Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights – A Summary

It seems that abortion has been all over my newsfeed lately. Maybe it is that weird tendency to notice things that are on your mind, or maybe people really are talking about it a bit more right now. Several articles have been floating around and in November there were several pieces of legislation on state ballots that effected abortion. Regardless, it has been on my mind a lot recently as I finished up Katha Pollitt’s “Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights”.

This book was pretty explicitly written for people like me. The middle ground people who are pro-choice but not strongly. My own reason for being pro-choice is a pragmatic one, not necessarily a moral one. Pushing anything into the black market makes it more dangerous and expensive for everyone, whether it is drugs, immigration, prostitution or abortion, it is better for things to operate legally instead of in the black market. Pollitt certainly touches on the pragmatic issues but her task (which she does brilliantly) is point out both the hypocrisy of and the natural conclusions of the anti-abortion movement. I won’t be referring to it as “pro-life”. While that phrase my be brilliant marketing it is misleading, to be pro-life would have larger ramifications than just abortion and should include how someone views capital punishment, war, terrorism, and even eating meat. Those issues aren’t in play here, this is about abortion.

Anti-abortionists state they are interested in protecting the life of the unborn. That life, which magically begins at conception, has just as much right to live as the mother. What they really seem to believe is that the unborn have MORE of a right than any other born person. The unborn can freely use the blood, food, resources, and body of the mother, but for some reason that freedom stops after birth. If a baby is born with a rare disease and needs a blood transplant from the mother nobody says the mother should be forced against her will to provide that blood. If she wants to let the baby die at that point it should be legally allowed, even if for the previous nine months she shouldn’t be allowed to cut off the use of her body from the unborn.

The unborn and the woman somehow entered into a magic contract because she had sex. The very act of sex (whether that sex was consensual or not) means that the woman has agreed to give full access of her body and resources to the unborn, she is to put her life, education, career, and health on hold because she had sex. Her role as potential mother comes above her own desires. There seems to be no other place in human society where such and implicit contract plays out even when one party explicitly does not consent. It isn’t even clear who the second party of this contract is, the unborn? God? Society? Why isn’t the male held to such a contract?

For all the talk of reducing abortions most anti-abortionists refuse to support policies that would do just that. Comprehensive sex ed, easy access to contraception, increased adoption by homosexual couples, and greater societal support for mothers are all things most anti-abortionists oppose. There also seems to be little outcry against IVF, which kills lots of embryos in the process. It seems for many it isn’t really about preventing abortions and is more about punishing sex and keeping women in a particular (and limited) role… the mother who needs a man to provide.

Since Roe became the law of the land anti-abortionists have be incredibly successful at closing down medical facilities. In one region of the US you would have to travel nearly 1500 miles to get to a clinic, a geographic and financial barrier that is insurmountable for the group of people who need and request abortions the most, low-income mothers. Anti-abortionists will say that women need to give it a lot of thought so they put into place waiting periods, medical exams, required counseling and other barriers so that she is fully aware of the consequences of abortion. Then, they make it illegal or incredibly expensive to get an abortion if you wait past a certain point. It seems there is a magical sweet spot of time a woman should wait and that time is both universal and determined by everyone except the woman.

Pollitt argues that in order to keep abortion accessible and the rights of woman to control their body honored then pro-choice advocates need to get their ass in gear. People in the middle and on the fence need to be active and the language needs to change. Instead of seeing abortion as an unfortunate, but necessary, procedure it needs to be presented as a force for good. Abortion has allowed millions and millions of women take care of the children they have, wait until they are ready to be mothers, and add their brain power to the economy. Women are more than a potential baby-maker, and what they do with their bodies is only their decision. Allowing the government to control women is the real tragedy that in the end harms us all.

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