood the goal to be equal with men, because why aim that low, right? I kid, mostly. But when it comes down to it, women can do something spectacular. Ask any woman to tell you her birth story and you often will see a woman transformed. There are no more truly confident women than those who have brought life into this world. It hits you the moment you deliver: you are filled with love, compassion and to be honest a touch of bravado.
No matter how many raises, or other social rewards men may get, western women can chase those too. Unlike men, women also get to make human beings. It’s a serious business that bestows upon women and men a special charge to protect the most powerless among us. For those who have brought children into the world, we know the best feminist is a mom. She’s connected with her biologic and intellectual power in a way that leads instead of cedes authority. Instead of disabling her, it expands her capacity for flexibility, compassion, leadership, multitasking and efficiency in ways that trump those without children.
Pushing extreme positions on abortion weakens the case that women are responsible and ethical human beings. It will be hard for folks to take women seriously if pro-choice advocates seek to break from their “defensive” box by arguing that women are owed a bailout that enables the destruction of viable human beings. Children ask for do overs, adults bear the responsibility of their actions. Women need to choose who they want to be.