“Hi, my name is … nutrition?”

Hemant Mehta has an article today about atheists who are anti-abortion. Hemant’s piece includes this quotation from a member of the group Secular Pro-Life:

“When the sperm meets the egg, a genetically complete human being is formed, and all that is required for maturation is time and nutrition.”


Nutrition. So that’s what they’re calling women now.

Sure, you could say the statement is technically correct, though overwhelmingly simplistic. The problem, though, is that the framing of the statement leaves out any mention of the woman involved, except to use the word “nutrition.” This sort of rhetoric fits a long pattern of the “pro-life” movement erasing women from discussions of abortion. The thing is, zygotes don’t exist in some sort of vacuum.

But hey, maybe we should count our blessings here. Admitting that a zygote needs “nutrition” is at least better than Timothy Dalrymple’s failure to remember that growing a zygote into a baby actually even involves a woman’s body.

But really, this just goes to show that you don’t have to be religious to play the erasing women game. And honestly? It’s a game I’m getting a bit tired of, because they do it again and again and again. It seriously gets old. Been there, done that, so over it. And on that note, I’m going to finish by quoting from a previous article I wrote on this topic, because I really don’t need to keep writing this same explanation from scratch every time I see this being done.

Note to pro-lifers: STOP ERASING WOMEN.

Because that’s the problem, isn’t it? If zygotes didn’t live inside women’s bodies, this wouldn’t be an issue. Sure, keep the zygotes alive! Care for them until they’re fully mature, put them up for adoption! Great! Who would oppose that? The trouble is, zygotes aren’t some sort of physically independent entity. Rather, they have to live inside of and feed off of women. If you want to legislate that all zygotes must be allowed to develop into the physically independent entities we call babies, you have to come to terms with the fact that that intimately involves women and their bodies. And yet, pro-lifers can’t seem to do that. Or, when they do admit this, it’s to offer pregnant women free cribs. And baby clothes. Or, you know, to talk about how women are supposed to sacrifice.

If someone wants to make a case against abortion, they need to actually address the reality that this discussion involves women’s bodies in an intimate and completely invasive way. They need to stop pretending they can talk about zygotes and fetuses without mention of women. They need to listen to women and understand what is involved. They need to realize that “saving babies,” if that is what they must call it, involves convincing or forcing women to allow the zygote or fetus to physically occupy their bodies, turning their lives upside down for nine months. Maybe if they actually act like they understand what it is they are asking, maybe then we can talk about it. Until then, I can’t. I’m too angry.

Pregnancy and abortion intimately involve women’s bodies. You can’t separate that out of the equation and just talk about zygotes and fetuses. It’s time pro-lifers realized this. I am tired of being erased. Enough is enough.

For more on this topic, see Abortion: No Women Involved and The Pro-Life Movement, Erasing Women Edition.

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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.

  • http://ripeningreason.com/ Rachel Marcy (Bix)

    All that is required is time and nutrition? Excuse me, no. “All” that is required is a woman using her own body to provide for the fetus for nine months–which constitutes substantially more than “nutrition”–and then laboring, painfully, to give birth. I am continually flabbergasted by how little those who are anti-abortion seem to respect pregnancy, birth, and motherhood, much as they protest to the contrary.

  • J-Rex

    So you mean that if I want a baby some day, I don’t have to use my body? I don’t have to risk my health, throw up constantly, change my body shape, pay over $10,000 since I’m not insured, and experience the worst pain of my life?
    Sounds good. I think I’ll go plant a little zygote tree in my yard and let it do it’s thing.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ M

      +1 Internets.

      So much win.


      And whatever other accolades I can give this post.

    • centauri

      Seconding @M here…

    • Karen

      Allow me to add my congratulations. Brilliant.

    • Hilary

      Don’t forget to water it and add proper fertilizer.

      Dude, that was funny.

    • RowanVT

      I don’t have a backyard. Do you think I can place my zygote on a bed of damp moss inside a plastic bin and incubate it like I do my corn snake eggs? I can keep the incubator a nice, steady 99 degrees…

  • Sarah-Sophia

    Patriarchy is usually associated with the Right but it can be a bipartisan thing. I was reminded of that when I saw all those people on FB slut-shame Bristol Palin.

    • Judy L.

      Are you sure she wasn’t being attacked for being a self-righteous hypocrite and media-whore?

      • thalwen

        Sadly, a lot of the stuff thrown at right-wing women is clearly sexist crap. Which is a shame because a) it reinforces sexism and b) there is usually more than enough legitimate criticism that isn’t being talked about because we need to denigrate someone for being female.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

        I don’t recall anything about her being female other than the total hypocrisy of being the poster child for abstinence while making a lot of money on her own baby.

  • saraquill

    (sarcasm) So someone can mix ejaculate with a full week’s menses, leave it sitting in a culture medium and make a baby? Why has this not been in written about in scientific journals? (end sarcasm)

  • Judy L.

    When the time comes that men can simply take the necessary hormone treatments to mimic pregnancy and have artificial wombs implanted in their bodies that use their circulatory systems to ‘nurish’ implanted embryos, we’ll just see how many anti-abortion men line up for the privilege of offering themselves to be ‘nutrition’ surrogates for all those “genetically complete human beings” that would otherwise be aborted (the men will carry the fetuses to term and then place them for adoption). Or better yet, how many Quiverfull fathers do you think would sign up so that at least one spouse could be pregnant at all times, thus increasing offspring production two-fold (yes, I know, biblical living and complementarianism requires that men go out and hunt dinosaurs and women give birth in pain and sorrow). (N.B. a totipotent stem cell, a blastocyst, an embryo, even a fetus, my contain a complete set of DNA, but its body is far from complete – not even recognizably human in the early stages – and its human consciousness can’t be compared to that of an adult, or even to that of an infant.)

  • Sgaile-beairt

    ….sounds like they read the wikipedia article on ALchemy, and thought that really works making ‘Homunculi”….

  • plch

    you know, I’m just back from the maternity hospital where I gave birth to my second child (a programmed C-section, all is fine), there I meet about twenty new moms, all happy with a new child (or two) and *all* of them and at least one minor of major problem during pregnancy or after birth: blood pressure, dehidratation, blocked back, long and painful delivery, emergency c-section and more, then problems with breastfeeding, newborns with their own health problems (if mild, in those cases). It’s really not just “nutrtion”‘! >>> and nutrition is often itself a problem, when a woman is constantly sick!
    I told one of the nurses at the maternity ward that if one knews what all could get wrong during pregnancy, nobody would ever chose to get pregnant and she agreed with me…

  • James Healey

    You’re really splitting hairs here in order to frame the debate on terms of misogyny. Ask Secular Pro-Life or any other pro-life organization where that nutrition comes from, and all of them will recognize the mother as the source. You’re using this to detract from the actual issue of whether or not the child is an individual to whether or not such a belief that a child is an individual is sexist based on how they *word* their arguments, not on what they actually mean. Yes, presentation means a lot, but you’re advocating the false impression that they might be misogynists without applying the term, when really, they’re just focusing on the child. Yes, they should recognize the mother’s role more thoroughly, but to them, it’s irrelevant to the basic argument against abortion; that it’s killing.

    Speaking of which, the member of Secular Pro-Life that you quoted is a woman. Not that a misogynist woman is something new, but I’d think if anyone was aware that women are central to a pregnancy, it would be a woman. Not that this nugget would persuade anyone, nor should it, but it should at least give you some cause to rethink what you write before you actually submit it and misrepresent a side.

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

      I didn’t say misogyny because I didn’t mean misogyny. I stated that the way they frame the issue erases women from the picture. There really was no hidden unspoken meaning going on there. Furthermore, I know the quote was from a woman. I am a woman myself and when I was pro-life I also approached the issue in a way that erased women. Not really sure what point you are trying to make there.

  • 24u

    HEY! Really? Are you all trying to just argue?
    Time and Nutrition…meaning time (usually 9 month) and Nutrition (which only a woman’s body can provide while the baby is growing in her) TELL ME WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT? Basic biology is exactly THAT! Emotions do not feed the fetus. The fetus grows over time and with the nutrition provided by the woman’s body. What exactly DO you have a problem with? That is EXACTLY what is happening and needs to happen for a fetus to grow. Time and Nutrition. Don’t just try (so hard) to be offended. Think sometimes, please.

    • Malitia

      Oh… how far this went over your head. (Or you may be a troll)

      Leaving out this little tidbit: “which only a woman’s body can provide” or “nutrition provided by the woman’s body (You yourself wrote both instances) is their problem as this type of rhetoric dehumanizes women. As someone pointed out earlier if just time and nutrition would be needed then we could plant a fetus trees.

    • http://noadi.etsy.com Noadi

      Thinking is something you fail to be doing. We’re talking about the rhetoric used in framing anti-abortion messages ignoring women and erasing the impact pregnancy has on her body and her life. This isn’t about being offended, it’s about the way words are used to distort how people think about a topic.

      That statement literally described a pregnant woman as merely nutrition, which is not just dehumanizing it’s also biologically wrong. A woman does more than just provide nutrition to the fetus, aside from providing half the fetuses DNA, there are also hormonal and epigenetic changes to the fetus that are directly caused by the mother’s body. She is not merely a food source. To say otherwise is minimizing exactly what is involved in the very complex process that is pregnancy and fetal development.

    • Anat

      Your little fit completely ignores the price that the provision of nutrition exacts from the woman. Pregnancy and childbirth involve assorted risks, some acute, some chronic – with potential to last lifelong (eg blood pressure problems, diabetes). Even with the best modern medicine there is some risk of maternal death from complications of pregnancy and/or childbirth. Pregnancy limits what medications a woman can use, which for many women means that it limits her ability to treat and control pre-existing medical conditions. A pregnant woman is risking her health and her life while providing nutrition to her embryo or fetus. Therefore it should be her choice whether to do so (or continue doing so).

      • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

        Not only that, but that nutrition isn’t just taken from what the woman eats, it’s actually taken from her entire body.

      • Sgaile-beairt

        they hate it when peopel refer, w technical correctness, to fetus = parasite….i guess they wld prefer if we were more accurate to say, “cannibal’??

  • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

    On a more lighthearted note, there are already two critics here and the comments are only in the 20′s?

    *goes to make popcorn*

  • James Greene

    I can understand the way in which this type of rhetoric erases women. Language can be used in many different subtle ways to manipulate the ideas we are trying to influence or change. But let me put another spin on the idea of a pro-life atheist. If your point of view is that there is no God and that this is the only life we have and there is no after life, then wouldn’t life be that much more precious? If there is only this life, then the pro-life atheist would promote life and say that we should try to make it as often as possible. I am not saying I agree with this idea I put forth but it is a point of view to consider.

    • Anat

      Life in itself isn’t particularly precious. If that were the case we should have been promoting bacteria – so many more living organisms! What is precious is the life that can be appreciated. The woman in question is a person who can appreciate her life and make those choices that would make it the best life she can have. The embryo or fetus is not in such a position. Most women who have abortions are either already mothers or go on later to have one or more children. By having the choice of abortion available they can have their child(ren) under those conditions that the child(ren) will have the best lives these women can offer them.

    • Carys Birch

      Yeah, exactly. If this is MY only life, then I shouldn’t have to spend it being “nutrition” if I don’t choose to.

    • J-Rex

      But what quality of life? Is an ant’s life precious?
      I definitely like to think of my life as being valuable, but mainly because I am conscious. I am experiencing life and I’m aware that I’m experiencing it. A zygote and embryo have no self-awareness. A fetus might as it develops, but no one’s sure exactly when. If a pregnant woman decides she does not want to bring a child into the world, her choice matters because she has a greater potential for suffering than something that does not yet feel pain or know it exists. The morality of the choice changes depending on the circumstances and the person in the best place to make the decision is the pregnant woman.