Abortion is uniquely a women’s issue. Whether or not you agree with the idea that abortion is entirely an issue of female bodily autonomy, there is no denying that pregnancy and childbirth affect women and their bodies in ways that men cannot even begin to imagine. Even the burden of child-rearing is borne predominately by women. Furthermore, there is no denying that throughout history men have regulated and controlled women’s bodies and choices in myriads of ways. As Lisa Cahill notes, in the view of feminist theologians, abortion is best seen as “liberation of women from patriarchal control and oppression.” She goes on to explain that “abortion may not be a good in itself, but it is a necessary step and option in reclaiming women’s bodies and spirits from gender-unequal social institutions that are often violent toward women.”
The point is, it’s easy to make what we believe are clear moral judgments when we are personally unaffected by the issue at hand. I, however, am absolutely convinced that if we all woke up on Monday and men were the ones who had to gestate and give birth to babies, the abortion debate would be over by Tuesday morning. In other words, I am convinced that men, who traditionally control the levers of power, are comfortable wielding that power over others in ways they would not allow for themselves.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that the vast majority of voices I’ve cited in this project have been male, especially in the historical sections. That’s because for most of human history it has been men who have been passing judgment on an issue that that does not affect them directly. Only in the last 150 years or so have women been able to find a platform to advocate for themselves and their rights. Even now female voices are often still a minority in published works, especially in science and theology. I am acutely aware that as a male writing about abortion I am contributing to the problem. That is why, in addition to asking some of my female friends to read this material before it is published, I have invited some female friends to write guest posts for this series so that you can hear from them directly.
Today’s guest post comes from Kaitlin Shirley. Kaitlin and I first connected on Twitter and then on Facebook and she expressed interest in offering insight into this project and contributing a guest post. Kaitlin actually identifies as “staunchly pro-choice,” but she is also “pro-rendering-abortion-obsolete” because “the things that would render it obsolete would make the world a better place.” Kaitlin is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. She studies Russian & French Literature and teaches writing & language courses. She enjoys fostering dogs, kayaking, and boxing. She currently lives in Austin with her husband and dog. In this post she explains why, from a woman’s perspective, the “pro-life” movement often feels “anti-woman.” I would encourage those of you who consider yourself to be compassionately pro-life to take this honest feedback to heart. I believe there are lots of people like Kaitlin who are actually interested in a genuine third-way that unites us around a common goal of both reducing abortions and protecting and respecting women. Here’s what Kaitlin has to say.
“I was once escorted/Through the doors/Of a clinic/By a man/In a bulletproof vest/And no bombs/Went off that day/So I am still here to say/Oh Birmingham/I’m giving you all of my best/on this election day” -Hello Birmingham, Ani DiFranco
I remember listening to this song as a teenager as I was walking by the protesters outside of the clinic on Comm. Ave in Allston when I went to pick up my friend who had just had an abortion. I was thankful that no bombs went off that day either. The protestors screamed at us that we were “murderers” who were “going to hell,” which is their prerogative—I can’t tell them how to feel or what to do with their time. They don’t feel the same way. Some of them are even willing to kill they are so pro-life. That seems odd.
Anti-abortion rhetoric and policy outrages me because it feels like a violation of my bodily autonomy. As a woman, it doesn’t feel like it’s about saving babies, it truly feels like it’s about control. I have some questions for you.
- Have you ever talked to women who got abortions and do not regret it?
- Have you ever been in an abusive relationship gotten knocked up?
- Do you know what it’s like when the condom breaks and you’re a teenager and you know that you can’t be a mother now because no one will support you? (Most teenagers are not ready to be parents, and for the most part, society stigmatizesteenage parents, not supports them?)
- Do you know how it feels when your rapist doesn’t have the decency to use a condom? (Some women don’t want to carry their rapist’s fetus to term. And can you really blame them?)
To be perfectly honest, it often feels like anti-abortion crusaders don’t care about getting rid of abortion, it feels like they just want to punish women who exercise their reproductive rights. It feels like they care more about fetuses than they do us.
With their extreme rhetoric, anti-abortionists act like women who get third-term abortions do it on a whim, which is just not true. No, those women do it because their own life is in danger or because of some extreme fetal abnormality or because they couldn’t afford to travel to get it earlier like the rich women do. It often feels like the anti-abortion crusaders are willing to trade our lives for the potential life inside of us. In their quest to give rights to fetuses it feels like they strip them from us. It feels like they think they know better than I do what is right for me, my life, and my body.
People don’t go out and get pregnant just so they can get an abortion. Nobody enjoys getting abortions. Women get abortions because they feel like need to get them, because they feel like there is no other way. To add insult to injury, the same group of people that demands that laws be passed banning abortions also regularly opposes laws that would support us and help us actually be able to afford raising a child.
Most of us don’t actually want abortions. Most of us want a world where abortion is obsolete, a world that I believe is within the realm of possibility. That world is attainable by pragmatically and compassionately addressing the reasons women get abortions, but I see very few anti-abortion crusaders advocating for that. If anti-abortion crusaders want a world without abortion then why don’t they work even a fraction as hard to eliminate rape culture and rape, or to make sure everyone has easy access to contraception, comprehensive sex education & family planning options, or to develop and nurture supportive communities, or to invest in ways to help people raising a child? There are things they could do to actually make abortion a thing of the past. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate pro-life goal?
Instead, the anti-abortion movement is focused only on justice for aborted fetuses, not on actually reducing abortion, or at least that’s how it often feels. They focus more on ensuring there will be punishment for abortions, not realizing that criminalization doesn’t work, instead of working to eliminate the need for abortion itself. That’s a rather odd position to call “pro-life.” In completely honestly, it feels like actually reducing abortion is not the ultimate goal of the “pro-life” movement, or, at least the most vocal proponents of it. It feels like they just want to make it illegal so they can say they’ve done their civic duty by making sure someone is punished for it. From where I sit, it all feels less “pro-life” and more “anti-woman.” Perhaps that’s not what they mean, but it’s certainly how it comes across, at least to me.