Several years ago, I was approached by a young woman after giving a talk examining how patriarchy is at the core of the world’s dominant religions and calling out the Christian fascist movement to criminalize abortion. As she told me of her abortion, her demeanor suggested she was rather settled about it. But then suddenly she stopped talking, her face flashed with emotion, and she burst into tears.
I tell this story precisely because this young woman was a confident and articulate atheist. She had been raised pro-choice and still was. Her boyfriend was supportive. She received great medical care. Extremely important: she made clear she had never felt guilty.
So, why was she sobbing?
She explained, “Until today, I have never in my life heard anyone say that it is okay to have an abortion and even feel good about it. For two years I have gone around feeling like there must be something wrong with me because I never felt any remorse.”
Stop for a moment and think about that. She didn’t feel bad about her abortion. She felt bad about not feeling bad!
I responded very firmly that there is nothing wrong with her. There is nothing wrong with a woman terminating her pregnancy at any point and for whatever reason she chooses. Fetuses are not babies. Women are not incubators. Abortion is not murder.
There is, however, something profoundly wrong with a society in which millions of young people have grown up never having heard abortion spoken of as something positive and liberating. There is something deeply wrong not only with the movement which has viciously and relentlessly fought to criminalize, terrorize, and demonize those who seek – or provide – abortions, but also with the mainstream of a “pro-choice movement” which has repeatedly conciliated and compromised with this madness.
Let’s be clear; the notion that women are full human beings capable of participating fully and equally in every realm of human endeavor together with men is historically an extremely new idea. It is also under extreme, and increasing, fire. The fight to not only defend, but to expand and to destigmatize abortion and birth control, must be seen as a central battle in the fight to make good on the full liberation of women.
What’s the big deal about abortion, anyway? Together with birth control, abortion enables women to not be enslaved by their biology. It enables women to delay, restrict, or forgo altogether the decision to make babies. It enables women to explore their sexuality free of the fear that an unintended pregnancy will foreclose their lives and their dreams. It opens up the possibility for women to enter fully and equally into every realm of public life and human endeavor together with men.
Of course, the possibility of full equality for women doesn’t exist merely because of the technological, or even the legal, existence of birth control and abortion. These reproductive rights would not have been won – and wouldn’t have had the earth-shaking repercussions they’ve had – without the tremendous struggles of women demanding their liberation. Despite popular misconceptions, it was this righteous struggle, together with the broader revolt of the 1960s and 70s – not some sudden flash of enlightenment on the Court – that most influenced the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
Further, the liberation of women requires more than reproductive rights and a radical shift in the culture. The need for an all-the-way revolution that goes beyond even the best of the revolutionary experience of the last century – including as pertains to challenging traditional gender and other chains that bind women – is a key element of Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of revolution and communism. Explicating this more fully goes beyond the scope of this article, but interested readers can learn more by reading, A Declaration for Women‘s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity.
But even the specter of women’s liberation – and the important advances that were made – were too much for those who rule this country. The backlash really coalesced and gained initiative under Reagan. The reassertion of the “traditional family” became an indispensable part of not only reasserting patriarchy but also stitching back together the reactionary fabric of society that had been significantly frayed. Christian fascists – people fighting for the laws and culture to conform to a literal interpretation of the Bible, including its insistence that women bear children and obey their husbands (1 Timothy 2:11-15) – were given powerful backing by ruling class forces and unleashed to hound and harass women who sought abortions. They bombed clinics. They killed doctors. They pushed the shame and ignorance of abstinence-only education into the schools and went to war on the scientific fact of evolution.
Through this period, the most mainstream elements of the women’s movement came to be identified broadly as the only outlet for those concerned about the oppressed status of women, even as this bourgeois feminism more and more subordinated itself to the ruling class, and the Democratic Party in particular.
To quote from the above-mentioned Declaration, “This absorption of the ‘official women’s movement’ into the Democratic Party, and its utter subordination to the confines of electoral politics, has done incalculable damage. For over two decades now this ‘feminist movement’ has encouraged and influenced progressive people to accommodate to a dynamic where yesterday’s outrage becomes today’s ‘compromise position’ and tomorrow’s limit of what can be imagined. The defensiveness and cravenness of this ‘movement’ in the face of the Christian fascists in particular – its refusal to really battle them on the morality of abortion, to take one concentrated example – has contributed to the disorientation of two generations of young women, and men as well.”
What has this looked like? It looked like Hillary Clinton implying there was something wrong with abortion by insisting it be “safe, legal, and rare” and then these becoming the watchwords of a “pro-choice movement” that even removed “abortion” from its name. It looked like spokespeople for NARAL and Planned Parenthood repeatedly insisting they are the ones, not the Christian Right, who prevent the most abortions, even as women scramble nationwide to access the dwindling abortion services. It looked like a strategy focusing almost entirely on the most extreme cases – endangerment to a woman or fetus’s life, rape or incest – rather than standing up for the right of all women to abortion.
It looked like the 2006 congressional elections where the Democrats insisted that to beat the Bush-led Republicans they had to run hardline anti-abortion candidates like Bob Casey. And while many registered complaints, not a single major national pro-choice “leader” called for mass mobilizations of protest in the streets. It looked like broad “feminist” celebration of President Obama even as he, too, insisted on reducing abortions and finding “common ground” with fascists and religious fanatics. Now he has now presided over the greatest onslaught of abortion restrictions introduced at the state level since Roe v. Wade.
All this is why a new generation has, almost without exception, never heard anyone speak positively about abortion. This has led to thousands of women feeling guilty or ashamed of a procedure which is necessary for women to live full and independent lives. This has let to a situation where activists fight piecemeal at the edges of each new major assault while losing ground overall.
If we do not seize the moral high by boldly proclaiming the positive morality of abortion, if we don’t begin now to change hearts and minds among this new generation in particular, if we do not refuse to be confined by what is deemed “electable,” then not only will we fail in fighting back the restrictions, we will compound this legal defeat with an ideological and political defeat as well.
Millions and millions of women feel absolutely no remorse about their abortions; it is time for all of us to speak out boldly in support of this attitude. Its also time we stop bending over backward to validate the feelings of guilt or shame that some women feel over their abortions. Millions of women feel guilty and ashamed after being raped, but while we acknowledge their emotions, we also struggle for them – and everyone else – to recognize they have done nothing wrong and have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s time we do the same around the stigma that surrounds abortion.
It is absolutely a great thing for women to have – and to exercise freely – their right to abortion. The doctors who provide these services should be celebrated! There is nothing “moral” about forcing women to bear children against their will, but there is something tremendously moral about enabling women to determine the course of their own lives.
This is good for women and it is good for humanity as a whole.
It is time to declare boldly: Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!