Abortion is about the right of women to control their bodies

This is something I’m posting on Facebook, in part for the benefit of a high school friend, but I’m posting it here so non-Facebookers can see it. To some extent it’s a rehash of this post, but I’m going to see if I can make the points made in that post even clearer.

Let’s start by talking about rape. The extreme anti-abortion position is that abortion should always be illegal, even if the embryo was conceived as the result of a rape. This is because people who hold this view think aborting a 1 month old embryo (or a single fertilized egg cell, for that matter) is morally no different from killing a newborn baby. Therefore abortion is murder, and we don’t have a rape exception for murder, so we shouldn’t have a rape exception for abortion.

Yet the idea that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape ought to horrify you. To say that is to say that a woman can be legally compelled to give up control of her body for nine months as a result of a traumatic event which she never chose to experience.

And forbidding infanticide even in cases of rape is pretty obviously not the same as forbidding abortion even in cases of rape, because forbidding infanticide doesn’t force women to give up control of their bodies. If a woman decides she can’t bear to raise her rapist’s child after it’s born, she can give it up for adoption, but abortion is the only option for a woman who doesn’t want to carry her rapist’s child to term.

Maybe you even a single fertilized egg cell is a person, and because of that you think it would be good for a woman who was pregnant with her rapist’s child to carry it to term. But that’s irrelevant to the question of whether abortion should be legal, because there are lots of things that would be good for us to do that the government doesn’t force us to do. And forcing a woman to carry her rapist’s child is something the government clearly shouldn’t be doing.

You may not realize it, but if you’ve agreed with my reasoning so far, you’ve already admitted that abortion isn’t murder. Because the anti-choice extremists are right about one thing: we don’t make a rape exception for murder. Where the extremists go wrong is in failing to realize that, even assuming that embryos are people, abortion still isn’t morally equivalent to killing a newborn, because the right of women to control their bodies matters.

I suspect that for some anti-choice folks who read this, their first thought will be to bring up late-term abortion. Focusing on late-term abortions is a popular rhetorical tactic among the anti-choice movement, but it’s largely irrelevant to the abortion debate in the U.S.–or at least the abortion debate we should be having in the U.S.

Here are the facts: in the U.S., nearly 90% of abortions are performed in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, and less than two percent are performed after 21 weeks. However, in many U.S. states, anti-choice politicians have passed laws making it extremely difficult for women to get an abortion. A friend of mine who used to live in Arizona (one of the states colored dark-purple on the map in the previous link) described abortion as being “pretty much illegal” there. That’s what reasonable-sounding restrictions on abortion often amount to in real life, and it’s what rhetoric about “partial birth abortion” is used to cover for.

Now let’s return to the topic of exceptions for rape. Suppose by now you’ve recognized that abortion isn’t murder, but still think it should be generally illegal, just with exceptions for rape. If you say that, realize that this amounts to saying that a woman chooses to have sex, she must chance losing her legal right to control what happens to her body. And while you may be convinced you’re motivated purely by concern for the fetus, that position looks a hell of a lot like just wanting women to be punished for having sex. At the very least, it suggests you don’t place much value on a woman’s right to control her body.

Again, I need to emphasize that we’re not talking about what’s good for women to do, or even whether abortion is immoral. Even if you argued abortion is immoral, that wouldn’t be enough to justify outlawing it, because it would be crazy to try to outlaw every immoral action. When we’re talking about making something illegal, we’re talking about the government using force to stop people from doing it.  So you need to ask yourself, are your reasons for being anti-abortion strong enough to justify the use of force to stop it? If you can’t honestly answer “yes” to that question, you can’t justify being anti-choice.

There’s a lot more I could say about this, and I recommend reading my previous post on the subject, as well as two posts by ex-fundamentalist blogger Libby Anne at Patheos. But the bottom line is this: I used to shrink away from arguments about abortion, because I bought the line that they depend on hard-t0-resolve debates about what a person is. But no more. If you take women’s rights seriously, there’s no way to support the things anti-choice politicians are doing in this country, regardless of what you think about when personhood begins. And I can no longer take abortion seriously as an excuse for supporting Republican politicians who only care about the interests of rich people.

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