#WTF America? Reframing the argument for abortion
Abortion in America. Where do I even start? Do I begin with the history of childbearing? Or the connection between gender, race, and health disparities? Maybe I dive into the politics of language or the philosophy of personhood?
CW: American politics, rape, incest.
I want to start with a little personal history.
I thought I was pregnant when I was twelve. My period had come for the first time less than a year before. I’d menstruated nine times. The tenth was late. Irregularity happens, especially when you’re young.
But I didn’t know that because I’d little to no information about my body. My mom had delivered a quick talk about how to use tampons. I’d also received a book from school saying it was okay to go take a bath while I was menstruating.
However, learning about sex was another thing.
Which was why I was standing alone in the bathroom of my family’s tiny apartment. I had my mom’s bottle of valium in one hand and a bottle of cough syrup in the other. I remember staring my reflection, angry for being so stupid and leaving myself one way out.
I had grown up in the shadow of my strict French-Canadian Catholic grandmother. Abortion was murder. Period. End of. It was the worst crime you could commit against God.
But I couldn’t conceive of my secrets being out in the open.
Because if you looked past the pre-teen who worshipped Han Solo and David Bowie (and Princess Leia but those thoughts were unspeakable in 1983), you’d see an entirely different person. You’d see a scared kid who had been taught the meaning of sex and love by two adult men who twisted the words until they were unrecognizable.
Sometimes I wonder how breaking my silence would have changed my life. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that I would find a way out.
But I can’t.
I can only speak to the present and work for a better future for all folks with a uterus. Because, if you were born with one, abortion isn’t just a political issue.
It’s your life.
Abortion and reproductive healthcare impacts every aspect of your existence. Regardless of whether you’ve had an abortion or not, because your health determines the quality of your life.
However, abortion, reproductive freedom, and access to reproductive healthcare are being attacked all around the United States.
There’s a concerted effort on the part of the Republican party to make abortion illegal by any means possible. It’s become mainstream for conservative lawmakers to draft legislation conflating abortion with murder. They’re writing laws restricting access to abortion, even in cases of rape or incest.
These lawmakers have no idea what it’s like to stand in a bathroom planning their suicide. And they dare to assert their movement is about the “right to life.”
What the ever-loving fuck, America?
We’ve got to stop allowing abortion opponents to frame this debate with sleight-of-hand language.
Those seeking to outlaw abortion, insist that a fetus is a person with a right to life. They paint abortion not as a medical procedure, but as murder. Language becomes a weapon in their hands. Misleading phrases like “partial-birth abortions,” and “fetal heartbeat” are wielded like cudgels.
Honestly, they make it sound like abortion advocates impale pink-cheeked babies on pikes in their spare time.
We don’t. I promise.
It’s past time to lay bare the reality of what the “right to life” movement wants.
This movement is designed to subjugate people with a uterus by forcing them to bear children while denying them healthcare and economic equality.
How? By attacking the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that guards the right to abortion access.
Roe v. Wade[i] was decided in 1973. If you’re unfamiliar (or not living in the U.S.), Roe v. Wade was the U.S. Supreme Court decision that affirmed women had the constitutional right to an abortion.
Have you heard those frightening anecdotes about women dying from back-alley and coat-hanger abortions? Those weren’t horror stories from the distant past when I heard them for the first time. Instead, each account was someone’s testimony about the memory of a dead friend and relative.
If you think women aren’t dying from lack of access to abortion and reproductive healthcare today, then you’re sorely mistaken.
For example, the U.S. and Serbia are the only two developed nations in the world whose maternal mortality rates have risen since 1990.[ii]UNICEF estimates women in the U.S. are more likely to die during pregnancy or in childbirth than women in 10 other wealthy countries.[iii]
And health disparities are even worse for women of color. Black women in the U.S. are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts.[iv]
In a country that has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world,[v]robbing women of the right to exercise a full range of healthcare options, including abortion, results in state-forced pregnancy.
Yup. I said it. State. Forced. Pregnancy.
Call it what it is and stop creating a culture of shame around a medical procedure.
Even those on the side of reproductive freedom frame abortion as a negative, life-altering experience. Thanks a lot, President Clinton for the 1990s “safe, legal, and rare”[vi]rhetoric. The weighted language did nothing but further, stigmatize people who opt for abortion.
There is no shame in having an abortion.
NONE. Sure, no one wants to have one, but no one wants a root canal either. And you don’t see assholes lining up outside of dentists’ offices with pictures of rotten teeth yelling at the folks going inside.
So, if you’re concerned about reproductive freedom, what do you do? Glad you asked.
- Support folks who choose abortion. Affirm that the choice is theirs to make, without shame or apology.
- Call out shaming language. It’s a medical procedure, not genocide. You can even use my line about root canals. Believe me, it will silence Aunt Sue when she starts asking for donations to the “Pregnancy Crisis Center” her church is supporting.
- Fight the Framing. Language matters. Next time someone hits you with the “right to life” argument, ask them if they support state-forced pregnancy. Be ready with your evidence and resources. You may not change their mind, but you’ve provided a rock-solid argument against what they consider an “unassailable truth.”
- Educate yourself. Know what the issues are in your state and be prepared to talk about them with everyone and anyone. Google is your friend, and I’ve included a list of sources that are worth your time.
- Donate to charities that help secure access to safe abortions. If you’re reading this, you know that during Smutathon 2019 we’re raising money for The National Network of Abortion Funds. NNAF “builds power with members to remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion access by centering people who have abortions and organizing at the intersections of racial, economic, and reproductive justice.” [vii]
The present may be scary, but I promise you that the future will be worse if the GOP and their evangelical brethren have their way.
Be well, be wonderful, and above all, be you.
Get Angry. Get Educated. Get Active.
- Black Women’s Health Imperative
- Center for Reproductive Rights
- National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL)
- National LGBTQ Task Force
- National Network of Abortion Funds
- NationalPartnership for Women & Families
- Planned Parenthood & Planned Parenthood Action Fund
Other Helpful Sites & Articles
- “Abortion Access for LGBTQ People: How States are Using TRAP Laws to Shut Down Health Clinics,” by National LGTBQ Task Force. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
- “Abortion & Ben Shapiro,” by Philosophy Tube, June 24, 2019. A deconstruction of Ben Shapiro’s (an intellectual dark web shit-lord) arguments against reproductive freedom and an informative piece of philosophical thinking to get your brain working.
- “Addressing Health Disparities in Reproductive and Sexual Health Care in the U.S.,” by Center for Reproductive Rights. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
- “Black Women’s Maternal Health: A Multifaceted Approach to Addressing Persistent and Dire Health Disparities: Issue Brief,” by National Partnership for Women & Families, April 2018.
- “A Defense of Abortion,” by Judith Jarvis Thompson, 1971, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No. 1. (Autumn, 1971), pp. 47-66. This essay inspired Philosophy Tube’s “Abortion & Ben Shapiro,” and my thinking on language and framing.
- The Commonwealth Fund is a great resource for finding research about women’s health outcomes in the United States, especially in comparison to other nations. It works on “improving promote a high-performing health care system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency, particularly for society’s most vulnerable, including low-income people, the uninsured, and people of color.”[viii]
- “Queering Reproductive Justice: A Toolkit,” Edited by Zsea Beaumonis and Candace Bond-Theriault, March 2017, National LGBTQ Task Force. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
[i]See “Roe v. Wade: The Constitutional Right to Access Safe, Legal Abortion,” by Planned Parenthood Action Fund, retrieved August 28, 2019.
[ii]See “American women are still dying at alarming rates while giving birth,”by Rachel Jones, December 13, 2018, National Geographic, retrieved August 30, 2019.
[iii]See “What Is the Status of Women’s Health and Health Care in the U.S. Compared to Ten Other Countries?,”by Munira Z. Gunja, Roosa Tikkanen, Shanoor Seervai, and Sara R. Collins, December 19, 2018, The Commonwealth Fund, retrieved August 29, 2019.
[iv]See “Racism in Health Care – For Black Women Who BecomePregnant, It’s a Matter of Life and Death,”by MiQuel Davies, April 13, 2018, National Women’s Law Center. retrieved August 29, 2019.
[v]See “U.S. Has The Worst Rate Of Maternal Deaths In The Developed World,”by Nina Martin (Pro Republica) and Renee Montagne (National Public Radio), May 12, 2017, National Public Radio (NPR)and Pro Republica, retrieved August 30, 2019.
[vi]See “Fetal Heartbeat’ vs. ‘Forced Pregnancy’: The Language Wars of the Abortion Debate,”by Amy Harmon, May 22, 2019, The New York Times, retrieved August 28, 2019.