Some reactions to “the abortion controversies” and women’s vanishing rights to full citizenship in the U.S.

October 24, 2007 at 12:41 pm (frightening things, injustice, racism, sexism, stupidity) (, , , )

From what seems like the beginning of time, women from all across the globe have been personally and systemically coerced into making reproductive choices that may or may not have been their own, and that may or may not be the best for them. This coercion, like all others, plays out differently for women of different ethnicities, races, sexualities, etc. A perfect example of this is a clip from Fox News which I watched online about a year ago that features one crazed straight-white-Christian-American male or another raving about how white women in the states should have more babies and less abortions because more white American babies=more white American workers=less room for Mexican immigrants=less threat to his straight-white-Christian-American male birthright. Or something. I think I saw this on Feministe, but I’m not sure, and I haven’t been able to locate it anywhere (if any readers know which clip I’m thinking of and where to find it, please let me know). Compare this to the histories of eugenics and forced sterilization of women of color in poor “overpopulated” countries.

The debate surrounding reproductive choices and who gets to make them is commonly centered around “selfish” middle-class white women who presumably have access to the care and procedures they may seek despite economic and legislative barriers; the ones that have the ability to make a choice should it be offered. It is also centered around abortion and other aspects that factor into the subject of choice, like comprehensive sex education, proper maternal care, and access to contraceptives are routinely ignored or placed elsewhere categorically in political debate. They shouldn’t be. But because the faction which I will generally call the heteronormative Christofascist conservative right (or just, you know, right-wing for short) has been so successful at establishing their rhetoric in the public sphere, this is the narrow and simplistic framework in which the debate commonly exists, and is also the one that I am usually reacting to when thinking/discussing about the issue of reproductive choice. This is true of many. It’s simplistic and a unfortunate, but regardless, it is the water through which we must now wade.

All of which is an attempt to provide some sort of context for what I actually feel compelled to write about. I say “feel compelled” rather than “wish to” because I don’t like to do it. I am unshakable in my conviction that women know what they desire and what they need from the legal and medical establishments to make the best decisions for themselves regarding their reproductive choices and health, that it is their human right to pursue their own personal option of choice, and that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that all of the options that women require are available and safe. The. End. Any more consideration of the topic, even if helpful and compatible to that conviction, is exhausting (for me) and generally results in fuming rage at the fact that this matter is in any way controversial.

So after attending a panel discussion last night on the subject of “The Abortion Controversies” featuring Caitlin Borgmann (editor of the Reproductive Rights Prof Blog), Daniel Maguire (professor of Moral Theological Ethics and author of such titles as Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions) and Nancy Keenan (president of NARAL Pro-Choice America), moderated by Marjorie Heins, I was distraught and filled with information and thoughts that I no longer want bouncing around in my mind. Not because they aren’t correct, or righteous, or necessary and true, but because it’s a frustrating subject to be stuck on and, dammit, I need some of that head-space back. Hopefully in typing this, these neurological firings will find a new place to reside. Besides, it’s been a while since we’ve really posted on the issue.

SO. The panel focused on the recent Supreme Court ruling in the case of Gonzales vs. Carhart to uphold the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. This ban is the first of it’s kind to offer absolutely no health exception for the women undergoing certain methods of late-term abortion. It turns doctors into criminals that face real jail-time unless they allow government regulations to come between themselves and their patients and, because it’s supported only by hollow rhetoric (“partial-birth abortion” is a made up term that is not recognized by the medical or legal establishments) it’s not even made clear what exactly is illegal (though it has come to imply the method of dilation and extraction, really). More about the ban here. What’s more frightening than the ban itself- the probability that not one fetus will be “saved” but that many women and doctors have undeniably been placed at risk- is that it’s enactment warrants the metaphor of “opening the floodgates.”

Caitlin Borgmann spoke of how this ruling was shaped by problematic right-wing language which has been reverberating through the public mindset and is now being used to write law. Obviously, there are the examples of “partial-birth abortion” and “life.” It’s been demonstrated countless times that the “pro-life” banner is a fallacy and that “pro-life” policies (and advocates) hurt, maime, and kill (which is why the phrase about how anti-choicers think life starts at conception (or fertilization) and ends at birth originated). And then there’s the way that fetuses and developing clumps of embryonic cells are personified as “babies” and women are really only considered as “mothers” if they’re considered at all, even and especially when they are actively avoiding this role. Not only is fetal personhood a deceptive concept, it is not employed consistently by those that support its use either outspokenly or implicitly.

Daniel Maguire expanded upon this concept and urged us to expose right-wing hypocrisy by following its “logic” to its inevitable conclusion. To accept the anti-choice definition of life is to truly believe that the fetus is a person eligible for full legal recognition and citizenship just like any born person. Let’s assume the country were to seriously implement that idea into its many codes of conduct. Would fetuses conceived in other countries, on vacations, let’s say, need to be registered as immigrants upon the pregnant woman’s return home? Would women be able to charge fetuses for taking control of their bodies without consent? Of course not, that’s all just preposterous and clearly exposes the ridiculous unreality behind the linguistic justifications for fatal right-wing agendas (though clumps of embryonic cells, apparently, are entitled to lawyers). Ugh.

In fact, it’s apparent that most anti-choicers haven’t even considered the obvious repercussions of outlawing abortion (at all!): namely, that women seeking abortions would be criminalized and, if fetuses accepted as people, potentially charged for attempted murder. From watching this video, we may determine that even anti-choicers are not quite ready to adopt such standards or threaten 1.3 million American women (some of whom undoubtedly identify as pro-life in the anti-choice sense) with jail time each year:

But legally, we have threatened our doctors with this risk.

Daniel Maguire was the highlight of the night, I thought, and provided much-needed comedic relief. He posited that, though it’s tempting to completely dismiss the religious moral arguments inherent in the anti-choice argument on the grounds that they have no rightful place in the discussion, ignoring them won’t change the fact that we live in a fearful, irrational, patriarchal theocracy. And if we’re going to be forced to engage in the debate within the framework set up by this theocracy, then there is no reason that we cannot do so in a straight forward manner. Abortion is a moral good, after all, and contrary to popular belief, highly compatible to honest religion. There are tenets of all the world’s major religions that can be interpreted as pro-choice and many influential religious leaders have been pro-choice themselves. It’s just that the anti-choice narrative necessitates a re-write of history and manipulation of truth. As an impatient secular atheist, much of what Daniel said came from an angle I never thought I’d care to entertain. Indulging in this facet of the debate is not a favored tactic on my part, but I’m glad it’s his and can see why it might be increasingly valuable. But, as Daniel reminded us, don’t entertain misogynistic notions merely cloaked in religious doctrine–do point out the ways in which many religions have become entangled with patriarchy.

And then, of course, Nancy Keenan talked about political strategy and how it is absolutely necessary, in every election “from the courthouse to the White House,” to protect and elect, as the NARAL slogan says. We simply can not afford to have any more anti-choicers in such positions of power. Certainly not in the Supreme Court. And, nope, no room in Congress either. One election cycle could render years and years worth of progress obsolete. Nancy also brought the discussion full circle effectively by emphasizing that electing pro-choice candidates is about more than securing the right to abortion: it’s about securing the right to protect ourselves from STD’s and unintended pregnancies with knowledge, to make maternal and reproductive healthcare available and accessible, and to encourage solutions to problems that work (hint: these do not include federal programs for abstinence only classes, the Global Gag Rule, or the appointment of people to do very important jobs for which they’re not qualified).

Everything I ever want to say on this subject is included, if not in this post, then in the links therein. I’m sure of it. Never again do I want to spend so much time and energy explaining what should be obvious; that women are humans and therefore deserve the rights that other humans are awarded. Among them, the right to one’s own body. Bottom line. Regardless of Any. Other. Thing. But of course, I will. And I will continue to do so again and again, until it is not considered even remotely acceptable to argue otherwise.

Hopefully, now that this is all out and in a semi-tangible form, I can just link back or review next time I feel compelled, and can get on with the rest of my day.

P.S. To the late-term abortion provider who stood up during the Q and A session of the panel discussion and told us about his pre-Roe med school experience when each day the numbers of women seeking care after failing to find safe ways to terminate their pregnancy overwhelmed the hospital where he worked and many left unhealed, or without a uterus, or not at all…and about his fears that anti-choice nurses he works with might accuse him of performing a “partial-birth abortion” and send him to prison even though he doesn’t perform D&E…and about how he worries that he might be unable to give a patient the care she needs because these guys would prefer she didn’t have it: Thank you.

NOTE: because of the nature of this post, I urge readers who have not reviewed our comment policy to do so, and to respect our choices (punnnn).



  1. Daisy said,

    Ugh. Goodddd post.

    This is obviously the longest post ever to appear here, but I think it probably also wins for being in the most categories.

  2. Emily said,


    Daisy, I thought that Daniel Maguire’s book Sacred Choices might be of particular interest to you. In fact, I think it was the idea of recommending it to you that got me started on this post in the first place, so many hours ago, haha.

  3. Daisy said,

    Haha, oh no! And yeah, it jumped right out at me while reading this — I definitely want to go get it. Like, right now.

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