Feminism

personally pro-life, politically pro-choice

I’m about as pro-choice as it’s possible to be. I’m unflinchingly pro-choice, even. There are no ifs, ands, or buts  in my approach to abortion, no caveats, no disclaimers. I am completely opposed to “late-term” abortion bans, TRAP laws, and any other restrictions on a person’s ability to conduct their own medical affairs. I believe that abortion should be treated no differently from any other medical procedure: it is safe– far safer than childbirth— and it is private.

However, I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, this position is relatively recent– more recent, even, than where I was when I wrote the Ordeal of the Bitter Waters series over two years ago. My feminism is continuously evolving, and back when I wrote that series I was more uncomfortable with so-called “late-term” abortions than I am today. I’ve been evaluating and re-evaluating my stances on reproductive rights for almost eight years now, and I’ve arrived at a place that feels more drastic than a complete reversal should.

As an inexperienced and woefully uninformed young woman, I was fervently pro-life. I picketed clinics a handful of times; I canvassed neighborhoods trying to get TRAP laws put on my state’s ballot. I didn’t think there should be exceptions for rape and incest. Over time, however, circumstances forced me to confront what I believed about abortion, and I realized that my pro-life position was morally indefensible.

My theological and political background puts me in an interesting position, especially as I’ve been observing this election season– my first presidential election as a registered Democrat. My social media feeds are a sometimes-hilarious mix of extremes because some of my friends are Marxists, some are Libertarians, and at least two friends post almost nothing but pictures of guns. What’s becoming troubling to me is that we all seem to have forgotten the value– and governing necessity– of compromise, of embracing a spectrum of beliefs and positions in order to accomplish a good work.

I don’t think there’s anything that demonstrates how polarized we can be than abortion. This election season, it seems that tension has coalesced around Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential candidate, Tim Kaine. He, like other Democratic men like Joe Biden, embrace a complicated position toward reproductive rights: personally opposed to abortion (a somewhat ridiculous position for a man to hold, I’ll admit), but still in support of abortion remaining legal and accessible.

This is where my perspective can seem a little bit wonky to some of my pro-choice friends and colleagues: I don’t have a problem with Clinton choosing Kaine as her running mate. He wasn’t who I was hoping for, but I think the reasoning for choosing him is logical and practical– two of the things I admire most about Clinton’s approach to politics.

I do have a problem with Kaine’s history. He supported abstinence-only education because he felt it would lower the abortion rate in Virginia, which flies in the face of common sense and well-established fact. He banned “partial birth” abortions, a ridiculous position that speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding of medical procedures. He used state funds to support Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which use deceptive, manipulative, and unethical tactics. Even though he’s seemed to have evolved on these positions, I understand the hesitancy many of my pro-choice colleagues are feeling.

However, as fervently pro-choice as I am and as much as I will fight to protect our reproductive rights, I can support Kaine for vice president because he embodies one of my most valued positions:

I will work with anyone,  even someone who’s pro-life, to advance reproductive justice.

I am absolutely for what some call “abortion on demand.” I am vocally in support of bodily autonomy being seen as a fundamental right. However, I am troubled by certain unfortunate realities surrounding reproductive care in this country because I am pro-choice. The US has a much higher abortion rate than many other developed nations, and I think that’s indicative of larger problems.

For example, for teenage girls who gave birth by fifteen, 39% of their partners were older than twenty. For girls who gave birth by seventeen, 53% of their partners were older than 20. There’s some nuance there, of course, but that research indicates that up to half of all teenage pregnancies are a result of rape. That, to me, highlights the gross and horrifying failure in sex education. The abstinence-only “purity” approach leaves people, especially girls, vulnerable to violence and abuse.

In a survey from 2004, a huge number of the people who responded— 73%– said they’d had abortions because they couldn’t afford to have a baby. There’s other reasons to have an abortion, obviously, but when three quarters of the people having an abortion cite their finances as the most important reason they needed an abortion, it means that there’s a definite lack of choice involved in their decision. That’s unfortunate, and upsetting. Abortion should be available without limits– you shouldn’t have to prove you have a “good enough” reason– but if they would have preferred to keep their pregnancy but can’t afford to, that’s a problem.

There are so many avenues to provide real choices. Reducing child care costs. Making reliable contraception widely available. Offering comprehensive education on reproductive health and consensual sex. All of those things are proven in reducing the abortion rate (as well as just being good ideas on their own), and this abortion-on-demand feminist thinks that’s an important enough goal that I’ll even work with Tim Kaine to ensure that people are free to make a true, unbounded, personal choice.

I don’t need ideological purity in the people I work with. I don’t need to agree with you on everything to try to get something accomplished. I don’t like litmus tests, and I abhor movements that are unwilling to bend in order to get the work done. If you’re personally pro-life, but think that decision is a personal one best left to a person and their doctor, we can shake on it.

If you’d like to know more about these pro-choice positions, I recommend Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement by Sarah Erdreich.

Photo by Toshiyuki
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  • Beroli

    I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed her choice wasn’t someone like Elizabeth Warren, but, I understand the tactical value of Kaine. And Clinton is in a substantially better position to assess which would be better for her campaign than I am.

    • I was personally pulling for someone like Perez (Labor) or Julian Castro (Housing), but I can see why she went with Kaine. If she’s capable of pulling lower middle class white men away from Trump, she probably needs to.

    • I was glad that she did not pick Elizabeth Warren for VP. That’s because Warren’s voice is far too important to be suppressed by being VP candidate.

  • Stephanie Rice

    Earlier this summer, I read a Jezebel article about a woman who had a third trimester abortion and this was a huge impetus for my opinion changing from personally pro-life/politically pro-choice to unabashedly, no-limits pro-choice. The pro-life rhetoric paints the women who have these types of abortions as either lazy (why didn’t they abort sooner?) or as heartless (how could they kill their nearly full-term child?). But this article really smashes those myths. http://jezebel.com/interview-with-a-woman-who-recently-had-an-abortion-at-1781972395

    • Oh holy fuck. I’ve been sobbing. Definitely posting that in the next “stuff I’ve been into” post.

      Stories like that are way I’m so whole-hog pro-abortion.

      • Stephanie Rice

        I probably should have included a warning. Sorry about that! But yes, powerful story.

      • I think the recent semi-influx of books by earnest Christian women on their choice to carry already-dead or nonviable-but-still-living fetuses to term has had a really detrimental affect on how people see third-trimester abortions, too. That women “could” or “should” carry anyway, no matter the risks to their own health or the terrible trauma inflicted on some women by the idea of having to carry what is essentially their dead baby within themselves for two months or sometimes more… and that they “could” or “should” do so because ANGIE SMITH DID IT AND SHE FELT GOD or THIS AUTHOR DID IT or whatever.

        I understand why these women are writing these books – they are meditations on making a choice that is something many of us simply haven’t had to grasp.

        But I’ve had people tell me “tehre is no reason for a third-trimester abortion, there is no situation where she can’t just carry it to term” and they seem to have had their views influenced by these books they hold so holy and dear. And as someone who has been told by a doctor, “We’re going to induce and we may have to choose between you” and has had to listen to a conversation between my doctor and my husband about what to do if i lost consciousness and he had to make decisions for me, it is terrifying to listen to people earnestly deny that situations like my own even exist.

        • Stephanie Rice

          YES. I admit that I have a weird soft spot for Christian fiction and this incubator-martyr story line is very prevalent. The women in the stories are generally presented as these beacons of love and sacrifice because they choose to carry a non-viable fetus to term. I remember specifically, a book by Karen Kingsbury (so embarrassing, but I’ve read them all) where a character gave birth to a baby with anencephaly and it was treated like “look! She did the godly, right thing!” and I was very frustrated by the dichotomy.

          • Rebecca

            In the UK we call this “pain porn”. It is so vilely objectifying the idea of disability taht it devalues those of us who live with it. They write FICTION on this? Ugh.

        • Rebecca

          Please consider me absolutely with you on all you said here. As a disabled woman who has been totally devalued outside any context except the maternity ward since I was 18, I occasionally rant that I would sooner have died if they had tried to give me incompatible drugs to induce abortion because why should i live and what could I have lived for if they had forced me to kill the one thing I had ever wanted but so much of that is about what came after.
          UK culture has some very different stances – they are for example quite capable of trying to force late term abortions on mothers who want to keep their child but to force someone to give up one life or another as though either child or mother were more valuable to me makes no sense.

    • Ysolde

      How sad

    • Brian

      Yup. In truth, late term abortions are vanishingly rare and always performed for good reasons, and the pro-life leaders know that, but they play them up as common and frivolous because they know it plays to their pawns, and they know that any laws they pass against it will chip chip chip at women’s rights. They pass these laws just to scare doctors, basically.

  • I resonate so much with this line: “I don’t need ideological purity in the people I work with.” Lord, i think that is the greatest problem progressive Christians face. We get so wrapped up in being the most awake, the most correct, the most not-like-our-past-fundie-selves that i think we can forget that (a) coalitions are built between people of difference, including idealogical and (b) that, well, that’s the church. I’m thankful for this post, as a ferociously pro-choice feminist xian who also once was quite “pro-life.”

    • ALSO have you read this? Used it in a seminary paper about abortion providers often giving better pastoral care than pastors – https://thehairpin.com/interview-with-dr-59e559ff3976#.2imh8c9b2

    • Kevin

      The interesting thing about ideological purity is that’s what Fundamentalists do — Rick Warren got attacked in 2006 for inviting Obama to his church for World AIDS Day and he’s been attacked for being willing to work with Muslims. (However his insistence that people stay in abusive marriages is met with…silence!)

  • personally opposed to abortion (a somewhat ridiculous position for a man to hold, I’ll admit)

    Please don’t be upset that I’m asking but… I don’t understand the parenthetical comment. I see it a lot in discussions on the issue, but I’m always afraid to ask: Why is it ridiculous for men to be ‘personally opposed’ to abortion? Do you just mean, if they argue for its legality, it’s a contradiction to be opposed to morally it but for it legally? Or is it specifically… they’re men, and don’t get to have an opinion (as long as that opinion is the wrong one)? If there’s a moral issue in front of them and they have done their research and such, why shouldn’t they form a view?

    Wouldn’t that thought process be similar to criticizing a pacifist for being morally opposed to guns even if they accept that people have a legal right to own them?

    I won’t argue with any responses you offer, I’m just looking to understand the perspective behind the statement, please?

    • A cisgender man will never be pregnant, so his personal opinion, in the specific instance this article is referring to, is irrelevant.

      Men like Kaine and Biden support legal and accessible abortion. Being “personally opposed” because of that is, like I said, ridiculous.

      If a man opposes legal abortion, that’s a slightly different question. I wouldn’t describe that as ridiculous, but as misogynistic.

    • Beroli

      A pacifist can meaningfully say, “I will never own a gun.” A cisgender man can’t meaningfully say, “I will never have an abortion.”

    • spacegal2003

      I can understand your hesitation. I’m kind of uncomfortable with the idea that you can’t be opposed to something unless it directly relates to you. Certainly, if it doesn’t directly affect you you should be willing to listen to those whom it does, and be leery of asserting your opinions as the only valid ones on the subject. But I think people can gain information and make judgements even if they aren’t directly affected by an issue.

    • Grasshopper

      It depends on what you mean by “personally pro-life”. If a man says that and means “I personally think abortion is amoral but I am pro-choice from a legal perspective” then I don’t think there’s anything inherently condtradictory about that. But what a lot of women mean by “personally pro-choice” is “I am pro-choice politically, but I personally would never have an abortion”, which is a ridiculous thing for someone without the faculties to become pregnant to say.

  • Jeff

    “but when three quarters of the people having an abortion cite their finances as the most important reason they needed an abortion, it means that there’s a definite lack of choice involved in their decision.”

    That’s not quite correct. 73 percent of respondents cited finances as a reason, but the median number of reasons cited in the survey was 4. (It’s also worth noting that the reasons were inferred from interviews with women who had had abortions, so there is a bit of interpretation that went into the data collection.). 23 percent of women cited finances as the most important reason. https://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/journals/3711005.pdf

  • Totally agree with you. I personally don’t think I could have an abortion, and if I did, it’d be as early as possible. But that’s ME. And it’s none of my business what anyone else does with their body. I also agree we need to work with people who are a bit halfway. If we expect everyone to think exactly like us before we work with them, we will never get anywhere as a country. Politics does require compromise. And the current refusal of both sides to compromise or work with others different than them is what’s holding us back.

    I do have one small nitpick though. It’s not because I disagree with you, but rather I really value the power of statistics and think it’s diluted when mistakes are made. The age of consent is 16 so long as the older person is not in a position of authority in many states (including my current state of residence), and so the statistics about 17 year olds and partners over 20 do not meet the legal definition of rape in those states. I suppose we can argue all day long about whether a 17 yo with a 21 yo is rape while an 18 yo with a 22 yo is not, and I know you mentioned “nuance” but I did want to point that out simply because I think being very exact and accurate with stats, especially when we make a conclusion of how many teenage pregnancies are from statutory rape, is extremely important in not giving people room to discount the entire message (not that that’s right, but it is a reality if we even accidentally twist stats in any way).

    But I really do agree with your whole message; the scientist in me just felt it necessary to make you aware of the differences in state laws and how that affects the statistics you’re reporting and how that can appear misleading to a reader that’s critically analyzing statistics.

  • Amanda

    I’ve been thinking a lot about how people who are pro-life should really do more to ensure that women have a real choice to keep their baby, which means addressing economic and other factors, not just making abortion illegal and that’s the end of it. 73% is an extremely high number of people to say they had an abortion because they couldn’t afford to have the baby.

    My question for you is, how do the life/rights of the unborn factor into this? I am completely for women being able to make choices about their body/health, but to go from that to saying abortion should be legal because women should have the right to make choices about their body/health obscures the discussion about the unborn person’s status. I would argue that they do/should have rights as well. If that’s the case, the question would then become, how do you reconcile conflicts between the rights of women and the unborn? I’m not trying to pick a fight; I actually want to know how this is approached from a pro-choice perspective.

    • Beroli

      Speaking only for myself, my answer is that it’s irrelevant. Whatever is in a pregnant person’s womb–baby, clump of cells, or demigod–if the pregnant person doesn’t want it there they have the right to evict it immediately. If blood and organ donation aren’t legally mandated, even when they save the lives of born children, why would it be okay to mandate massive blood and tissue donation and going through a horrendously stressful and
      painful, and certainly life-shortening, experience to save the lives of unborn children? It’s defensible (depending on the circumstances) to privately disapprove of an individual having an abortion, in the same way that it’s defensible to privately disapprove of a father (or a stranger) saying, “No, I choose not to donate one of my kidneys; I accept the doctor telling me that my child (that person) will die without it,” though I will disapprove of anyone who doesn’t recognize that the pregnant person is being asked to give up a great deal more and go through a far more painful process. Someone who opposes birth control, aid to the poor, and unwed mothers getting physical and emotional support, on the other hand, is sending a very clear message that they care about enforcing a certain type of social order, not saving lives.

      Necessary presuppositions here:
      1) Consensual sex is not a moral wrong. Pregnancy is never evidence of having done anything to be punished for.
      2) “It’s natural” is meaningless. I couldn’t have read the comment I’m responding to with my “natural” eyes.
      3) “If everyone chose not to the human species would die out” is not an argument for any individual to choose not to or to have their choice restricted.

    • This is a really complicated question, and anything I say in a comment in the amount of time I have today is going to seem flippant and possibly callous, unfortunately.

      There’s lots of really good books out there, and I really do recommend you start with books. Online resources are not going to be in-depth enough to really address serious questions.

      Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Pollitt is a good place to start, as is the Generation Roe book I linked to in the post. I haven’t read The Story of Jane, but I’ve heard it’s good. All those books should have resources and further reading.

      In short, I think that where the potential for life ends and personhood begins is a philosophic question, not a scientific one. Most pro-life people tend to say that they think personhood begins at conception, which, to be blunt, is a load of shit. If they actually, truly believed that a zygote (fertilized ovum) is fully a person with inalienable rights, then everyone would be horrified at the fact that anywhere from 60-80% of our population is dying inside a matter of days for inexplicable reasons. Except we’re not. Cuz we don’t really think a zygote is the same thing as a breathing infant.

      It’s a process. Maybe, for you, life really does start when the sperm penetrates the ovum and the DNA combines. Ok, sure, fine. Maybe for someone it starts with a successful implantation– which, that still has an astronomical failure rate, but ok. Maybe for someone else it’s at what the ancients called the “quickening,” when the mother can feel the baby kicking. Or, maybe it’s like the even-more-ancients believed, and personhood comes with their first independent breath. Or, maybe you’re like the ancient Israelites who didn’t count personhood until the infant had survived to the first year.

      It’s a personal decision. In this modern American context where creating laws based on private philosophical and religious beliefs is not just ridiculous it’s actually against our Constitution– someone else’s religious beliefs aren’t– and shouldn’t be– my problem. Personally, I wouldn’t have an abortion once the baby had reached genuine viability, but that’s my line and maybe unforeseen circumstances would force me to make a decision I’d rather avoid.

      It’s illegal to force someone to surrender their liver or kidneys or blood without their consent. I’m not a flesh incubator. I’m a person with bodily autonomy, and no force of law should compel me to surrender that autonomy against my will. That, I believe, is universally immoral.

    • Jeff

      The replies from Beroli and Samantha are, essentially, variations on Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “famous violinist” analogy, from 1971. Unsurprisingly, in the 45 intervening years, there have been plenty of rebuttals to this analogy. I’ve found that the articles written (jointly) by Robert P. George and Patrick Lee express with particular force and clarity the position that you’re articulating in your second paragraph, and strong rebut the bodily autonomy argument. Definitely worth a quick Google search if it’s of interest. (Thomson’s original argument is of course worth reading as well)

      • I don’t have time to fully address this, but linking to sources is ideal.

        This is the essay by Thomson that Jeff is referring to:

        http://spot.colorado.edu/~heathwoo/Phil160,Fall02/thomson.htm

        And I’m *assuming* that this is at least one of the articles by George+Lee he’s referring to? If not, please give us a link, Jeff.

        https://www.firstthings.com/article/2005/02/dualistic-delusions

        • Jeff

          Disqus isn’t letting me paste in weblinks for some reason, but a couple of other nice articles by George and Lee include “The Wrong of Abortion” and “Acorns and Embryos”. The former in particular could be considered a book-chapter-length rebuttal to the comment you posted, so you or your readers might find it worth a read.

          There are of course lots of responses to the famous violinist. The G&L chapter I mention is one, or there’s a more succinct article called “Unstringing the Violinist” by Greg Koukl.

          Sorry that linking isn’t working for me; but, all of these are easily findable with Google.

    • Nick G

      Simple: there is no such being as an “unborn person”, and even if there were, one person is not and should not be accorded the right to use the body of another in order to stay alive.

  • Kevin

    I wonder if Biden’s “personally pro-life” position comes from his being Catholic and the Catholic Church’s staunch opposition to abortion.(When Mexico, a predominantly Catholic country, voted to loosen its abortion restrictions a number of years ago, the Catholic Church threatened to excommunicate any politician that voted for the bill.)

    In your journey to being pro choice, did you spend time supporting the Consistent Life Ethic; and what are your thoughts on that position now, as opposed to pro-life traditionalism?

  • Jacey Hilton

    One of the catalysts that helped me move past the pro-life movement were those ideological litmus tests. So many pro-life organizations required you to be a Christian or even, paradoxically enough, a Catholic or Protestant, but not both. Many others don’t like if you support more libertarian ideas, like same-sex marriage. As a nonreligious libertarian for the majority of my anti-abortion life, this was quite a turn off. I maintain that this wasn’t the reason I became pro-abortion, but I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t lead me to start questioning the pro-life movement. (The actual reason I quit being pro-life and libertarian was that I realized by my stance that it was more acceptable to starve a newborn to death than it was to abort it before it was born, and I couldn’t accept that.)