Let’s start some shit, shall we?
It’s election season, which means there are lots of arguments about all kinds of different things. And since this presidential election likely has Supreme Court nomination ramifications, one of the big issues that comes up is abortion.
What’s interesting to me is that I find myself in conversations where people assume that of course I’m pro-life or of course I’m pro-choice, even though I frequently disagree with both of those camps. While I would assert that this is an issue with a lot of nuance and gray areas, it seems to me that most people consider it to be a purely black and white issue.
My feminist friends post things that tell me that if I’m not pro-choice, my feminism is shit (and also probably racist). My Christian friends post things that tell me that if I don’t vote pro-life, my Christianity is shit (and also probably racist).
(This blog post is not really going to address the fact that black women and black communities are frequently used as rhetorical devices and argumentative pawns by the white people who dominate this conversation, but I will say that it’s gross and disgusting and should definitely stop.)
Well, I guess my feminism and my Christianity are both shit, because I refuse to align with either side in this debate. Both sides are hypocritical and both sides are more concerned with yelling and talking past each other than they are with listening. Both sides use the facts and narratives and perspectives that support their side and stick their fingers in their ears when something might contradict their view.
This issue does not have a cut-and-dry, black-and-white “right” answer and anyone who insists it does is being intellectually dishonest. People who seek abortions are not one-size-fits-all, so no answer is going to fit 100% of the time. I’ve gotten to see the two sides from the inside and I want to give them both some things to consider.
To my pro-choice friends: I get that you want the government to get their hands off your body. I really, really do. But to call a fetus a clump of cells and act like there’s nothing else going on there “because science” isn’t the most solid of arguments. Tell a woman who miscarried at 6 weeks or 8 weeks or at any point, really, that it was just a clump of cells and let me know how that works out for you.
Yes, a pregnant woman has a right to bodily autonomy the same way we can’t force people to donate their organs even if it would save a life. The difference is that a kidney does not have autonomy because it’s a kidney. A fetus is a human being to at least some extent which means it also has its own bodily autonomy. It’s not just another organ.
And I can already hear you screaming at me – “it’s not a human being when it’s a fetus!” Okay. When does it become a human being? When it’s born? When it could survive outside the womb? When it can feed itself as a child? You have to address that question. It can’t be legally considered a person when a pregnant woman is murdered and not legally considered a person when a pregnant woman wants to abort it. Y’all love to talk about hypocrisy on the pro-life side, but you’ve got to deal with your own inconsistencies as well. Too often pro-choice arguments refuse to deal with the question of when we consider a human life to be a human life, and not addressing that question can open the door to a whole lot of messy things like eugenics and euthanasia.
And I get that the pro-life side is hypocritical. Especially ostensibly pro-life politicians who see no problem with the death penalty or police brutality or carpet-bombing or drone strikes. Sure, hypocrisy makes it really hard to listen to an argument, but it doesn’t actually mean the argument is wrong.
To my pro-life friends: YOUR HYPOCRISY MAKES IT REALLY HARD TO LISTEN TO YOUR ARGUMENT. You know what else makes it hard to listen? Misinformation, picket signs, and scare tactics.
You care so much about the sanctity of human life that you want to make it impossible for women to get an abortion, but once the baby is born she’s on her own? And God forbid she actually learn about effective birth control methods in the first place? Or have access to those birth control methods, or even basic healthcare, regardless of her socioeconomic status? And the best way to go about doing this is by standing on college campuses and street corners and outside Planned Parenthood with giant signs screaming at people?
You need to actually listen to women, and you need to listen to women who are not exactly the same as you. You’ve heard from women who view motherhood as the greatest gift they’ve ever received, and that’s great. You’ve heard from women who have had abortions and feel immense regret and sadness and sometimes even trauma because of them, and those stories are important.
But there are also women who have had abortions and do not feel regret or trauma, who still believe that it was the best decision they could have made for themselves and their family. There are women for whom having a child would not feel like a gift, but would actually feel like a death sentence. I, for one, have a viscerally negative reaction to even the thought of pregnancy, and motherhood has never been something I’ve desired. But just like I can’t take those personal feelings and extrapolate them to all women, you can’t act like every woman would embrace pregnancy and motherhood as a gift if she just tried.
If you truly care about protecting life, you also need to be concerned about the lives of women who are not like you. You cannot just make abortion illegal, wipe your hands, and call it a day. You have to be a part of building a society where a positive pregnancy test doesn’t feel like financial ruin or the loss of a career or a loss of personhood. You have to acknowledge that carrying a baby to term and giving it up for adoption is not an “easy alternative.” You need to have compassion for the living, breathing women who are affected by this issue. Millions of women feel like they have no options or control over what happens to their bodies – we have to address that. Abortion is a symptom, not the root of the problem.
Oh yeah, and quit dehumanizing the other side by calling them murderers and baby-killers and acting like any woman who gets an abortion is just a selfish whore who should have kept her legs closed. If you think pregnancy is a just punishment for what you consider bad morals and women should just suffer the consequences, you’re not pro-life; you’re an asshole.
Look, those on either side of this issue want people to live happy, healthy lives and want children to be safe and cared for. We need to stop with the rhetoric and the pithy catchphrases. We need to stop shouting over each other and dismissing the other perspective out of hand. We have to start listening. We have to learn empathy.
The older I get and the more I learn, the more convinced I am that the best way to start dealing with so many problems is by listening to those we don’t usually hear. Maybe that means that the next time the issue comes up, you don’t actually share your perspective. This is super hard; trust me, I know. Ask anyone who eats lunch with me at work – I really like sharing my perspective. But if this issue is as important as we all say it is, it’s worth putting aside our own desire to have all the answers. It’s worth listening to someone else for awhile.