Pro-Life Is About Oppressing Women. That’s All.

Pro-Life Is About Oppressing Women. That’s All. May 29, 2019

Forget the fetus fetishism. Pro-life is a hate group.

 

[This post from May 2018 seemed relevant in the light of certain recent events in the USA.]

 

For all their talk about when life begins or the humanity of the fetus, pro-life activists aren’t motivated by compassion or love. They’re motivated by misogyny and cynicism. They’ve just been able to focus their rhetoric on the fetus so their contempt for sexually active women isn’t immediately apparent. We need to change that.

The Backlash Against Feminism

Nationwide anti-abortion organization in the USA and Australia formed in the 60s, when feminism and the contraceptive pill were giving women things they had never had before: the promise of autonomy from male dominance and the final say in procreation. The shock waves from this revolution are still echoing in conservative communities, whose adaptation to modernity has always been tentative at best.

Modern technology, however, gave pro-lifers a gift at the same time: intrauterine photography and ultrasound techniques produced images of fetuses that seemed to float in space. These images have become crucial for proponents of the pro-life movement because it allows them to remove the mother from the way we conceptualize the process of pregnancy and childbirth. (Lennart Nilsson’s photographs of fetuses for Time magazine in 1965 were the result of literally removing the woman from the phenomenon of pregnancy; they were faked with discarded fetuses and made to look like viable fetuses in utero.)

As reprehensible as the constant accusations of “baby-killing” are, the erasure of the female is the most sinister aspect of pro-life propaganda. By focusing on details like the fetus’s brainwave activity and chromosome count, articles and debates deliberately de-emphasize the moral agency and bodily autonomy of the woman.  This article about abortion at Catholic Working Mother doesn’t mention the word woman, women, or even mother once.

Moralism and Revenge

In the beginning of the pro-life movement, it was common to hear opponents of reproductive rights claim that abortion must be made illegal “except in cases of rape or incest.” This concession was problematic, but it at least made it seem as if pro-lifers had an inkling of compassion for women whose pregnancies had resulted from assaults. What the concession revealed about pro-life was that it wasn’t about when life begins at all, because the circumstances of conception are irrelevant to the production of a zygote; it’s about punishing sexually active women.

However, these days even that much compassion for women is impossible to find. Articles from pro-lifers regularly recommend that a rape victim be forced to undergo pregnancy and childbirth just to satisfy their piety. A rape victim deserves, by pro-life logic, to be reminded every day of a humiliating and traumatizing assault simply because pro-lifers see a woman as an incidental participant in the process of gestation, invisible next to the all-important fetus.

The most insidious thing about the pro-lifer’s crusade to force women to undergo pregnancy and childbirth against their will is that for an alarmingly high number of American women, pregnancy is a death sentence. The USA has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, and each year several hundred women die in childbirth. If a woman is ready and willing to take that risk, fine. But the pro-lifer’s assertion that childbirth is some sort of walk in the park is just more evidence of how callous and misogynistic the movement is.

It Ain’t About Religion

One last important thing. The way we frame this matter in the secular blogosphere can make it seem like we object to the pro-life position because of its religious rhetoric and not its misogyny. Using terms like “Christian patriarchy” is admitting that you only object to the oppression of women when religious fundies are responsible for it. Please, atheist bros, you should have qualms about using women’s bodies as territory for your online slapfights. Patriarchy is your responsibility as well as mine. The problem isn’t that we need rational, evidence-based reasons to marginalize women, it’s that our society’s institutions are engineered to disadvantage and oppress women. Secular patriarchy is no improvement over Christian patriarchy.

Hating the Haters

It’s time we stopped playing the pro-lifers’ games, and allowing them to hide behind phony rhetoric and scientific-sounding arguments. Enough with pictures of glowing fetuses, and debates about fetal brainwave activity and chromosome count. We pro-choicers have to stop writing articles about abortion that only mention the woman in passing, and falling into the trap of erasing women’s rights from the issue. We need to put the woman back into this equation, and advocate for her civil rights.

Pro-Life is about oppressing women. Pro-Life is a hate group.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Michael Neville

    If the forced-birthers (I refuse to use the “pro-life” appelation) really wanted to curtail abortions they’d promote the two things shown to reduce abortion rates, comprehensive sex education and easy access to contraceptives.

  • Anat

    Let’s also not forget that it took several years after 1973 for non-Catholics to care about abortion in the first trimester. Others have shown that it had to do with the right wing hate groups realizing that desegregation of schools was no longer a hot-button issue, and they were fishing for a new one.

  • Exactly. Instead of taking measures to limit unwanted pregnancies, wait until women are in desperate straits and then punish them. How compassionate!

  • The clock was definitely ticking for the right wing. The ERA was approved by the Senate in 1972 and sent to the states for ratification. If it hadn’t been for pro-life scaremongering, women in the USA might have had Constitutional rights for a half century already.

  • blogcom

    You know the depth of argument from the progressive side is becoming more juvenile and ideological by the day.
    The ’60’s revolutionaries have a lot to answer for, do you think they might get the message when the head of Bill Ayers is posted to it’s leaders in the mail?

  • I could stomach the jejune insults and partisan numbnuttery. But I just can’t condone unnecessary apostrophes on this blog.

  • One inappropriate apostrophe is a slippery slope to the normalization of multiple exclamation points.

  • Trent Horn

    That’s pretty brazen to say that half the country belongs to a hate group. Would you like to come on my podcast to discuss your views? You can listen to a similar exchange I had with someone who is pro-choice here: https://soundcloud.com/trenthornpodcast/143-a-dialogue-on-safe-abortion-with-a-pro-choice-advocate

  • And egregious use of semicolons! (clutches pearls)

  • That’s pretty brazen to say that half the country belongs to a hate group.

    In 1967, when Loving v. Virginia made interracial marriage legal throughout the US, 75% of American adults disapproved of interracial marriage. 75% of American adults had endorsed racism as part of their ordering of the world. 75% of American adults were wrong.

    Why is it so hard to believe that so many people could be irrationally, hatefully wrong? It happens all the time.

  • Michael Neville

    If you want to have a discussion there’s one going on right now on this blog thread. Just parrot the “teachings” of the supposedly celibate, professional bachelors of the Vatican here and we’ll be happy to show that, as usual, the Catholic Church is an anti-humanist organization solely interested in power over others.

    Ready, set, go….

  • Trent Horn

    I find comment threads to be very unproductive when it comes to having good discussions. If you or the author want to come on my podcast then I think that would be a far better use of 30 minutes for all of us.

  • Michael Neville

    So you’re not interested in having a discussion, you’re just promoting your podcast. Thanks but I’ve got more productive things to do like groom my nose hair.

  • Chris DeVries

    Also, it’s not half the country. Estimates vary, but generally speaking polls show that between 60-65% of Americans think that abortion should be legal in either all or most cases. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still like 80 million American adults who belong to this particular hate group (I like that characterization, and find it absolutely appropriate), but part of their rhetorical advantage is that theirs is the majority position (or close to it)…that’s 100% NOT true. In some states (and in the more rural regions of others), sure, but nationally, the pro-abortion rights position is the majority one.

    Moreover, people in the US don’t generally know this (since knowledge of stuff that happens outside of the US rarely permeates the American consciousness), but north of the border in Canada (where I live), there are basically NO legal restrictions on abortion. Doctors won’t generally abort viable pregnancies (late 3rd trimester) without a good reason…they’ll induce labour, or perform a C-section instead…but abortions are technically legal in Canada at any time. And lo and behold, without all of the BS restrictions in the US, something like 98% of all abortions happen before the 21st week (based on the last menstrual period method of measuring gestation), and the vast majority of those happen before week 13. Late term abortions only happen when there is a problem with the health of the mother, or the fetus. So I know that the US Supreme Court (in Roe v. Wade, and since then) has kind of divided pregnancy up into portions where the mother gets the final say in the 1st trimester, state rules regulating abortion are okay in the 2nd, and there needs to be a really good reason for an abortion in the 3rd…but that legal mumbojumbo is absolutely unnecessary. Without such rules, somehow we get by perfectly well without a plethora of late-term abortions in Canada. It’s almost like trusting women to make decisions about their own health and family, etc…WORKS. I find the rhetoric of the “pro-life” movement in the US (and here in Canada…here it’s mostly Catholics, but we do have such a movement) incredibly infantilizing, like women are just out for themselves, and they don’t care about anything else. I don’t think anyone plans to be in a position where they need an abortion. That’s just ridiculous. But life happens, and women are absolutely able to make the choices that are right for them, and a bunch of people telling them that they shouldn’t have that right is just…SO 19th century (and before). It’s 2019…we need to move on from this patriarchal legacy.

  • I find comment threads to be very unproductive when it comes to having good discussions.

    So, then, what brings you to this particular waste of time?

    If you or the author want to come on my podcast then I think that would be a far better use of 30 minutes for all of us.

    Ah. Your hustle. Well, this was very amusing, though from your perspective probably quite unintentionally so.

  • Chris DeVries

    Also, it’s not half the country. Estimates vary, but generally speaking polls show that between 60-65% of Americans think that abortion should be legal in either all or most cases. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still like 80 million American adults who belong to this particular hate group (I like that characterization, and find it absolutely appropriate), but part of their rhetorical advantage is that theirs is the majority position (or close to it)…that’s 100% NOT true. In some states (and in the more rural regions of others), sure, but nationally, the pro-abortion rights position is the majority one.

    Moreover, people in the US don’t generally know this (since knowledge of stuff that happens outside of the US rarely permeates the American consciousness), but north of the border in Canada (where I live), there are basically NO legal restrictions on abortion (in a couple provinces, there are practical restrictions, since there are so few places to obtain an abortion). Doctors won’t generally abort viable pregnancies (late 3rd trimester) without a good reason…they’ll induce labour, or perform a C-section instead…but abortions are technically legal in Canada at any time. And lo and behold, without all of the ludicrous restrictions in the US, something like 98% of all abortions happen before the 21st week (LMP), and the vast majority of those happen in the first trimester. Late term abortions only happen when there is a problem with the health of the mother, or the fetus.

    So I know that the US Supreme Court has kind of divided pregnancy up into portions where the mother gets the final say in the 1st trimester (though in an attempt to challenge Roe, even this is being threatened in many states now), state rules regulating abortion are okay in the 2nd, and there needs to be a really good reason for an abortion in the 3rd…but that legal mumbojumbo is absolutely unnecessary. Without such rules, somehow we get by perfectly well without a plethora of late-term abortions in Canada. It’s almost like trusting women to make decisions about their own health and family, etc…WORKS. I find the rhetoric of the “pro-life” movement in the US (and here in Canada) incredibly infantilizing, like women are just out for themselves, and they don’t care about anything else. I don’t think anyone plans to be in a position where they need an abortion. That’s just ridiculous. But life happens, and women are absolutely able to competently make the choices that are right for them, and a bunch of people telling them that they shouldn’t have that right is just…SO 19th century (and before). It’s 2019…we need to move on from this patriarchal legacy.

  • Trent, I’d have no problem coming on your podcast to discuss my views. But this episode of your podcast doesn’t bode well for a civil discussion, because you’re making the exact mistake I talk about here: trying to make the suffering of women and fetuses equivalent. You explicitly state that the central issue is whether the fetus is a human being or not, and I think the central issue is that a woman shouldn’t be reduced to a housing for a fetus.

    Your analogy to FGM is extremely disturbing to me, since it appeals to the sympathy for women’s bodily autonomy that your anti-choice rhetoric explicitly denies. You basically ignore all of Coco’s appeals to our sympathy for the plight of women in crisis to steer the discussion to your fetus fixation, so I have no idea why I should think you have any legitimate concern for women’s experience.

    Thanks for contributing.

  • Pennybird

    This is slightly off-topic, but it is annoying when those in the pro-choice camp refuse to use the word abortion. How many politicians do we hear say they support “a woman’s right to choose” (not enough, I agree), yet don’t have the courage to state exactly what is being chosen. This falls into the hands of those who will say it is an unspeakable act and it does us no favors.

  • Jim Jones

    Pro-Life Is About Oppressing Women. That’s All.

  • Jim Jones

    I find podcasts annoying as h&ll since I can read faster than others can talk.

  • Claire

    You corralled a teenager into going on your podcast and think this is a fair debate? Is that your intellectual equal? This was just sad.

    The point you keep denying is that WOMEN are human beings. And access to a human being’s body for your benefit is not a human right.

  • Claire

    I think you should pick on someone your own size, rather than a kid who admits she’s uneducated on the topic.

    Give me the questions you intend to ask in advance, and I’ll go on your podcast. I’m a clinic escort, a feminist, and I even used to be antichoice like you.

  • Trent Horn

    Since my podcast features conversations rather than interviews, I don’t have any prepared questions for my guests. We would just have a discussion related to the topic “Should abortion remain legal?” If you would like to come on you can submit your contact info here: http://www.trenthorn.com/contact/

    Also, I did not “pick on” anyone or “corral a kid” as others have said in previous comments. I invited the author of a viral post (whose exact age I did not know) to come on and have a respectful discussion and that’s exactly what happened.

  • Claire

    Do you post the entire discussion or do you edit out the parts that are unfavorable to your own viewpoint?

  • fractal

    Amazing how forced birthers could save millions of embryos simply by promoting folic acid in the diets of fertile women.
    But it is so much more fun to trash women choosing their own life trajectory.

  • fractal

    Go fuck yourself, righty.

  • Claire

    I just filled out the contact form on your website but the response page I got after hitting submit was “page not found”. Let me know if you got it, or if there’s an alternative way to reach you.

  • Trent Horn

    I have replied to your email.

  • Trent, I hope I’m not amiss in pointing out that this blog isn’t your personal recruitment space. I responded to your challenge by accepting, albeit with misgivings, and it’s in rather poor taste for you to ignore my acceptance and continue to fish for suckers hereabouts.

  • Trent Horn

    Hi Shem,

    I did not see your original reply and would be glad to have you on the show. However, I reject your accusation that I have been “fishing for suckers” (do you think that lowly of your commenters?).

    I merely included someone else in my initial reply who wanted me to engage in a combox debate. Then a few weeks later Claire, without prompting from me, offered to come on my show. If you would like to come on the show please send me your contact information here: http://www.trenthorn.com/contact/

    Also, I take issue with the idea that this episode “doesn’t bode well for a civil discussion” simply because I approach abortion with a different moral framework than you do. People can be civil and disagree massively on morality. But of course, that’s something that can be hashed out on air if you like.

  • amyjane2484

    Despising women is a feature of right wingers, religious or otherwise. Women’s personal autonomy has always stuck in their craw. Women with power scares then spitless.

  • You folks may be interested to know that my new buddy Trent Horn here has invited me to be on his podcast to discuss abortion. In two weeks I’m going to call his studio so we can have a little tête-à-tête that’s sure to be civil and constructive.

    Trent has been doing this for a while, and he tends to resort to baby-killer rhetoric. Meanwhile, I look at abortion in the larger cultural context of modernity and the conservative Christian reaction to feminism. I don’t know whether we’re going to be able to find any common ground, and I suppose it’s unlikely that the discussion will ever see the light of day.

    Does anyone have any pointers to offer? Come on, debaters, I’d appreciate some tips.

  • Claire

    Record the conversation yourself and post it, if he refuses to let it see the light of day.