The Pro-Life Movement, Erasing Women Edition

Yesterday I posted an image of a postcard distributed by abortion opponents as an argument against having a rape exemption. I used the postcard as a chance to discuss the rape exemption, but several of you readers pointed out that the image completely erases the woman, and her body, from the equation.

It’s true. The anti-abortion group that put together this postcard completely erased the woman from the picture both literally and figuratively. Her feelings, needs, hopes, and dreams do not matter. The postcard makes this erasure only more effective by using images of babies rather than images of fetuses, embryos, or zygotes. Babies don’t reside inside women’s bodies. Fetuses, embryos, and zygotes, in contrast, do.

The thing is, this image isn’t an aberration. Next time you come in contact with anti-abortion literature or images, take a moment to ask yourself where the woman is in the picture. Ninety-five times out of a hundred, she isn’t. I live in a college down surrounded by hours of very rural and very conservative countryside. When I travel out of town, I always pass anti-abortion billboards and anti-abortion signs posted in people’s yards. Most of them carry pictures of babies, and those that carry images of fetuses simply erase the woman’s body from the picture. So I thought I’d take a moment to offer a few more examples. I’ll provide brief commentary after each.

No, that’s not a parody. And I really don’t think I need to explain how fully this anti-abortion advertisement erases women.

At only 30 hours old, Elena the zygote is only a clump of cells yet to implant in the womb where she will grow, but it seems that neither that womb nor its owner are worth mentioning.

Remember what I said about using images of babies instead of images of fetuses, embryos, or zygotes? You can see here just how clearly and completely doing that erases the woman from the picture. The image may say “Interview with an unborn child,” but the child in the picture is not unborn. If it were, it would be in the body of a woman. And that kind of matters.

This sort of image, and variants of it, crops up all over. Abortion opponents attempt to manipulate people’s emotions and frame the issue by using pictures of cute smiling babies, pictures that allow them to fully and completely remove women from the issue. And you can see why such a tactic might be powerful. I mean really, who is for murdering babies? But by seeking to equate a baby with a fetus, embryo, or zygote, this image invites those who view it to completely forget the fact that zygotes, embryos, and fetuses reside within the bodies of women.

While this picture is of a fetus, note that anything that might be a hint of the woman’s body within which it resides has been erased. Further, the image combined with the text suggests that fetuses should have the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, but completely ignores the idea that anyone else’s rights might be involved in the question at all.

Woman? What woman? This T-shirt – which is not a parody – erases women perhaps more entirely than any image I have ever seen. It makes it look as though, especially on an emotional level, women and their bodies literally play no role in the abortion issue at all.

Forcing your beliefs on a fetus = bad. Forcing your beliefs on a woman = irrelevant, apparently. I mean, do you see a woman in that picture? No, me neither.

Once again, the woman is completely erased from the picture. This fetus is apparently growing itself in a glowing orb.

This advertisement somehow manages to mention wombs without mentioning women. That’s kind of impressive, if you think about it. Further, the accompanying image is neither a fetus nor a baby, but rather a child who looks to be seven or eight. In other words, this advertisement makes a first trimester abortion the equivalent of murdering an elementary school student. And by making this equivocation, the advertisement completely and entirely erases women, and their bodies, from the picture.

And this doesn’t just happen in the images the anti-abortion movement uses on signs and in advertising. It also happens in the rhetoric the yse. There’s this statement from Tim Dalrymple, for example:

I’m sure evangelical youngsters everywhere would rejoice if their elders decided that they should have sex with great frequency because “if a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate.”  But alas, there is a key distinction between a sperm and a zygote.  A zygote, left to develop naturally, will tend to develop into a human being.  You can have a tank of millions of sperm, but without an egg not a single one will develop into a human being.

See, actually, the reality is that you can have a tank of zygotes, but without a woman’s body not a single one will develop into a human being. But Dalrymple leaves that out.

Here’s another from this week. When Emily Magner of Social Work Advocacy Coalition of Michigan spoke to Michigan senator Howard Walker about about the implications a new anti-choice bill would have for women, he responded with this:

This isn’t about women! This is about protecting fetuses!

It seems this anti-abortion state legislator literally thinks laws for “protecting fetuses” have no impact on women, as though women aren’t involved in the issue at all. Again and again and again and again this happens. The thing is, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses don’t live in voids. They live in women. Imaging and advertising and rhetoric that ignores or erases the fact is an attempt to frame the debate in a way that completely erases women.

I grew up in the pro-life movement. For me, it was all about equating zygotes, embryos, and fetuses with babies, and I didn’t really consider the woman’s perspective at all. Part of the reason I didn’t think about the woman’s perspective is that the anti-abortion literature that surrounded me, like the above images and rhetoric, completely erased those women from the debate. Part of it, though, is that I was a child. But now I am a woman, and as a woman I very much value my ability to control my fertility and am very much aware of the wrenching lack of control over one’s own body pregnancy brings.

We need to do something to counter this sort of messaging. We need to put women back in the picture. We need to counter the anti-abortion movement’s equivocation of babies with fetuses, embryos, and zygotes and we need to refuse to allow abortion opponents to give the impression that zygotes, embryos, and fetuses live in some sort of void. We need to make it clear that any attempt to grant “prenatal rights,” as they are now increasingly being called, involves removing rights from women. We need to move the debate away from its narrow focus on fetuses and work to zoom it out to view the bigger picture, taking in women and their lives, needs, and choices. We need to change the conversation.

Finally, when the anti-abortion movement does bring women into the picture, it generally portrays them as either hateful selfish murderers or helpless exploited victims.

We need to counter this messaging as well. We need to show that women’s lives are stronger, wider, and more complex and vibrant than this sort of two-dimensional stereotyping. Once again, we need to counter the anti-abortion movement’s rhetoric and change the conversation.

I only wish I knew how to do that.

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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.

  • Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

    I think your third picture was mis-uploaded.

  • Malitia

    I just want to add one thing:
    “I mean really, who is for murdering babies?” Pro-life people, I grant them that they probably don’t realize this, are. I live in rural Hungary where because of poverty and no available contraception / abortion / etc. unsafe methods of losing pregnancies were the norm even 80 or so years ago and less then 100 years ago pillow induced stillbirth (the midwife suffocating the newborn) was a thing. My own great grandmother wished the death of her children… and I can’t blame her, she had 10, one with mental disabilities.
    Despair is a terrible thing.

  • Twist

    The hateful selfish murderer or helpless exploited victim thing comes from their utter disdain for the humanity of women. It’s completely irrelevent to these people that women who are 36 weeks pregnant, like in that cartoon, get abortions generally because if they don’t, they will die, or because they’ve discovered that something is terribly wrong with the fetus and finishing the pregnancy will cause it to live a short, agonisingly painful life and they choose to spare it that. Women who are 36 weeks pregnant don’t just go and get abortions on the spur of the moment, just because they can. It simply doesn’t happen.

    The “helpless exploited victim” suggests that, firstly, doctors who perform abortion work on commission or something, and get paid per abortion they perform, which is beyond ridiculous (or stand to gain something else from the abortion, although I don’t know what that might be). People exploit other people when they have something to gain from the situation. What does anyone have to gain from an abortion, other than the woman who has it? Secondly, it portrays us as weak, helpless, mindless things that are so unable to think for ourselves, make our own decisions or know our own minds that we can be persueded to abort a pregnancy that we actually wanted. I remember reading something quite recently where someone was arguing that the catholic church’s position on contraception was damaging to women’s health. Someone in the comments was insisting that liberals and atheists were the ones who really damaged women because we “feed women poison to make them infertile!!11!!eleventy”, completely missing the point that nobody feeds women anything, we simply believe that they should have the choice to take drugs, not poison, to prevent them from conceiving, and thus be able to control their own fertility. I think some of these people simply can’t conceive of a world where women don’t just passively do whatever the men in their life tells them to do, ie. a woman on contraception, must be her husbands idea, because women obey men, and what woman wouldn’t want lots of cute babies?? Or a woman has an abortion, must be her boyfriend/parents/eeeevil doctor who made her, because all women love cute babies!!

    • Nea

      it portrays us as weak, helpless, mindless things that are so unable to think for ourselves, make our own decisions or know our own minds … Or a woman has an abortion, must be her boyfriend/parents/eeeevil doctor who made her, because all women love cute babies!!

      Things I and other clinic escorts have been told is “forcing” women to have abortions against their will (according to the protesters outside):

      1) Opening the clinic door for a women is forcing her inside.
      2) Telling a woman and anyone with her “you don’t have to talk to the protesters” is “telling her what to do” and forcing her to have an abortion
      3) A woman who looks upset must be being forced into an abortion against her will by her boyfriend
      4) A woman who starts crying after being shouted at by protesters must be being forced into an abortion against her will by the combined efforts of her boyfriend and the escorts (one of the local protesters likes to call the cops to report this crime in progress)
      5) A friend of the woman who comes down and yells back at the protesters must be forcing the woman inside
      6) Asking “do you want me to walk with you to the door?” is just the same as opening the car door, hauling the woman out, and frog-marching her to the doctor.
      7) Walking between a woman and a protester is forcing her to have an abortion

      Things that are not forcing anyone to do anything (according to the protesters):
      1) Shouting “You will always regret this day!” to women
      2) Shouting “Your daughter/girlfriend/wife will hate you forever for making her do this” to men
      3) Shouting “Mommy, don’t kill me! Mommy I love you!” at women.
      4) Taking photographs or video

      Sometimes women try to justify themselves to the protesters, but it’s a lost cause. After all, she’s just a woman who’s denying the gift God gave her; she can’t possibly know what’s best for herself. *And that is exactly what those women are told!* That they DO NOT KNOW what is best for themselves. That they must trust the random protesters and the protesters’ version of God — but not their boyfriends, friends, husbands, the doctor, the nurses, or the escorts, because only the protesters are telling them God’s Own Truth.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        “Hmmm, this woman who is being verbally abused by an angry mob looks really upset/is crying. Why could that be? I know! Must be the Evil Boyfriend.”

      • Emilia

        To be fair, the idea of baby-crazy women and reluctant men is not the exclusive domain of the anti-abortion movement. Some segments of the childfree movement, for example, promote the notion of scores of women relentlessly trying to convince men to procreate and, sometimes, getting pregnant ‘on the sly.’

        The reality, however, doesn’t bear out either paradigm. At least two studies of women undergoing abortion found that when partners disagreed on whether to carry the pregnancy to term, the man was actually more likely to want to have the child. Similarly, studies of pregnancies that do go to term find that men are as likely or even more likely to consider the resulting child ‘wanted.’

        That being said, I think a man who is faced with a pregnancy he does not want should not be held financially responsible for the child. Also, I think the anti-abortion movement uses the minority of cases where women are being pressured by their partners to have abortions to ‘prove’ that abortion damages women – although at my most cynical, I also think maybe the movement thinks portraying women who have abortions as victims will appeal to more people than portraying these women as murderous whores (which some pro-lifers still do)…

    • guest

      ‘or stand to gain something else from the abortion, although I don’t know what that might be’
      I heard a (female) caller to the Randi Rhodes show explain that doctors who perform abortions have lucrative contracts to sell dead baby parts for use in beauty supplies. She sounded like she believed it.

      • The_L

        Or organ donations. I’ve heard that one, too.

      • Anonymous-Sam

        We’ve had a senator be downright positive that the product of abortions eventually finds its way into artificial flavoring ingredients in fast food chains. There’s some very indirect, distant truth to this bizarre and disgusting idea (a Pepsi partner, Senomyx, owns a patent on taste testing methodology which utilizes HEK 293, a line of cells which originated from a legally aborted fetus in 1972, but which have since been transformed, cloned and cultured countless times), but the idea that abortion is somehow fueling the fast food industry is laughable.

        And yet our legislation now has it on its record…

    • “Rebecca”

      A woman who wants to live her life as she sees fit is “selfish.” A man who wants to live his life as he sees fit is “exercising his God-given right to liberty.”

    • The_L

      “Women who are 36 weeks pregnant don’t just go and get abortions on the spur of the moment, just because they can. It simply doesn’t happen.”

      The worst example I can think of is from the Neurotically Yours Rants For The Masses CD. “So what happened that you suddenly changed your mind after 8 months? ‘Oh gee, I decided I’d rather have a dog instead.’” Granted, the character in question (Foamy the squirrel) is supposed to be a massive jerk, but since he acts as an author avatar in so many episodes of the cartoon…well. There are a LOT of reasons I’m not a big fan of the series anymore.

    • Kate

      “It’s completely irrelevent to these people that women who are 36 weeks pregnant, like in that cartoon, get abortions generally because if they don’t, they will die, or because they’ve discovered that something is terribly wrong with the fetus and finishing the pregnancy will cause it to live a short”

      I will posit the only reason a woman gets an abortion at 36 weeks is because of something wrong with the fetus. At 36 weeks, if a woman’s life is endangered by continuing her pregnancy, they deliver the baby. They do not abort since the fetus is viable and most women who have carried to that point want the baby. This happens every day with complications such as pre-eclampsia. At 36 weeks the fetus is almost full term and generally would need little or no medical intervention to survive outside the womb.

      I have heard the pro-lifers argue against abortions to save the life of the mother by bringing up aborting an 8 month fetus as a likely occurrence. This is straw man argument that has no basis in reality. When abortions are performed to save the life of the mother, it is because that is the only one who can be saved. In theses instances, the fetus is not viable and can’t live without the mother. So, if the mother dies the fetus dies. There is no saving the baby in that instance. If the fetus is viable they deliver the baby even if it has just reached viability and then do what they can to help the baby.

  • Lisa

    On the picture “Don’t force your beliefs on me”: That is quite a funny picture, actually. Because it is (obviously) not ok to force beliefs on a fetus, but it is very much ok to do the same thing to your born children. This reminds me of a video spot I saw – it was about the UN convention on children’s rights and showed crying parents in a courtroom, revealing that their son had sued them for forcing him to go to the church on sundays. Obviously, it spoke against the convention, saying that it was the parents’ duty to raise their children in their faith and it is perfectly ok to force your children to go to church (even when they’re 16 and have spoken out against it).
    Either way, it just rubs me the wrong way when an argument is used for a fetus which would never, ever, ever, work for a child after birth. Yeah, you might argue that going to church is not the same as being killed, but it’s not like the very same right (“Don’t force your beliefs on me”) applies only in specific situations and is not generally accepted as a common law to operate by. It’s like saying you’re allowed to spank (aka abuse) unless the child dies in the process.

    • Niemand

      It’s like saying you’re allowed to spank (aka abuse) unless the child dies in the process.

      Actually, the average fundie is perfectly ok with killing born children by denying them medical care in the name of “faith”. It’s a parent’s right, according to them, to force a child to die in agony of appendicitis while they pray for his recovery and prevent anyone from helping him.

    • The_L

      “It’s like saying you’re allowed to spank (aka abuse) unless the child dies in the process.”

      Can I just say, as someone who was subjected to both (emotionally-)abusive and non-abusive forms of spanking, that equating ALL forms of spanking to child abuse is bad? This is a context-sensitive issue, like most parenting issues, and is not a blanket right or wrong.

      Lightly swatting a small child’s hand away from a hot stove is a form of spanking, but I’m pretty sure most people wouldn’t have a problem with it.
      Lightly swatting a child’s buttocks when other forms of discipline have failed = OK form of spanking.
      Using spanking as a public form of humiliation = Not OK.
      Spanking an infant = Not OK.
      Hitting a child with an object instead of your hand = Not OK.
      Using spanking as the go-to disciplinary method instead of a last resort = Not OK.
      Spanking your child well into his/her teens instead of changing to more age-appropriate forms of punishment = Not OK.

      This is like saying that diaper-changing is a form of child sexual abuse because you have to touch your baby’s genitals in order to wipe them clean. Context matters.

      • LeftSidePositive

        Hitting a child of ANY age, for ANY reason, with ANY amount of force, is NEVER okay. Hitting a child’s hand away from a stove is not okay, and it is not necessary. It is a pathetic rationalization for parents acting out their frustration on their children, and children too young to understand that hot stoves are dangerous are not going to understand that the hitting is correlated to the stove, or that the stove is capable of hurting just like Mommy is hurting. If a child is near a stove, the responsible thing to do is BLOCK their hand or move it away as gently as possible, but hitting is simply inexcusable. And, amazingly, parents who are dedicated not to hit don’t seem to be suffering from any higher levels of burned children than those who insist it is necessary to hit children to keep them safe.

        And, no, there isn’t a “when all other means of discipline have failed.” Why is it that only parents who are a priori accepting of spanking get to that place, whereas those who make a commitment never to spank don’t seem to have those situations? Giving yourself an “out” to spank just means you are going to be less thoughtful and well-rounded in terms of how you approach your child’s needs, and it becomes all too easy to rationalize lazy parenting to oneself and resort to spanking.

        Moreover, while hitting a child lightly is not the same DEGREE of abuse as some of the other methods you describe, it still shows a callous disregard for the child’s bodily autonomy and intentionally inflicts pain on those who are vulnerable, and this is completely and in all possible ways unacceptable.

        Finally, your analogy with diaper-changing fails hilariously. Without diaper-changing a child is at risk of infection, and there is no way of cleaning without touching the genitals. There is no intention to touch the child sexually, either. In contrast, with spanking there is the explicit intention to cause the child pain–in fact, that is an essential component of the action. Furthermore, millions of parents have successfully raised their children without spanking them to ANY degree so you cannot claim it is necessary (in contrast, I’d love to see you find a parent who has successfully raised a child without ever wiping its bottom!).

  • Shawn

    Don’t you think this ties in neatly with gender essentialism? If you believe that the God-given purpose of a woman is to have babies – that this is what a woman is for – then you can flagrantly disregard what any specific woman tells you about her desires. Either she’s confused about what she wants and will come around once she has the baby and realizes her purpose, or else she’s willfully defiant against God’s will and therefore her complaints can be safely ignored – the hapless victim/murderer dichotomy.

    • Rosie

      Yeah. Any woman who expresses a desire to do something other than have children will be immediately dismissed as “selfish”, if not worse. She’s not someone whose opinion is worth listening to, that’s for sure. It’s not surprising that this happens to me on the internet among strangers, but my “pro-life” cousin has said this to my face more than once, too.

  • Nea

    One of the protesters outside the clinic near me always brings his children and (if she’s able to be outside at the time) his constantly pregnant wife. Then he and she kneel and pray ostentatiously, while the escorts keep an eye on the children, who do not understand what’s going on and want to run around and play.

    They appear to think that the fact that because *she* doesn’t mind all those prenancies and *their* kids are healthy and *they* can afford their growing family, all of these facts must therefore apply to all the women walking into the clinic, a position so ridiculous that I can’t believe grown adults can believe it.

    • Nea

      “pregnancies.” Whoops.

    • Niemand

      Huh? They depend on the escorts to keep an eye on their children? Either they’re ok with people they consider child murderers looking after their children, they don’t realize you’re doing it and are ok with the kids being unsupervised and at risk of being killed by oncoming traffic, or they don’t really believe you’re murderers and know in their hearts that they’re just trying to manipulate and control women.

      • Nea

        The kids keep away from the street, but they are too young to understand that they have to stay on the sidewalk. The parents, though, do, so when the kids run onto private property, we have to try to herd them back without touching them.

        I will give the parents this much – they take the kids home when they get too wriggly/hot/cold. Unlike the parents of the teenager who got soaked to the skin and was shivering and begging to leave the protest and was told her suffering was nothing to what was happening to the “babies” inside the clinic.

      • Niemand

        Personally, I’d be very concerned about my kids running up to the property of someone I thought was a mass murderer-and frankly panicked if the murderer in question started shooing the kid back towards me, touching them or no. Again, the parents’ behavior is either indicative that they don’t really see you as a threat or they just don’t care if their kids live or die. Though glad to know that they at least take the kids home when they’ve had enough.

      • “Rebecca”

        Nea: My family used to do Roe v. Wade candlelight vigils in the middle of winter with other pro-lifers. I was always so cold I was crying by the end of it. I hated it but I felt like I wasn’t allowed to ask to go home early.

  • Tracey

    Actually I thought the stork poster was a pro-choice/ pro-woman statement. “Storks” being a metaphor for women and “flocks gunned down” meaning women are ignored and marginalized. Save the stork should be a call to recognizing women.

    • Libby Anne

      Should be. It’s not, though. It’s an anti-abortion group.

      • Ortin

        We could make the stork metaphor pro-choice if we can scrounge up an enthusiastic artist.

      • Ortin

        Imagine if all the female storks had to carry heavy packages in their beaks over the ocean. They can’t stop: they’re over the bloody ocean. Stronger or luckier storks easily make the trip, but some storks aren’t as fortunate. They might be smaller than other storks, maybe missing several important wing feathers, maybe it starts raining and the ocean waves picking up, but for whatever reason they keep sinking closer and closer to the ocean.

        What should the stork do? She could drop the package into the ocean, freeing herself from that weight and continue flying on her own. Or she could hold on, and drown both the package and herself.

        But flying in circles around here are other storks, shouting at her that she’s a terrible stork for daring to think about dropping that package, that it’s her job to carry that package to its destination, look at all those other storks who are flying and carrying their packages. Many of these storks are male, not carrying packages, and decidedly not trying to help her carry her package.

        Then at the end, when a package does get delivered, a hunter shoots the stork. “What? She delivered her package.”

        (That last paragraph probably should not be used in the general case.)

      • Scotlyn

        That’s brilliant.
        The End.

  • Lynn

    I’ve had the theory for a while that there are a few reasons that women are never a part of the picture in anti-abortion campaigns.
    It makes their stance look more black and white, simple, uncomplicated. If the woman isn’t there, you don’t have to get to know her, her life, her hopes and dreams, her medical risks. Sympathy for the mother is made irrelevant, because it should be irrelevant, in their eyes. Why? Because the “baby” IS more important than the mother. Think about it: the baby is a pure and innocent creature, full of possibility. The mother is a woman who has had sex (she’s impure, not innocent), she’s lived enough years to have narrowed down the possibilities for her future. And in conservative Christianity, what is a woman’s value anyway? Especially one who’s entered childbearing years. She’s supposed to be mothering. Any decent woman would never think of having an abortion, so the fact that she would consider it makes her a bad person who’s not worth including in this picture.

    I would like to see an ad campaign where the woman is featured and the words say, “My life is just as valuable as the fetus inside me.” I know messages along that line will never influence a staunch pro-lifer, but maybe the people in the middle will stop to think. It also gives pro-choicers a place to show their compassion.

    • Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

      That could be a very powerful ad campaign. I’d change “fetus” to something else personally.

    • Niemand

      I would like to see an ad campaign where the woman is featured and the words say, “My life is just as valuable as the fetus inside me.”

      What about pictures of women who have died from complications of pregnancy and the line, “I had a heartbeat too.”?

  • emjb

    One thing that was powerful to me was when a pro-choice woman pointed out that a fetus doesn’t just grow *in* a woman’s body, it is *made from* a woman’s body. Fetuses literally use the blood, food, and energy of the woman to build their own bodies. They are not separate from the woman in any true sense until they leave the womb. They don’t even stop receiving her blood until the cord is cut/the placenta detaches from the uterus. We think of them as floating in her like an astronaut in a spaceship, but they are more like an extra organ of her body for much of the time they are in the womb.

    • ScottInOH

      This is a great point, in part because it is different from the hopes-and-dreams argument. While I don’t think anyone should stop emphasizing the life-changing trauma pregnancy can be, it is open to the criticism that “She shoulda thought about that earlier, and in any case, killing a baby is no way to solve those problems.” That’s not always a fruitful conversation.

      emjb’s point, though, clearly and forcefully puts the woman at the center of the picture in a different way. Zygotes don’t become babies all by themselves. They become babies because a woman allows them to use her body, her blood, her nutrients, and so on, all at considerable risk to herself even in the best of circumstances. Her call; not mine or anyone else’s.

    • “Rebecca”

      I’ve never heard a pro-lifer give a satisfactory explanation for why an unwanted fetus is anything other than a parasite.

      • Alex

        There is no such explanation; the embryos and fetuses of all placental mammals are obligate endoparasites, by the purely biological, value-judgement free definition of that word: an organism that depends for its sustenance on another organism, and reduces that organism’s fitness in the process of obtaining sustenance. “Reduced fitness” means that, all other things being equal, a pregnant female mammal has a higher probability of dying during the period of her pregnancy than an otherwise identical female mammals who is not pregnant would have over the same period of time. (The embryos of marsupials are also endoparasitic, but their fetuses are ectoparasites.)

      • The_L

        I’ve used this argument as well. I’ve also pointed out that, while a fetus has a unique genome (a favorite “personhood” argument), so does a cancer (by virtue of the mutations that made it cancerous in the first place), and we generally don’t give citizenship rights to cancers.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Storks? Fucking STORKS? Are they kidding?

    I need another aspirin…

  • Niemand

    Maybe I’m being oversensitive here, but the picture of the baby in black and white except for its bright blue eyes…is that a racism dog whistle? Emphasizing the blue eyes of the obviously light skinned baby to show how valuable it is?

    • Aighty

      I dunno, but this makes me think of something I’ve heard pro-lifers say, something basically to the effect of, “Well, the push to make abortion more available to poor people is actually racism in disguise. After all, poor people are disproportionally people of minority groups…don’t you find that suspicious?” It was awhile ago that I actually heard this, so I’m not representing it very well, but I think this sort of attitude is reflected in that ad Libby Anne posted saying, “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.”

      • Nea

        That one gets tossed around a lot. Either one of the nuttier protesters howling “Black Genocide! Black Genocide!” whenever a woman of color comes near the clinic, or very pointed prayers about how Margaret Sanger was a racist, and therefore anyone who supports Planned Parenthood is by definition a racist.

        As if it isn’t icing misogyny with racism to tell women of color “you don’t want an abortion and besides, you especially shouldn’t have one because of your race.”

      • Niemand

        As if it isn’t icing misogyny with racism to tell women of color “you don’t want an abortion and besides, you especially shouldn’t have one because of your race.”

        No paternalism to see here, move along…
        It does seem like they’re very anxious to take choices away from minority women.

  • smrnda

    I wonder if the people making the abortion is racist argument are white (in fact, I’m probably sure they are.) The way they’re talking about racism is as if white people can effectively find, spot, an analyze racism without any input from minorities.

    And storks? Grow up. If you’re going to talk about the issue using widdle biddy kiddie talk, shut up. Serious issues demand that people talk about them as adults.

    Also, zygotes ‘naturally’ develop into human being only with great deal of support from an existing human being.

    The refusal to even acknowledge the woman’s existence just show you how important Christians think women are – so trivial that giving the imaginary stork the credit for what the woman is doing is considered okay.

    • “Rebecca”

      It seems like most of the pro-lifers I’ve encountered only care about racism when it comes to abortion. They only care about misogyny when they think a case can be made that abortion harms women. It’s sick.

      • Nea

        It’s the real-life version of concern trolling – they get to *sound* like they aren’t racist or misogynistic, but what they *want* is the very definition of both words – to decide for themselves what women and particularly women of color are permitted to do with their own bodies.

    • The_L

      Yes. More troubling, one of the more eloquent bits of pro-life propaganda was by a Catholic of Jewish descent (Margaret Sanger: Father of Modern Society). She turned the racial argument up to 11 by adding lots and lots of Holocaust references, and taking the infamous “destroy the black population” quote as far out of context as possible. (The cover of the book parodied Nazi propaganda posters, with Margaret Sanger as Planned Parenthood’s “Fuhrer.” Yes, this book is exactly as distasteful as it sounds.)

      She also used the fact that Native American women have been sterilized against their will as an argument against Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that, to my knowledge, the two have nothing to do with each other.

  • Jaimie

    See those adorable little babies? Those are the ones the Christian right is trying to take food, housing, and a decent education away from. Not to mention administer regular beatings to keep their souls from hell. The photo is a deception because we all know their rights to life, a decent life, expired at the moment of birth.

  • “Rebecca”

    I applaud the Elena one for at least being honest about what a zygote looks like instead of using an adorable infant as usual.
    Still, I’ll never forgive the pro-life movement for tricking me into thinking, until an embarrassingly old age, that an embryo or fetus has sentient thoughts. They act as if these creatures have the cognitive level of a four-year-old when in reality their thought process is something like “….” It’s so deceitful and manipulative.

    • The_L

      I was taught that a four-week embryo looks like….a seven-week embryo. Thanks, A Beka, thanks a lot.

      I still second-guess most of what I was taught in science and history classes, because so much of it was bunk–to the point that I’ve thrown out a lot of stuff that actually turned out to be useful knowledge.

      Fundies, stop lying to people. It just makes us not want to believe any of what you say.

  • Arium

    Thinking about the Abortion Is Black Genocide campaign reminded me of Demographic Winter meme that I’ve seen from some pro-forced-birth groups. If anything is more racist than the former, it is the idea that birthrates falling below replacement level for natives in white European countries is cause for concern.

    I recall in the case of poster with the black girl, reading that her mother had no idea that her picture would be used for this campaign when she agreed to the photo shoot.

    • Kate

      I read that, too. I think she tried to file a lawsuit against the anti-choice group, but I don’t know what became of that.

  • Caroline

    Somebody has probly already said this, but I think the key in this issue is that for Pro-Lifers (like I once was) believe that unless the pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, you cannot equate the suffering of a woman to the loss of a life. And even when pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, some still say that because she has lived somewhat, she should give her life for the child, who has so much POTENTIAL. I think this word is key. For many, the “potential” of a human being is the defining line where life begins. It’s like they know nothing about science.

    • Rosie

      The potential is way more important to them than the actuality. Actual humans aren’t perfect; potential ones might be. :P

    • ButchKitties

      I find it so infuriating and hypocritical that anti-choicers make the potential to become a human person the defining line where personhood begins.

      Each and every person, anti-choicers included, is a potential corpse. It’s far more certain that all people will become corpses than it is certain that a zygote will develop into a conscious person. That doesn’t mean that we can treat “pre-death corpses” as actual corpses and start harvesting living people for spare parts. Present reality trumps future potential.

    • Scotlyn

      I think the idea of “potential” is more basic and religious than that. Because a recent commenter on my twitter feed used the word “innocence” in exactly the same context. The foetus is “innocent” in a way that the mother, even a 13 year old rape victim, isn’t (in their view).

      This person is not only arguing for the foetus’s right to life, but making the case that the foetus’s “innocence” gives added weight to its claim in a competition with the right to life of its mother (a competition that, here in Ireland is legally and constitutionally quite literal).

    • Twist

      “And even when pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, some still say that because she has lived somewhat, she should give her life for the child, who has so much POTENTIAL”

      This creates the impression that in cases of the abortion for the life of the mother, it’s a case of the baby or the woman, and the woman selfishly choosing her own life instead of sacrificing so her child can live. In reality, most life of the mother abortions are a choice between the woman and fetus both dying, or fetus dying so the woman can live. The only situation I can think of in which a woman can choose to sacrifice her own life to save her fetus is if she refuses cancer treatment, although this by no means guarantees her a healthy child, or even that she will live long enough for the fetus to have a reasonable chance of survival. With the presupposition that fetus = person, it’s most often a case of two people dying when one can be saved – how is this ever the more moral choice?

      It’s like, I can imagine going into a burning building in an attempt to save somebody I love, but if I knew that inside the building they were either already dead or beyond medical help, it would be foolish to risk my own life when there wouldn’t be any chance of a positive outcome.

  • ROB

    Hate to break it to you. Norma McCovey, no less, has made a Pro Life ad. See also: Look like women to me.

    • Niemand

      And these women are…not?

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Hate to break it to you but the fact that Norma McCorvey (that’s “Jane Roe” for those who don’t know) later became anti-abortion will not really shock any pro-choicer who knows anything about Roe v. Wade and its history. And who cares? The fact that the woman who happened to be at the center of that case later changed her opinion has absolutely no implications for the legal reasoning of the decision. Try harder.

    • ButchKitties

      Libby didn’t say that anti-abortion ads never include women. She said that the majority of them erase the woman, which is true. The majority of anti-abortion ads erase women from the picture, but there are some exceptions, which Libby alluded to multiple times in this post. You appear to be “refuting” a claim that wasn’t made in the first place, aka making a straw man argument.

  • Rootboy

    “Her feelings, needs, hopes, and dreams do not matter.”

    At the center of most social conservatism seems to be an attitude that if people are free to act on their feelings, needs, hopes, and dreams they will inevitably immiserate themselves and others in short-sighted self-destructiveness. So this isn’t surprising. The proposed solution is subsuming ones will to time-tested social roles. That a woman doesn’t want to bring a pregnancy to term is irrelevant, since what people want isn’t particularly relevant, and is often harmful.

  • Sarah

    the women are important. But it’s not the woman who is having her arms and legs torn from her body and her skull crushed, which is exactly what happens in abortion after seven weeks, which is about 80% of all abortions. It is not the woman being violently torn apart until.

    • Rae

      Actually, fetuses don’t have bones, much less skulls, until 13-15 weeks. And 80% of abortions are performed before 12 weeks. So that’s upwards 3/4 of all abortions after 7 weeks that involve no skull-crushing at all.

      • Lucreza Borgia

        Curse you and your logic! /sarcasm

        Then again, given how woefully uneducated many pro-lifers are regarding fetal development, is it any surprise that they continue to trot out the same comments over and over?

        Also, I think Sarah is trying to talk about partial-birth abortions because we all know how common that is. *rolls eyes*

        Sorry Libby, I know we’re supposed to have respectful discourse…

      • sarah

        Please look at this website. It if from the Endowment for Human Development, which is NOT in any way affiliated with a pro-life group. It has pictures of fetuses and embryos all throughout pregnancy. You will see for yourself how developed these babies are .

      • Sarah

        According to the endowment for human development, the baby even has ovaries at 7 weeks. Here you can see a picture of the baby at this age:

        This is not a religious or pro-life site.

      • Niemand

        Very brief searching indicates that the EHD is in fact a “pro-life” (that is, pro-slavery) institution.

        According to the CDC, about 17.5% of all abortions are medical. About 74.2% are D and C, prior to 13 weeks, i.e. before bone development, which occurs in the second trimester.

      • Niemand

        Another fun fact from the CDC: in 2004-08, the case fatality rate from abortion was 0.64 in 100,000. There appear to be roughly 500,000 abortions per year in the US, if I read the statistics correctly, that is to say, about 2 million over the 4 years in question. If all of these women had been forced to continue their pregnancies and they are average risk for complications, one would except an additional 280 or so deaths from pregnancy and labor complications (base on an average risk of completing pregnancy of about 14.5 per 100,000). In short, Sarah promotes the murder of about 70 women per year. She appears to be happy about that.

      • Lucreza Borgia

        Sarah, so what if the fetus has defined ovaries? You were still wrong about it having bones and none of this means that the fetus is aware or can feel or anything remotely near what a born human can.

        Why do pro-lifers think we don’t know human development?

      • Niemand

        A 7 week embryo doesn’t really have ovaries. It has tissue that is differentiated into something that is starting to form what eventually will become ovaries if all goes well. But calling that tissue “ovaries” is like calling a erythroblast a red blood cell: true it is committed to developing along the red cell lineage, but it isn’t capable of carrying oxygen.

      • Twist

        “Sarah, so what if the fetus has defined ovaries?”

        And so what if it begins to look like a baby at some stage? The constant focus on what the fetus looks like and calling it a ‘baby’ is just an attempt to evoke an emotional response. Any amount of calling it a baby and calling abortion murder are not going to make those things true, and any amount of pointing out how baby-like it looks doesn’t suddenly make the right of the woman to not have her body used as an incubator against her will irrelevant.

    • “Rebecca”

      Would you be okay with abortion if it was done using a different method?
      Where are you getting your claim that 80% of abortions are done after 7 weeks?

      • The_L

        I’m making a WAG here, but I’ve got a hunch it came from something like this:

        - Most women aren’t aware of a pregnancy until 2-3 weeks after a missed period, which would be at least 3-4 weeks after conception.

        - Since abortion is kind of a tough choice to make no matter what your opinion of abortion is, it’s probably going to take you several weeks at least to decide “Yes, I am going to abort my baby.”

        - Add in time to make the appointment, legally-required counseling in most states…Actually, 80% seems kind of low. I can’t see a surgical abortion being performed any sooner than 7 weeks at all. Maybe RU-486, but I don’t know nearly as much about that as I do about surgical abortions (mostly from trying to figure out how much of the pro-life pamphlets I absorbed in high school was actually true, how much was out-of-date, and how much was flat-out lies).

  • Karen

    Here is a perfect example of Libby Anne’s point. These people discuss zygotes as though they floated along in space, completely independent of the women carrying them.

  • Katamaran

    Libby, I’ve been reading your posts for a while but have not yet commented on any, and I’m very happy you chose to focus on this peculiarity of pro-life rhetoric, which has long frustrated me. I also was raised by in a staunchly pro-life family, where abortion at any stage was not only wholly equivalent to murder but within which any questioning of that idea was streng verboten. I actually began to question this when I was a teenager and I realized that pro-life rhetoric–especially the visual rhetoric–blatantly and enthusiastically erases any trace of the actual human being who is tasked with at the very least carrying the pregnancy to term. And I have to say, having been around pro-lifers my whole life, I believe that if any of them actually read this post and thought–genuinely thought–about the argument you’re making, they would find it mystifying because women as part of the gestation process simply never enter their minds. It’s irrelevant who carries the fetus because the fetus is granted absolute primacy in their minds, the fact that foetae don’t possess any of the generally recognized markers of personhood until late in the pregnancy—brainwaves that closely resemble those of adults, the ability to feel pain and suffer—and the women do, is simply not at issue. I’ve always thought there’s a whiff (or maybe a distinct redolence) of medieval Aquinian ideas about gestation and procreation in the pro-life movement, even if they don’t quite realize it. To Aquinas (and thus the Roman Catholic Church as a whole, given his towering stature as a theologian), the woman is incidental. She’s an incubator, an inert vessel for the propagation of new life that takes the entirety of its form and spirit from the father. It’s easy to occlude women from the conversation when you don’t think they contribute in any meaningful way to the development or makeup of the nascent human being; they’re interchangeable and their welfare is ultimately irrelevant so long as it doesn’t interfere with our directive to go forth and multiply. Obviously, pro-lifers don’t actually believe this as such anymore, but I think it’s a way of framing the issue that was devised in the Dark Ages and continues to influence how many think today. Which is why I think that this:
    See, actually, the reality is that you can have a tank of zygotes, but without a woman’s body not a single one will develop into a human being. But Dalrymple leaves that out.

    is so deliciously perfect an encapsulation of the fundamental non-sequitur at the beating heart of pro-life proselytizing that I can’t believe no one’s said it before. Anyway, good job and keep on kicking against the pricks.

    • Hilary

      Good point, glad you posted this.


    • The_L

      I’m sure you’re right about this, given that the anti-abortion movement in the US originated with the Catholic Church, and the RCC practically elevates Aquinas to the level of a 4th member of the Trinity.

      Which is a pity, because Aquinas also had deeply-twisted ideas about the nature of masturbation and human sexuality in general, and if you look at the Church (and European society in general) just before Aquinas, it’s much saner than it becomes afterward, especially during the Inquisition. It’s no coincidence that it took the Reformation and the RCC’s subsequent loss of influence for Europe to regain sanity WRT sexual ethics. America is still strugging, though.

  • eSEB

    After 30 hours, the zygote that could, in some obscure sense, be Elena one day could, for up to 2 weeks more, become Elena1, Elena2, Elena3… since twinning is still possible. Indeed, once the original zygote divides into two, that original ceases to exist, and so on with other loosely connected dividing cells. There is a clear sense, then, in which none of us was ever numerically identical with a zygote; none of _us_ ever _were_ zygotes.

  • NancyP

    The famous Lennart Nilssen photographs of embryos and fetuses were made using aborted embryos and fetuses.

  • Leila

    What a beautiful, thoughtful rebuttal to this misguided post:

    • “Rebecca”

      That’s not beautiful or thoughtful at all, it’s full of manipulative wording and moral high-horsing. ‘the tiny, barely-formed baby struggling to dodge the sharp instruments?’ Give me a break. An embryo is no more sentient than a shrimp, no one is obligated to care overmuch if it dies.

    • phantomreader42

      What a worthless stinking load of dishonest bullshit. Fetus-fetishists can’t defend their delusions without constant, shameless lying.

    • Rosie

      It certainly confirms the idea that the only way to be a “good Christian woman” is to be a victim. “Martyr yourself, or we’ll force you to do it and you’ll thank us for it!”

      • Rosie

        Also, by Brianna’s definition, I’m not a woman, despite having the proper and functional (at least until the tubal) plumbing.