Abortion, “privacy,” and those Planned Parenthood videos

reallyuglybabyKatha Pollitt has some ideas for reclaiming the moral high ground on abortion rights. I agree with her that abortion needs to be seen more visibly as a part of women’s health care. We all know women who have had abortions–some of us have assisted them in some way, and a third of have had abortions ourselves. I’ve helped one friend recover from an abortion. I’ve never had one myself, and count myself fortunate, not virtuous. There’s no question but that if I had become pregnant before I wanted to be that I too would have sought an abortion.

In fact, it was my planned, wanted pregnancy that made me feel even more strongly about the importance of abortion rights.  Some women begin to question the morality of abortion when they become pregnant, and I always wondered if pregnancy would change my mind.  It didn’t–in fact, it struck me as even crazier and more absurd that so-called “pro-lifers” cared more about the little jelly bean inside my uterus than the adult human woman in which it grew, a human with adult responsibilities and family and community ties.  It struck me as the most clueless and obnoxious form of misogyny–the utter erasure of living, breathing women and all of our labor, hopes, and creativity in favor of the potential human life growing in our uteri.  The notion that anyone but me would presume to make decisions about the rest of our lives enraged me.

But the fact of the matter is that abortion is about death, and we U.S. Americans are very uncomfortable with human death. We speak in euphemisms–people don’t die, they “pass away,” or “pass,” which conjures a classic nineteenth-century “good death” with the dying person surrounded by family and friends, expiring peacefully at home. But these euphemisms are used also to describe the deaths of those who experience violent deaths or even homicide, which just seems nuts to me. Why can’t we speak of death–which after all is a very predictable part of life!–in frank and honest terms?

The so-called “pro-lifers” who made the videos are counting on the ick factor of talking about fetal organs, but guess what?  That’s life, baby, the stuff life is made of, the “bloody, rich mulch of life” that my colleague spoke of a few years ago, even if not all fetuses become babies who can live and eat and breathe and poop independent of their mothers’ bodies.  Refusing to admit this and discuss it frankly reduces our political discourse to a very childish level.  (And yes, I write this fully aware of the fact that I just used the word “poop” earlier in the paragraph.  “Poop” may be a childish word, but it’s an honest one.)

Abortion is death, but all honest people will aver that human deaths are not created equal.  Even when a death is judged criminal rather than natural or accidental, we don’t call for the same punishments for those who kill.  Someone who kills in self-defense may escape all jeopardy, whereas others who kill out of malice or extreme carelessness will have their actions weighed carefully by a jury and a judge in order to assess the correct penalty.

The fact of the matter is that none but an insane fringe of “pro-lifers” truly believe that abortion is “murder,” because most are against throwing women in jail or putting them on death row for capital murder for procuring an abortion.  They always want to criminalize the providers, not the users of abortion services, when it would only make sense if they truly believed that abortion is “murder” that they go after the necessary co-conspiritor.  But most of them know people who have had abortions.  Most of them know that it’s not just careless liberal feminist sluts like you and me who get abortions–it’s their wives, their daughters, their sisters, and even themselves, if they’d be honest about it.

Others before Pollitt have compared the erosion of abortion rights to the surprise insurgence of support for gay rights (and for marriage equality in particular), and have suggested that the gay rights movement’s decision to go for visibility–going back at least twenty-five years to the ACT-UP movement–was the superior strategy, as opposed to the abortion rights movement’s embrace of “privacy,” and therefore a form of invisibility.  (Jill Lepore had an excellent article in the New Yorker a few months ago that lays out this case with respect to the legal strategies, “To Have and To Hold.”)

I agree in the main with this argument–that visibility is better than privacy as a strategy–but one thing that most observers have missed is that gay rights–as opposed to abortion rights–is seen as at least halfway a men’s rights movement, whereas abortion rights is seen as a women’s rights movement only, and men’s rights movements are historically more popular and more successful in the long run as social justice movements.  Men’s rights movements are about human rights, whereas women’s rights are just special pleading, don’t you know.

Planned Parenthood has been calling my house a lot over the last several years because my husband and I have supported them in the past.  I keep asking them to take me off their list, but they have refused, which enrages me because I want to support Planned Parenthood but I don’t want the frikking phone calls begging me for more.  It’s not personal to Planned Parenthood–I don’t want the DSCC, Hillary Clinton, my local state representative, or any other politician, political party, or noble cause I’ve donated to in the past calling me!  For a long time, I’ve thought I should just tell them that I want to support Planned Parenthood, but they must never, ever call me again.

So today I called Planned Parenthood at 1-800-798-7092, and said that I’d like to make a donation on the condition that they never telephone me again.  Send me all of the U.S.P.S. mail you like!  Just. Don’t. Telephone.  The nice young man on the other end of the line promised to delete my contact number, took my $500 donation, and promised personally to delete my the cell phone number I left with him in case there were a problem with my credit card.  We’ll see.

Depend on it:  I’ll report back to you if things don’t go as promised, but I’m offering this information if you, like me, want to support Planned Parenthood now in their hour of need but don’t want to be punished for your mitzvah.  

13 thoughts on “Abortion, “privacy,” and those Planned Parenthood videos

    • I know! That’s what I always thought. Other repeat offenders: the DSCC, the DCCC (never gave to either of them, so I don’t get it.) The Colorado Democratic Party. Eff them. (What have they done lately for abortion rights, anyway? They’re all in a fetal crouch, pun intended, because of those ridiculous videos.)

      It will be my last donation ever to Planned Parenthood if they call me again. I’ll let them and you all know about it for sure.


  1. Like for you, pregnancy was a watershed moment in my support of abortion rights. That planned, long-sought presence in my uterus drove home to me how essential it is for me to have final say over my body. I desperately wanted that fetus to become our baby, desperately wanted everything to work out, desperately loved the growing life inside me, but it still didn’t get to trump my rights, and my partner and I had careful, serious conversations about the importance of choosing me in an emergency.


  2. I’ve been sending $$ to Planned Parenthood for years now, but have never been bothered by repeated phone calls. Maybe it’s because I don’t have a landline anymore. Still, I get lots of mail solicitations even though I make my donation the same time every year.

    My pregnancy also didn’t alter my view on abortion. My body, my choice. Period.


    • I think that’s the issue–we still have a land line for a number of reasons, and we’ve never paid for caller ID. Like nicole&maggie say above, I always thought it was mandatory for organizations to take you off their call list if you ask, or tell, or demand that they do.

      Honestly, this is my last & final donation if they ever call me again, and if it is my last donation I will use email and social media to let them know why.


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  4. I have never regretted my decision to have an abortion, even when I later tried unsuccessfully to become pregnant. A pregnancy when I wanted it would have been welcome, and I would have had the emotional and financial ability to support my child. As a college student, I knew all too well that I could not be a good mother.

    As for the calls, I interrupt the shpiel, and say, “I never make contributions by phone. Please immediately put me on your no call list.” It usually works. (Though sometimes they buy lists, so it doesn’t.) Now, if I could JUST STOP THE EMAILS.


  5. Abortion is a medical procedure. I believe it is also a social good in so many ways as well as a vital tool for the women facing unwanted or nonviable pregnancies. If we’re able to make medical decisions about our looks (rhinoplasty? tummy tuck?) or opt for a choice among cancer regimens after consulting with our oncologists, why the HECK can we not make decisions about when, what and how we reproduce?

    I find it interesting how much of the rhetoric calls for protecting babies (which is how anti-abortionists insist upon describing the fetuses in utero) and protecting women from themselves. Cute and helpless, it’s not just for puppies and kittens? Poor little Mimsy: she can’t understand what she’s doing so we can’t let her do it!

    In late-breaking Canadian reproductive rights news, for all that abortion has been unrestricted in Canada for many years, Health Canada only just this week approved RU-486 and it will start to be available here in 2016: http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/ru-486-abortion-pill-approved-by-health-canada-1.3173515


    • Well, that’s some good news for those of us with passports and who live on the border! Maybe some astute Canadian pharmacies will make RU-486 it available online to non-Canadians.


  6. I doubt that the discomfort around abortion comes from its connection with death. That seems to me to conflate emotional hot buttons with motivation. The anti-abortion movement is about using pregnancy to control women’s sexuality, that’s the motivation. Anything that reduces abortions but gives women any control of their sexuality, the antis are against. They don’t want sex ed, or easily available female birth control (condoms are okay usually). They have no problems with dealing death, since the same people are often pro-gun, pro-death penalty, pro-war, etc.

    The only way death comes into it is as a tool to make abortion seem extra icky. It’s a hot button. And it works because people do have a visceral reaction to death, especially of children. Which is why it’s essential to talk about “babies.” If the antis used pictures of embryos at the stage when most abortions happen, the visceral reaction would be “Ewww! What’s that?”


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