Awesome Comment Award: Emily on pro-life narratives

In going through the anti-abortion arguments thread, I found this comment left by reader Emily and just had to share it here:

But that’s how pro-life (and many other) arguments and positions get constructed. They’re made of narratives which are heart wrenching, anecdotal, and passed verbally. So, it becomes to an individual, post-abortion trauma is real because the volunteer I know at the crisis pregnancy center hears these women’s stories and she told me. And I know that in godless places with socialized medicine abortion is a primary form of birth control because the missionary I heard give a presentation talked about the women he knew of in Russia having dozens of abortions. While anonymous, the stories of women who have had abortions and their partners, family, etc. are canonized and passed on. And since nobody gets up in a Women of Faith conference and confesses, “I had an abortion 9 years ago, nothing negative happened as a result, and I’m sure glad I made that decision,” it certainly appears as if the tearful stories of pain and loss are the only abortion stories. In fact, I think it’s important to consider this social construction of the pro-life position and stories of pain in the treatment of this issue.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Anonymouse

    Very true. I was just reading on one homeschooling blog that when the author had to have an abortion (their abotions are ALWAYS valid, don’t you know), she met someone at the clinic who was on her 18th abortion and (read in a dramatic tone of voice) *was PROUD of it*. The lies, the lies, they’re so obvious and so easily-debunked, but to a True Believer, they’re gospel.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

    Honorable mention goes to Judy L. for this comment on the same thread:

    I have to add, Libby, that while the anti-abortion arguments are diverse, and the approaches are equally diverse (i.e., some people will talk about religious morality and permissibility while others will take a secular view, and some will make arguments based on culturally-specific abortion practices rather than simply evaluating ‘abortion qua abortion’) I think it’s important to make the point that these arguments are made for only one reason: to impose our will onto women, to try to convince them or physically or legally prevent them from doing something we disapprove of. This is the fundamental difference between the anti-abortion agenda and the pro-choice position. A woman might find herself the subject of coercion to have an abortion (like in the case of families and cultures that prize boy children over girls), but in those situations ‘pro-choice’ arguments are not in play. Pro-choice arguments are not fodder for forcing or talking women into having abortions. There may be pragmatic arguments used to encourage a woman, especially a young woman, to choose abortion in the case of an unplanned pregnancy, but again, those aren’t “pro-choice” arguments, because all pro-choice arguments are about making it possible for women to exercise their own wills and their own choices and to have access to all the tools available to control their reproduction, including the variety of methods to terminate pregnancies. I know you asked for no refutation in this post, but, as I said, I think it’s really important to frame the “debate” truthfully, because it’s not really a debate. Pro-choice and anti-abortion positions are not actually the two sides of the ‘abortion coin’. The opposite of anti-abortion would be pro-abortion, i.e., requiring women to have abortions. Pro-choice is about preserving the right for women to choose the option of abortion for themselves and to be able to exercise that option. Anti-abortion is about claiming the right to impose your will on others, requiring women to not have abortions by making abortion services unavailable and thereby enforcing pregnancy and childbirth as the only ‘option’ once conception has occurred.

    • Anonymouse

      Wow, tJudy L hit it right out of the ballpark. That is a clear, awesome comment.

      • Judy L.

        Thanks Libby, and the rest of y’all. :D

        I actually am pro-abortion and I’m not afraid of the term. I think any woman who wants one should be able to get one, safely, without having to jump through hoops or travel hundreds of miles, and at no out-of-pocket cost to her for the medical care itself. And every woman undergoing an abortion procedure deserves good pain management and to have her procedure in a supportive place with supportive people, and the groups and individuals who terrorize women accessing services, doctors, and clinic workers should be treated by law enforcement like the terrorists they are. I’m also very pro-fetus and pro-baby, and I think that being able to control our reproduction is a fundamental human right and is vital to our personal health and the economic and social health of our families.

        I guess I’ve been a bit spoiled; I live in Canada in a major urban centre and when I needed an abortion (I had already been seen by my primary doctor and in hospital as they were some concerns about the pregnancy) I simply booked an appointment for the following week and it was a 30 minute ride on the subway to the non-descript clinic, and it didn’t cost me a penny (although I did make a donation towards services for other women who aren’t covered under our Provincial health insurance plan – we do have ‘universal health care’ but that insurance doesn’t cover ‘undocumented’ female residents who are among the most vulnerable when it comes to experiencing violence from male partners and sexual exploitation). My abortion experience was very good, and it’s some of the best health care I’ve ever received. It wasn’t until a couple of years after, when a friend of mine was pregnant, that I thought about the ultrasound that was performed right before the abortion. It was a trans-vaginal ultrasound, which actually is almost always necessary when confirming the location of an early pregnancy (gestational age was about 7 weeks), and I remembered that the technician was unable to find a heartbeat. When I discussed this with my doctor, she confirmed my suspicion that the pregnancy had probably stopped progressing and had I not had the abortion, I probably would have suffered a miscarriage. But I don’t want to fall into the trap of people saying, ‘Oh, well, your abortion was okay because you were going to lose the pregnancy anyway,’ because a) that wasn’t known then and did not factor into my decision, and b) any abortion that a woman consents to is okay. I don’t buy into the liberal concession of ‘Safe, Legal, and Rare’ because it tends to suggests that abortion isn’t okay and that if we just perfected contraception there’d be no reason ever to perform abortions.

        I think that the term “pro-abortion” is just fine with me because as far as I’m concerned abortion is simply a medical procedure that a woman requests and consents to having performed on her by a professional. It has no moral valuation. When someone is shocked that Russian women have multiple abortions and complains that these women are using abortion as birth control, I have to ask whether they’re appalled that there’s no decent contraception available or if they’re disgusted by abortion? Abortion IS the only effective ‘birth control’ – once you’re pregnant it’s the only way to prevent birth; everything else is contraception.

        So, I’m going to assert that ‘pro-abortion’ is just as good as ‘pro-choice’ and suggest that the ‘pro-lifers’ can keep the ‘pro-’ but must properly be referred to as ‘pro-enforced pregnancy and childbirth’, because that is precisely what they’re all about.

    • Christine

      And that is the problem with the term “pro-choice”. It has come to mean “pro-abortion” and gets hijacked by all sorts of people who aren’t pro-choice. (Just like someone who goes and murders doctors at an abortion clinic will get called “pro-life” by the press.)

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        The only hijacking of the term “pro-choice” that I see is anti-abortion activists’ attempts to portray those who are in favor of choice as being in favor of forcing women into having abortions. No matter how vocally a given person defends abortion, I have yet to meet anyone who wears the pro-choice label and yet isn’t actually in favor of choice – i.e., thinks women should be able to choose whether or not they want to keep the pregnancy or have an abortion. Someone who doesn’t see anything morally wrong with abortion is not somehow no longer “pro-choice.” The alternative to being pro-choice is favoring either (a) forcing women to keep their pregnancies whether they want to or not or (b) forcing women to have abortions whether they want to or not. And I think that this is what Judy L. was trying to say in pointing out that the two aren’t simply flip sides of the same coin.

        I actually think the terminology that is broken is not “pro-choice” but rather “pro-life.” Those who say they are pro-choice really are pro-choice, but those who say they are pro-life are not consistently so (they generally favor the death penalty and military intervention abroad). I think the term “anti-abortion” would be more accurate, since that is, quite simply, what they are.

      • Tracey

        The terminology is indeed broken. So many people who insist they’re “pro-life” are against contraception, against Aid to Families with Dependent Children, against Medicaid, against WIC, against food stamps, vociferously against subsidized school lunch…in short, against anything that would help the children born to women who are struggling to support them. That’s not pro-life at all.

  • Niemand

    Just in case anyone doesn’t already know, there’s an entire web site, called “I’m not sorry” devoted to stories of women who have had abortions and not had anything bad happen because of it.

  • Emily

    Thanks for the shout-out, Libby Anne! Anybody, if there’s anything I need to clarify let me know.

  • thalwen

    I’m really grateful to the Russian women who have had tons of abortions. When I was in college I discovered I was pregnant and there weren’t organisations and sites like there are now that show abortion as a perfectly normal thing. Though I never questioned my decision to terminate, I was an emotional wreck because I’ve always had pregnancy portrayed to me as this huge big thing. Then I got a nurse during my referral to get an abortion who basically told me, “I got pregnant and had abortions several times. I see women go through it all the time and they’re fine.” It was what I needed and I suspect what many women need to not feel the guilt that the anti-choicers have worked so hard to put on us. It’s a medical procedure, a pretty safe and common one at that.

    And yes, the correct term is pro/anti-choice. I’ve yet to meet any one who is pro-choice and favours China’s one child policy, or argues in favour of sterilising women who they deem unworthy of having kids. I’ve seen plenty of that from the antis. And they aren’t pro-life, not when they think a woman’s life,health and sanity is expendable, nor the child’s once it is born.

  • nerdiah

    It probably also helps that in Christian circles, anonymous “friend of a friend” type stories are more readily accepted. Stories like “I know a girl whose brother got healed from …” are heard all the time, even pastors tell them, so it’s not too big a leap to accept that level of evidence for abortion-related stories. Add a bit of confirmation bias (e.g. “I already believe abortion is wrong so I won’t scrutinise this story too closely”) and it’s inevitable that this culture will have a skewed view of reality on this matter.

  • Ashton

    Yeah, both comments are great. I especially like Judy’s. The way that I would phrase her argument would be that people who would prevent women from getting an abortion and people who would force a woman to get one are not so different. Looking at history, I don’t see any examples of attempts by governments to control reproduction (whether forcing it or preventing it) as working out well. Part of China’s reason for having their one-child policy is that in the past, China overly encouraged people to have children and became grossly overpopulated.

  • ButchKitties

    I worry that some pro-choicers are inadvertently feeding into the Christian narrative of the woman who deeply regrets her abortion. I read a blog post that was a passionate defense of abortion rights, written by a woman who had had an abortion herself (she wanted to have a child but aborted because the fetus was going to die anyway). Unfortunately her piece included the following line: “I’ve known women who had abortions, women who gave a baby up for adoption, and women who raised an unintended baby on their own. None of those options are easy. None of those options are any less painful, traumatizing, or side-effect filled than any of the others. They only seem that way to people who haven’t experienced them. ”

    There’s this idea that abortion is always some heart-wrenching and difficult decision (and it’s corollary that if the decision is easy, it’s because the woman’s fluffy pink ladybrainz are trivializing the situation). For me, it was an incredibly easy decision because I’d already done the long hard thinking before the pregnancy happened. I was surprised by how calm I felt when my birth control failed (I found out that antibiotics make the pill less effective the hard way), but in hindsight I know I was calm because I already knew what I was going to do. It wasn’t that I was not taking the situation seriously. I had taken it so seriously that I had my contingencies all figured years before the unwanted pregnancy occurred. I was armed with enough information about my body that I caught the pregnancy almost immediately, which meant my abortion happened really early in the pregnancy when my risk of adverse effects was at its lowest.

    A pregnancy would be a complete disaster to my health. It would cripple or kill me. Abortion was easily the least painful, least side-effect filled, and least traumatizing of my options.

    • Rosie

      I, too, had decided years before it happened what I would do in the event of an unplanned pregnancy. The abortion wasn’t difficult, but I had some pretty intense depression between the positive preg test and the procedure (fortunately, that was only about seven days). And some guilt afterword, too, thanks to my evangelical upbringing. Not that I thought I should have carried to term–that was never going to happen–but that I should have had the decency or bravery to kill myself instead.

      • Rosa

        To me, that does sound like a result of your upbringing, and not an inherent part of having an abortion.

        It makes me really angry how much effort Christians put into making women feel bad about abortion (even the middle-of-the-road churches do it, like how the ELCA used to run lots and lots of baby-filled pro-adoption ads) and then they use that guilt and regret as tools to argue against abortion availability.

  • smrnda

    The reliance on anecdotal reports are a hallmark of American Christianity, and the extent to which they’re accepted is a big problem when trying to discuss any issue.

    I did notice that a lot of anti-abortion arguments tend to make it sound as if women are being forced to have abortions. I’ve seen similar arguments made about contraception, that men are forcing women to use it since they don’t want to accept ‘responsibility’ (why does having kids have to be the only kind of recognized responsibility) or, alternately, that the woman is choosing contraception and is rejecting the man by doing so. With sex, it’s either ‘floozies’ or ‘sluts’ tempting the poor boys to sin or else it’s sexually predatory young men manipulating women into bed. The idea that these might be relatively free choices, without coercion, made by people who agreed on them mutually just doesn’t fit the tragic narratives, so they get ignored.

  • http://ripeningreason.com/ Bix

    There’s also an evident desire to save people–women–from decision-making. Do some women end up regretting an abortion? Maybe. Still not anyone else’s decision to make. But I guess that’s part and parcel of larger ideologies that tell women they aren’t fit to make their own choices.

    By the by, do you know that forced pregnancy is considered a crime against humanity in the context of armed conflict, when it’s aimed at ‘affecting the composition’ of an ethnic group? This is extremely problematic, but it’s interesting that there’s a (highly controversial) precedent of ‘forced pregnancy’ in international law.

  • Carol

    Recently I did get into an ugly online discussion that went to 1:00am with someone who “had a friend who had 7 abortions” and he was all aghast that we weren’t succumbing to his beliefs based on “this one girl he knows”. I had no idea until now that this attempt at persuation was a “thing”.

  • http://brokendaughters.wordpress.com Lisa

    “And since nobody gets up in a Women of Faith conference and confesses, “I had an abortion 9 years ago”

    The thing is, this wouldn’t happen for a number of reasons, the major reason being the treatment of women who had an abortion in these circles. They aren’t viewed as “normal, healthy women” anymore. The attitude towards them is very much comparable with the way mainstream culture views severly mentally ill people, say, people who kill others because they have a paranoid disorder, or something like that. The general attitude is “You’ve done something terrible, you’re guilty, but you’re also very very sick and need help”
    A woman wouldn’t admit to an abortion because she would receive all kinds of comments on how sick she is – the main illness being “selfishness”. They’d try to ‘cure’ her in some way until she finally admits that she is, in fact, not ok with the fact she had an abortion. The strategies used there are very similar to the ones used to ‘cure’ gay people.
    I guess all I’m trying to say is that you can’t be ok with your abortion in these circles, period.

    • Rosie

      THIS. Too true.

  • smrnda

    Lisa at 19 : I once went to a Christian small group on marriage and relationships and I noticed much of the same thing. Everybody more or less had to make their lives conform to all the expected narratives. Nobody could have said “I had sex at 16 before I was married and it was a total non-issue” – you were *supposed* to say how much you regretted it every day, or if you were *okay* with it you had to make it clear that you went through tons of guilt and shame and anguish over it. I’m thinking many people, if they could be honest with themselves, would admit that they didn’t feel guilty about sex before marriage or abortion but people quickly change and go along with the ‘official narrative’ once there’s pressure put on them.


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