Katha 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.