“A woman can insist she would never choose to have an abortion while affirming her support of the right of women to choose and still be an advocate of feminist politics. She cannot be anti-abortion and an advocate of feminism.” –bell hooks, Feminism Is For Everybody
When I saw Christianity Today published an article recently entitled “The Feminist Fight Against Abortion,” I immediately thought of the above quote by bell hooks. Though I don’t completely agree with hooks’ approach here (policing how people self-identify rarely accomplishes much) I don’t have much patience for feminists who are anti-abortion.
For me, this is not merely an issue of “choice” or of “when life begins.” It is an issue of holistic justice, and of the importance of the often-ignored bodily autonomy of oppressed people (here referring to people with uteruses, which includes many women as well as queer/trans and intersex people).
I have argued for years now that one can be personally uncomfortable with abortion and still work for holistic reproductive justice. Yet the feminists quoted in the recent Christianity Today article don’t seem to be going in that direction (with the exception, perhaps, of Rachel Held Evans, who seems to support the holistic reproductive health work Planned Parenthood does).
Take Sarah Bessey’s quote in the piece, for instance, which includes the line:
Abortion is a sign that we have failed women somehow, I think.
While Bessey does advocate for some holistic approaches to reproductive health (equal pay, contraception, etc.), she is still anti-abortion because it is “a sign that we have failed women.”
Can abortion be a sign that we have failed people with uteruses?*
But my question for Sarah Bessey is, so what? Does that mean that abortion is “violence against women,” as Bessey argues on her blog?
I think of domestic violence shelters, the existence of which is undoubtedly a sign that we live in a society that has failed women. If domestic violence did not exist, if women had more access to the resources needed to survive without their abusive partners, etc. perhaps we would not need these shelters.
But we don’t live in that world, and we aren’t even close.
No one would claim that we must tear down these shelters and focus on changing society. Society, obviously, needs to change, and if we focus only on building shelters and not on larger structural issues, we do fail women.
But we still need shelters. They aren’t “violence against women.”
They are a necessary safety net. They are a bandage on wounds that need to be healed with holistic approaches, but without those bandages, women would–often literally–bleed to death while waiting for change.
Abortion is a similar issue.
In many cases it may be a “bandage” on a larger problem. If people with uteruses had more options–healthcare, guaranteed income, better contraceptives, freedom from rape and abuse–then perhaps fewer “bandages” would be required.**
Yet we don’t live in that world.
Bessey wants to work on structural approaches to holistic justice, which is important.
But what about the people who need solutions now?
Would Bessey advocate defunding domestic violence shelters? How about food pantries? Would she call these “bandage” approaches “violence against survivors” or “violence against poor people?”
I doubt it.
So why this negative approach to Planned Parenthood (an organization that prevents a hell of a lot more abortions through their holistic healthcare than any church can claim to have done)?
There are lessons the pro-choice movement can learn from these pro-life feminists.For instance, the pro-choice Richard Dawkins could learn a thing or two from Hilary Yancey’s (also quoted in the Christianity Today piece) story of her doctors’ insistence on dehumanizing her wanted, unborn child once they learned her child would likely be born with a disability.
Yet, approaches that insist on taking away necessary “bandage” approaches and forcing people into pregnancy are anything but “feminist.”
It often becomes clear, in fact, that many (not all of course) who claim a “pro-life feminist” position don’t actually care about pregnant people and/or people with uteruses.
For instance, Jonathan Merritt, who–after he put out a call to defund Planned Parenthood–behaved in an extremely dismissive, disrespectful manner toward a woman who challenged his position (as seen in this Storify piece by Dianna Anderson).
Another example includes Christian author Preston Yancey, who showed his true colors when challenged on his “defund Planned Parenthood” position, ultimately admitting that he views unwanted pregnancy as merely an “inconvenience.”
I have some empathy for pro-life feminist people who have uteruses, though I am frustrated that many who got to choose now turn around and deny others that same bodily autonomy.
But when it comes to “pro-life feminist” people like Preston Yancey and Merritt, I have no patience.
It is misogyny, pure and simple.
It may be a “benevolent” sexism on the surface, but scratch that surface and you’ll often find a complete lack of empathy for those who are facing the inherent horrific violence of forced pregnancy.
I do not trust these people, and I do not trust this “pro-life feminist” movement that is gaining ground. Ultimately, I believe that it is going to do much more violence and damage than good for the feminist movement and for holistic reproductive justice. I hope I am wrong.
*I emphasize “people with uteruses” rather than simply women. While most of the people who get abortions may identify as women, it is important to recognize the people who have been ignored in reproductive justice circles. Reproductive justice is also important for trans and queer people, as well as intersex people. When taking a truly holistic approach to reproductive justice, we must even consider those who do not have uteruses but are discriminated against in the areas of reproduction–for instance gay cisgender men who wish to adopt, black cisgender men who are prevented from raising their children because of unjust incarceration and police violence, or trans women who are forced to become sterilized in many countries.
**Of course, even in a more perfect world, I would still advocate for legal and safe abortion, because bodily autonomy is necessary for justice.