Pro Choice, Pro life, Abortion is Neither

Topics: Video, Abortion, Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood, Reproductive choice, Women’s Health, Editor’s Picks, Life News

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Of all the diabolically clever moves the anti-choice lobby has ever pulled, surely one of the greatest has been its consistent co-opting of the word “life.” Life! Who wants to argue with that? Who wants be on the side of … not-life? That’s why the language of those who support abortion has for so long been carefully couched in other terms. While opponents of abortion eagerly describe themselves as “pro-life,” the rest of us have had to scramble around with not nearly as big-ticket words like “choice” and “reproductive freedom.” The “life” conversation is often too thorny to even broach. Yet I know that throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life. And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice.

As Roe v. Wade enters its fifth decade, we find ourselves at one of the most schizo moments in our national relationship with reproductive choice. In the past year we’ve endured the highest number of abortion restrictions ever. Yet support for abortion rights is at an all-time high, with seven in 10 Americans in favor of letting Roe v. Wade stand, allowing for reproductive choice in all or “most” cases. That’s a stunning 10 percent increase from just a decade ago. And in the midst of this unique moment, Planned Parenthood has taken the bold step of reframing the vernacular – moving away from the easy and easily divisive words “life” and “choice.” Instead, as a new promotional film acknowledges, “It’s not a black and white issue.”

It’s a move whose time is long overdue. It’s important, because when we don’t look at the complexities of reproduction, we give far too much semantic power to those who’d try to control it. And we play into the sneaky, dirty tricks of the anti-choice lobby when we on the pro-choice side squirm so uncomfortably at the ways in which they’ve repeatedly appropriated the concept of “life.”

Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.

When we on the pro-choice side get cagey around the life question, it makes us illogically contradictory. I have friends who have referred to their abortions in terms of “scraping out a bunch of cells” and then a few years later were exultant over the pregnancies that they unhesitatingly described in terms of “the baby” and “this kid.” I know women who have been relieved at their abortions and grieved over their miscarriages. Why can’t we agree that how they felt about their pregnancies was vastly different, but that it’s pretty silly to pretend that what was growing inside of them wasn’t the same? Fetuses aren’t selective like that. They don’t qualify as human life only if they’re intended to be born.

When we try to act like a pregnancy doesn’t involve human life, we wind up drawing stupid semantic lines in the sand: first trimester abortion vs. second trimester vs. late term, dancing around the issue trying to decide if there’s a single magic moment when a fetus becomes a person. Are you human only when you’re born? Only when you’re viable outside of the womb? Are you less of a human life when you look like a tadpole than when you can suck on your thumb?

We’re so intimidated by the wingnuts, we get spooked out of having these conversations. We let the archconservatives browbeat us with the concept of “life,” using their scare tactics on women and pushing for indefensible violations like forced ultrasounds. Why? Because when they wave the not-even-accurate notion that “abortion stops a beating heart” they think they’re going to trick us into some damning admission. They believe that if we call a fetus a life they can go down the road of making abortion murder. And I think that’s what concerns the hell out of those of us who support unrestricted reproductive freedom.

But we make choices about life all the time in our country. We make them about men and women in other nations. We make them about prisoners in our penal system. We make them about patients with terminal illnesses and accident victims. We still have passionate debates about the justifications of our actions as a society, but we don’t have to do it while being bullied around by the vague idea that if you say we’re talking about human life, then the jig is up, rights-wise.

It seems absurd to suggest that the only thing that makes us fully human is the short ride out of some lady’s vagina. That distinction may apply neatly legally, but philosophically, surely we can do better. Instead, we let right-wingers perpetuate the sentimental fiction that no one with a heart — and certainly no one who’s experienced the wondrous miracle of family life — can possibly resist tiny fingers and tiny toes growing inside a woman’s body. We give a platform to the notion that, as Christina Locke opined in a recent New York Times Op-Ed, “motherhood had slyly changed us. We went from basking in the rights that feminism had afforded us to silently pledging never to exercise them. Nice mommies don’t talk about abortion.”

Don’t they? The majority of women who have abortions – and one in three American women will – are already mothers. And I can say anecdotally that I’m a mom who loved the lives she incubated from the moment she peed on those sticks, and is also now well over 40 and in an experimental drug trial. If by some random fluke I learned today I was pregnant, you bet your ass I’d have an abortion. I’d have the World’s Greatest Abortion.

My belief that life begins at conception is mine to cling to. And if you believe that it begins at birth, or somewhere around the second trimester, or when the kid finally goes to college, that’s a conversation we can have, one that I hope would be respectful and empathetic and fearless. We can’t have it if those of us who believe that human life exists in utero are afraid we’re somehow going to flub it for the cause. In an Op-Ed on “Why I’m Pro-Choice” in the Michigan Daily this week, Emma Maniere stated, quite perfectly, that “Some argue that abortion takes lives, but I know that abortion saves lives, too.” She understands that it saves lives not just in the most medically literal way, but in the roads that women who have choice then get to go down, in the possibilities for them and for their families. And I would put the life of a mother over the life of a fetus every single time — even if I still need to acknowledge my conviction that the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing.

 

Salon staff writer Mary Elizabeth Williams
Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of “Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream.” Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub. More Mary Elizabeth Williams.

2 Responses to Pro Choice, Pro life, Abortion is Neither

  1. preach@luke24vs47.com says:

    Abortion and the Will to Power: ‘So what if abortion ends a life?’ asks Salon writer
    by Hilary White
    Thu Jan 24, 2013 16:30 EST
    ROME, January 24, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – An item came to my attention today in my daily inspection of the internet, asking a very pertinent question. And though I’m sure it was meant rhetorically, I thought I’d have a go at answering it. A short piece, clearly published in answer to the hundreds of thousands gathered this week on the Washington Mall demanding an end to the slaughter of children, asks, “So what if abortion ends life?”
    Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote yesterday on the “progressive” online magazine Salon, “I believe that life starts at conception. And it’s never stopped me from being pro-choice.”
    She called the “move” of the “anti-choice lobby” to call itself “pro-life” “diabolically clever,” adding, “Life! Who wants to argue with that? Who wants be on the side of … not-life?”

    Salon staff writer Mary Elizabeth Williams
    Well, apparently Williams thinks herself equal to the task.
    “The ‘life’ conversation is often too thorny to even broach. Yet I know that throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me,” she writes.
    “I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life. And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice.”
    It immediately brings to mind a passage from On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche, that mad prophet of the atrocity-crammed 20th century. He proposed that Christianity and its moral law are born from hatred of the warrior’s strength and has succeeded only in weakening the strong and overturning the natural order of existence in which the strong must oppress the weak. Christianity is a “slave morality,” he said.
    Miss Williams, perhaps unconscious of the philosophical roots of her position, says that the issue is more “complicated” than life and death. And what is the “complicated reality” behind abortion?
    “All life is not equal.” There we have it. Some people once said it slightly differently: “some life is not worthy of life.” Specifically, the “life” that gets in my way.
    “A fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides,” writes Williams. “She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.”
    “That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers.”
    Well, you said it, honey, not me.
    Click “like” if you are PRO-LIFE!
    For some years now, the abortionist ideology has been sailing out further and further into the deepest moral waters it can find, in an apparently desperate attempt to continue convincing the world, if not of the rightness of its cause, at least of its unstoppability. But with rhetoric like this, it’s hard to see how much further they can go while still maintaining any semblance of rationality.
    Once you have responded to “It’s a human being,” with a manufactured shrug like this, there seems nowhere else to go in the conversation. So what if abortion is genocide? So what if it serves the cause of sex trafficking? So what if it enables pedophiles and pimps? So what if it’s slaughtering entire generations of girls in India and China? So what if it’s being used by totalitarian governments to terrorise women and maintain control over their populations?
    So what? I want it, and I have the power to get it; discussion over.
    And this is right and good because the strong must always have power over the weak. From some dark place, the shade of Nietzsche howls his mad, tortured shriek of triumph.
    We often identify feminism and its strumpet daughter the Sexual Revolution with Marxism, and a quick glance at Engels on the evils of the Monogamous Family will demonstrate that this is true. But on a deeper level, it is more simply about power, as most feminists will readily admit. Some people have called a gun the “great equaliser,” that gives ultimate power to people who would otherwise be too weak to impose their will over others. For women dedicated to the cause of power-over-others, abortion is that gun.
    Miss Williams has helpfully illustrated exactly where the abortionist ideology goes. It is not, at its root, a manifestation of feminism, though feminism has adopted it as a core doctrine. It is not even a tool of political manipulation from the left, or a method of systematic genocide in the developing world to protect western economic interests.
    At the very core of its black heart, it is the scream of the nihilist, who seeks power and ownership over anyone weaker, for no other reason than the pure exercise of the will: because we want it. Abortion for woman has become the final manifestation of the old “will to power”. And at its core is nothingness, a black hole endlessly gaping and swallowing everything in its orbit. It seeks, finally, no good that anyone, even the abortionist movement itself, can identify, let alone defend rationally.
    Mass, legalised abortion, industrial scale abortion, is simply a final manifestation of the global, nihilistic and ultimately suicidal ideation that took hold of the entire western world at the start of World War I and has never let go. And the 55 million dead in the US alone would attest to this, if they could speak.
    Not my favourite pope, by any means, but it does also bring to mind what many people like to refer to as the “prophecies” of Paul VI in his anti-contraception encyclical Humanae Vitae. Whatever else you may think about the effects or uses of contraception, it is hard to pass by the following without a pause of recognition.
    The widespread use of artificial contraception, the Pill being the key that opened the Pandora’s Box of the Sexual revolution, would lead, he said, “to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.” “The man,” the pope said, will lose respect for “the woman” and “no longer (care) for her physical and psychological equilibrium”. He will come to “the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion”.
    Of course, what the pope neglected to mention was the next set of logical progressions. The contraceptive culture will finally lead women to regard men as sexual objects and, as childlessness comes to be seen more and more as a goal, as economic competitors. They will come to see children, childbearing and motherhood as a form of slavery and “oppression,” a kind of living death. And ultimately they will see abortion as their only recourse in accidental cases of pregnancy, the ultimate catastrophe. And they would come to defend the killing of their own children as a form of self-defence against an unjust aggressor.
    For women, under the new cultural dispensation, remaining in the condition of carefree, unencumbered, sexually alluring ingénue is not the highest good, it is the only one. And women are clearly willing to kill to achieve and maintain it.
    Contraception and the Sexual Revolution has, as John Paul II used to say, pitted men and women against each other, and both of them against their own children. It has made a mass warzone of our entire culture in which each individual is the enemy of every other in the struggle to be the last one standing on top of the rubbish heap of our mass produced goods.
    And like all such political movements, it is an absolutist ideology, a form of totalitarianism, that will admit of no dissenters. There can’t be any opt-outs, as we have seen from the determination of the Obama administration to impose contraception and abortion funding on an unwilling public.
    We must thank Mary Elizabeth Williamson for saying so clearly what the rest of the Revolution has so far rarely had the courage to say. For making it so clear that at its heart, what we are fighting against is not abortionists, politicians or feminism, but against dark, unsmiling faces looking up from below, against Powers and Principalities, the final darkness that was loosed on the world in the early 20th century, with nothing but black emptiness and despair, hatred, at its core.

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