Just because they’re pro-life doesn’t mean they’re sexist

Nope. The title isn’t a joke. In fact, it’s been on my mind as of late. It keeps me up at night. It creates friction between me and the liberal activist friends whose circle I used to run in — and most of all, it increasingly brings my farther away from the liberal activism movement and more into in-party politics.

Let me explain: in the recent legislative attacks on Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights, a state senator from Ohio was quoted with the familiar rallying cry of the liberal movement: “if men could get pregnant, abortions would be a sacrament.” It’s goes along the same line as Gloria Steinem’s “If Men Could Menstruate” piece that, as a freshman taking my first women’s studies class, I thought was brilliant.

Yet, as I grow, I am beginning to sense such rhetoric isn’t helping anyone. Just as the right thinks the worst of the left, when the left strikes back with its own rhetoric, nobody wins. In fact, the people it harms most aren’t well-to-do legislatures or protesters (that protesting in itself is both class and economic privilege is undeniable), but the families and women they’re trying to help, as such rhetoric does not bring any results or progress to the legislative efforts to help them.

Moreover, said rhetoric is absolute untrue. Just because someone is pro-life, or as some in the movement would prefer, “anti-choice,” does not make them sexist. When we begin character assisinations on our political opposites, we kill any meaningful and progressive dialogue. In fact, the majority of those who are pro-life are both family people, women and men, who believe in gender equality, yet simply cannot wrap their minds about the termination of a fetus. It doesn’t make them bad people. It makes them bad legislators.

Is being against abortions inherently sexist? No. While it most certainly is a great failure legislative wise, and shows a lack of insight regarding public health and how to strengthen America’s economy, the position, in itself, is not sexist. This is because while women’s health are, indeed, being attacked, women are not being attacked because they are simply women. Their health status and choices are being attacked because THEY are the ones who are biologically able to have children.

While I’ll readily admit that the fight for reproductive choices in the Global South is based on a lot of sexism – that they aren’t entitled to an education, bodily autonomy and ought to be casted to a life of baby-making and mothering, the same cannot be applied for the anti-choice movement here in America. In fact, while we are cautious in the transnational feminism movement, and within NGO activism, to ensure that we respect the cultures of Global South nations, in relations to global reproductive care, we’ve failed to do the same in America. Instead, my friends from the activist left have chosen to reduce our movement to rhetoric fitting for a bumper sticker, but is unworthy of any legislative attention.

Women’s lives, and the health of America’s families, aren’t political slogans and the legislative efforts to strengthen America’s families shouldn’t be reduced to a catch phrase, yet we’re all too happy to do it, instead of attacking the policies based on a concern for public health. Instead of attacking the right for its failure to make America’s workforce healthy, or coming up with plans to make our nation stronger, by giving its families the ability to family plan, we spew rhetoric and hate — the same toxic dialogue that, for so long, has plagued politics.

At the same time, by reducing our movement, our beliefs to something as silly as “if men could get pregnant, abortions would be a sacrament,” we do something else — we send a message that reproductive choices and issues of reproductive rights are ones that only women are — and should be concerned about. In doing so, we also remove the  link between men’s lives and the reproductive choices of women. We have an opportunity to talk about how men have just as much of a vested interest in keeping abortions and birth control legal and available as women do, yet we’ve given up that opportunity, and instead, have made our rallying cry into something of a joke.

We all have something to benefit from in being pro-choice, and we should focus on actual discussions and conversations regarding choice, rather than simply crying “Oh, they’re attacking women’s uterus.” There is a time to use rhetoric to rally the troops, but there is also a time for us to settle down and use our minds to come up with legislatively progressive ideas and visions for our nation and its families, including both women and men.

It’s time that we mature as a movement and think less the feel-good rhetoric of politics, and more about what we truly can do for America; abortion is America’s wedge issue — one that has divided America for a long time, and the victims of this have always been women and their families. It’s time we actually work together, rather than painting our opposites as the enemy, because in the end, it doesn’t hurt them, it hurts America’s families, and particularly women.

All I am asking, simply, is that we come up with solutions, rather than crying about the problem

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8 Comments

  1. Posted March 15, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    I have to respectfully disagree. I think that the anti-choice position is inherently sexist. I agree with you that mudslinging is counter productive — I read a statistic once that said the vast majority of the US is liberal but that due to the mudslinging, many don’t vote because of all of that confusion.

    But to clarify why I feel that being anti-choice is inherently sexist, I’ll explain.

    Forcing childbirth on a woman who isn’t ready to be a mother requires a way of thinking that isn’t considering what that woman is going through or where she is in her life. What if she can’t afford to feed a child, or what if she has to work full time to pay the rent and has no time for a child, or what if she wants to go to college first, what if she’s going through something traumatic? These are just random points in people’s lives but removing the stories from women’s lives to just point to all women and say that those circumstances don’t matter, that they are an evil killer if they don’t want to be a mom, it’s violence. It erases their stories and their circumstances.

    It also reinforces expected gender norms. It may make it harder for women to work, and so forcing childbirth seems designed to keep women at home. If being a stay at home parent is a decision that a woman has made, that’s wonderful — but forcing someone into it?

    Somehow, through their proposed legislation they manage to be both “pro-life” and anti-child. By trying to cut healthcare, child nutrition, education, and emotional and financial support for kids, and so on, they’re trying to create an extremely hostile environment for mostly poor women.

    There’s the fact that rich women will always be able to get a safe abortion. It’s the poor women who will suffer or even die. There’s the fact that it seems most anti-choicers also want to make birth control illegal, essentially punishing women for having sex for pleasure.

    I understand that you’re saying that all these issues surrounding the republican anti-choice position are separate from, say, a person who just believes that we shouldn’t kill fetuses and that’s it. But in my opinion that is inextricably linked to all the issues mentioned above. If someone believed that killing a fetus is wrong, then they can choose not to do so.

    Essentially, this is why I think “Trust Women” is a better phrase. Because if you are anti-choice, then you really don’t.

    • Posted March 15, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      What you said. I have absolutely zero interest in working with anti-choicers and I don’t believe that to be an unreasonable position at all.

  2. Posted March 15, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    I agree with your assessment on the views, within the feminist and pro-choice community, of why such things might be viewed as sexist. However, the grander point I was trying to make was that for even our movement, there are many, many people who are all too happy spreading rhetoric, in short soundbites, rather working on real solutions.

    The anti-choice and the pro-choice movements are never going to fully agree, and we’re never going to fully get what we want. The solution, thus, then is to find common grounds and come up with smart policies — which requires us to engage in actual conversations about policy, rather than just the rhetoric and fully assuming the other side doesn’t care.

    Said rhetoric is great within the feminist movement and within women’s studies, but from a policy standpoint, it’s poor politics, and we don’t get anything done, nor do we change any minds.

    • Posted March 15, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      Right. But the only solution is choice. Let people who believe abortion is wrong not have abortions. And let women who can’t have or don’t want children make their own choices too. Plus giving people better access to birth control = less abortions. That’s what the legislation MUST be.

      What other “compromise” is there?

  3. Posted March 15, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    While I personally support complete and unimpeded access to and support services around abortion for those who seek them, I think like many people I know people, extended family and people on the peripheries of my social circle who don’t. One thing I don’t generally hear from them, on the rare occasion the subject comes up, is the same rhetoric that you’d hear on TV or see written by some leader of a pro-life movement.

    Instead, and honestly I think this idea transcends sides, an issue of balance. The interests of the growing fetus/child, and the interests of the mother. I think most people who fall into the ‘moderate’ group on either side of the debate simply intend to say that either the mother’s right to autonomy trumps any rights, or lack thereof, of the potential child, or on the other side that the child has been conceived, something that modern society has given us numerous tools to prevent, and it should be given a chance to live. I’ve never heard anyone in the above mentioned groups try to apply this to cases of sexual assault or where there’s a danger to the mother.

    So while I know there are people out there who truly just want to see these rights go away, regardless of the burden it places on women, I have to agree at least in part with Marc, the broad labels never seem to help anything, and isn’t a respectful way to discuss sensitive emotional issues, even when you feel the other side is completely in the wrong. Using labels like “anti-choice” is no different than a pro-life advocate calling abortion supporters “baby killers”, it only serves to polarize the issue further. As one person once said to me “we’re not against women having a choice, we just ask that they make that choice before a child has been conceived”. I know I pointed out access to birth control and other issues that come easy to certain classes of people and not to others, but based on that statement I personally do not use “anti-choice” to describe anti-abortionists. I hope that somewhere someone is giving me that same courtesy by not labeling me a “baby killer”.

    • Posted March 16, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      I use ANTI-CHOICE loudly and proudly because that is truly what they are. Their flowery term of “pro-life” is an attempt to obfuscate the fact that they want to strip women of autonomy, redefine rape, criminalize miscarriage, and whatever other silliness they come up with. “Pro-Life” is nothing but twisting the knife in with a smiling face. Once you concede to their terminology you’re playing with their ball. Today I concede my semantics, tomorrow they seize my uterus.

      I’ve done clinic escort and the antis called us “baby killers”, “devil worshippers”, “cannibals” (being that some of us wore the symbols of our Pagan faiths, they somehow decided we used the aborted fetuses in our “devil worship” ceremonies and then ate them.) We laughed in their faces because what they were saying was very stupid, and I’ve been known to call them a few things that make “anti-choicer” sound “darling dearest”.

      Women are too often raised to speak nicely and be non-confrontational. But the antis have done nothing to earn my respect or receive that privilege.

  4. Posted March 16, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    While I agree that a lot of ordinary citizens (not politicians) who are anti-choice/pro-life are not sexist, the politicians who try to get Roe v. Wade reversed usually are. I think a lot of non-politicians take what the politicians of the right say at face value and they don’t bother looking any further, like when a politician says it’s the same as a person walking down the street.

    I can understand thinking abortion is morally wrong, but the positions anti-choice/pro-life politicians take are sexist. They say they believe abortion is murder, and should be prevented at all costs. Yet they oppose birth control most of the time, as well as comprehensive sex education. Their goal is to strip women of any choice of when they have children, except to tell them to just not have sex until they’re ready for a child. This is dehumanizing to women, and it comes from a long standing sexist belief that women should never be sexual, every woman should be a mother. There is an idea of punishing who are sexually “promiscuous”.
    Part of the reason many (though not all) support exceptions in cases of rape, if they truly believed a fetus is a person, and saw abortion as murder I don’t think they could do that. Overall, it is about keeping women out of control of their lives.

    But you’re right about rhetoric, this needs to stop. People need to have real conversations.

  5. Posted March 16, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Yeah they are.

    “Meeting half-way” sounds nice, but it sadly doesn’t work when those you look to meet are only interested in mowing you down.

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