When the Personal Becomes Political

I wrote about the religious element of Joe Biden’s response to Martha Raddatz’s question about abortion last week.

In a great post this week over at Feministing, Mimi Arbeit breaks down four possible answers to the question, pointing out that Biden used the first three:

(See video, transcript.)

Many others have expressed frustration with Raddatz for framing the question this way. But she did, and others do too, so how should we respond? I see four options:

  1. Some people of faith are also pro-choice
  2. Separation of Church and State
  3. Women’s rights and identity politics
  4. A medical/economic framework

After thinking through these responses, I see the last option as the only one that will move us forward to reproductive justice and full access to safe, legal, and affordable abortion services.

Here’s what Mimi goes on to say about how and why the medical/economic framework is essential to moving the conversation forward:

Safe, affordable, and accessible abortion is a universal medical and economic need. Other approaches perpetuate an unacceptable erasure of people who do not fit the implicit paradigm of straight, white, Christian, middle class, and womanly. We need to move beyond that. And we need to talk about contraception and abortion together (Ryan did and we should, too).

Here’s a quick, limited outline of the medical and economic need for reproductive justice and the many issues included in this framework:

  • Med #1: Prohibiting legal abortion results in illegal abortions. Illegal abortions are unsafe. People will die.
  • Econ #1: Access to reproductive care enables people to pursue education and employment.
  • Med #2: When people do choose to carry a pregnancy, they need prenatal care!
  • Econ #2: When people—single or partnered, married or not—choose to have children, they need economically viable ways to care for self and family.
  • Med #3 & Econ #3: Children need health care, housing, food, and education in order to grow into happy, productive adults, which is a good thing for all of us.
  • Med #4: Contraception is safer and less expensive than pregnancy or abortion.
  • Econ #4: Contraception is highly effective in reducing unwanted pregnancies and abortions; therefore, providing free contraception is cost-effective for our health care system.

As one who works at the religion/politics intersection, and tries to make a pro-faith pro-choice argument, I can testify that Mimi is spot on pointing out that “we quickly hit stalemate” when religion is part of the conversation.  It’s frustrating, but I’ll keep on making that case alongside the one for reproductive justice based on medical and economic need, because opponents to justice will keep on thrusting their religion into the middle of it.  I refuse to let them have the only say on matters of faith.

Focusing on the medical and economic facts as stated here is essential for when the personal becomes political.

Because despite our differences on matters of religion and faith, these facts are shared by us all.



About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Frank

    Fact: over 6000 innocent unborn children killed for convenience each week. But hey keep on keeping on.

    • Caryn Riswold

      “A crosscutting theme was women’s responsibility to children and other dependents, as well as considerations about children they may have in the future. Most women in every age, parity, relationship, racial, income and education category cited concern for or responsibility to other individuals as a factor in their decision to have an abortion. In contrast to the perception (voiced by politicians and laypeople across the ideological spectrum) that women who choose abortion for reasons other than rape, incest and life endangerment do so for “convenience,” our data suggest that after carefully assessing their individual situations, women base their decisions largely on their ability to maintain economic stability and to care for the children they already have.”

      • Frank

        Thanks for providing further proof that 97% of all abortions are done for reasons of convenience. Thank you!

        • http://stanmanx.com Matt S

          I’m not sure in what world “the ability to continue feeding other children” is considered “convenience”, but it’s good to know that you think children are acceptable collateral damage in your war against abortion.

          • Frank

            It’s called economic convenience, probably the worse kind of convenience. If one cannot afford to have a child, stop participating in actions that produce children. If you do , the moral, ethical and mature choice is to live with the consequences not kill an innocent life so you can have an easier, more comfortable life.

            While you try to justify the unjustifiable another 6000+ innocent lives are being snuffed out this week.

          • Pseudonym

            Frank, your feelings on the topic of abortion are well-known here by now, and can be taken as read.

            Have you expressed concern about the economic system which makes some women feel that abortion is the only viable option, or are you just dismissing it as mere “convenience”? Have you expressed any concern about difficulty in accessing contraception? Have you commented on the ways that society perversely tends to normalise rape, such as victim blaming?

            I ask these questions not because I’m trying to catch you out, but because I honestly do not know the answers.

            You’ve said time and time again that abortion is a bad thing. Heck, even the most pro of so-called “pro-choice” activists will readily concede that abortion isn’t a good thing, and in an ideal world, there would be no need for abortion.

            So what should we do to construct a society where it is unnecessary? So what common issues could we all tackle together to help move us all closer to that world?

            I honestly want to know what you have to say about this. Let’s have an actual conversation.

          • Frank

            Yes I have thought about those things. The first thing is to improve the economy which Obama has failed miserably at so remove Obama is step one.

            I am all for free condoms so let’s give them away. If someone wants to use different methods they can, it’s their choice.

            All in all this is a moral and ethical issue. The one thing we have to change is people’s hearts and their sense of personal responsibility. In the meantime we need to stop as many abortions as possible through peaceful and lawful means.

          • Pseudonym

            Free contraception sounds like a good start to me. It would alienate most of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, but there’s not a lot you can do about that. So you’d be agreeing with Sandra Fluke, at least in principle, right?

          • Frank

            Sandra fluke is welcome to as many free condoms as she needs at any number of places that hand them out for free.

            Btw I am being moderated now so if I don’t respond my post is obviously a threat to the blog owners agenda.

          • Caryn Riswold

            You are not being moderated, Frank. You mis-typed your own email address in one response this week, so it showed up as a new commenter. I approved it and it is posted.

          • Frank

            Ok thank you and I apologize for mischaracterizing you. I appreciate you letting my lice be heard here.

          • Frank

            Not only my lice but my voice too.

            Those pesky critters!

          • Pseudonym

            Eeeeeuuw, lice. I have kids, I know these things.

            So we’re on the same page on contraception. The next possible point of agreement is is sex education. After all, contraception is no use if nobody knows how to use it. Your thoughts?

          • Frank

            Yes, yes, yes! However the parents should be in control of that. I say the earlier the better.

  • Caryn Riswold

    Note that there is no disagreement with the economic and medical facts as stated above.

    • http://stanmanx.com Matt S

      Of course not — ideology is more important than anything happening in reality. When I was hardcore “pro-life”, I expended a lot of mental effort to explain why all abortions were always wrong, always, and it required erasing the trauma experienced by rape victims, the life experience of poor women trying to raise their families on an income that I can’t even comprehend, and the terror of teenagers whose parents will disown them out if they ever discover the pregnancy. It always came down to, “they should have kept their pants on, and now they should get help from the church.” There’s no need to engage the facts when your starting point is “facts are irrelevant; this is always wrong.”

      Homer Simpson has some thoughts on facts… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KF6SNxNIV08

      • Frank

        Fact: 6000+ innocent unborn children are killed each week mostly for convenience.
        Fact: 97% of abortions have nothing to do with rape, incest or the life of the mother.

        It’s you that is ignoring the facts.