Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I am pro-abortion, not pro-choice

There’s a interesting conversation going on over at Feministe. Someone wrote in decrying the use of anti-choice to describe folks who are not in favor of abortion. Miranda wrote:
That’s why I much prefer the term anti-choice to pro-life, because that’s what this whole fuss is about: telling women what to do with their bodies, their futures, their lives, instead of letting us choose for ourselves. If anti-choicers were truly pro-life, they would give a shit once the fetus was born — which, you know, they don’t: anti-choicers are the ones who are cutting funds for child care and children’s hospitals. And if they really cared about reducing the number of abortions, they’d stop pouring millions of dollars into bullshit sex ed programs and limiting access to birth control. What they are actually interested in is limiting women’s choices — limiting women’s lives.
Anti-choice is a persuasive rhetorical term, same as pro-life. A lot of people have made a lot of persuasive and interesting statements in the comments, and I think women have a right to their own terminology on this. It's something that affects us, and it's a choice that only we can make, in our uterus and our language. I say pro-abortion and anti-abortion.

As I said in the comments there, I think that couching the debate about abortion in euphemisms is shaming those who make the choice in the affirmative – to get an abortion. So many people, on both sides [links not safe spaces], ascribe a lot of shame to making the choice of having an abortion. Pro-choice sounds to me like “tragic choice”, which implies judgment in a serious way. I don’t think that we should be afraid to say the word abortion. It’s a choice, like any other. Not using the word rings as moralizing to me - what is so awful about the word, and the choice, that we can't just say it?

Why use vague terms that are not descriptive of what the debate is actually about? It's not about the notion of choice philosophically or in all arenas of life - it's about choice with regards to abortion and other reproductive rights. It's not about the idea of life - it's about the life of a parasitic fetus. This debate is about abortion and reproductive rights. It's vague, propagandistic, and childish to say anything else.

Why is abortion the subject which must not speak its name? Folks who are against abortion rights are just that. They're not against all choices, or for all life. Why use a term that implies they are, even if everyone knows we don't mean anti - ALL choices.

I don’t really think that there’s a right or a wrong term to use, as one commenter suggested. I understand that there are people who would not have an abortion, and don't feel comfortable saying that they are not personally for abortion, in their own situation. But one could still say abortion rights, or the equally descriptive pro reproductive rights if they just can't abide by the word abortion in describing your position on it. *

Using the term pro-abortion to describe my attitude politically and personally. I haven't had an abortion, but I might need one next month, or the month after. My partner and I always take measures to prevent pregnancy, but birth control fails. If it did, I would be on the phone to Planned Parenthood to plan my abortion posthaste. Other women may make another choice, and good for them, but if they want an abortion I think they should get it on demand. I am politically, personally, rhetorically, and literally pro-abortion.

ETA for clarity: I am for abortions. I am for aborting fetuses. This does not imply that I am for aborting all fetuses, any more than folks who say anti-choice are saying that anti-abortion rights folks are against all choices, ever.

This is not a theoretical or philosophical choice. I don't pretend that this is about the right to choose. For me, it's about the right to have an abortion. And I'm not alone - it's not a theoretical choice for many, many women. It's a choice, yes, but it's not really a choice for me - and I've got a lot more options than many many women. I am not ready financially, emotionally, or physically to carry a child.

It's not a theoretical choice for me. It's the way that I know I can continue to have authority over my own body.

*Perhaps I am, in turn, being too judgemental. How should I decree how other women describe their position towards such a personal subject? Folks should use the language they're comfortable with. This is a summary of the years-long argument I've been having with myself on the issue.


  1. I think pro/anti-reproductive rights/freedom is more accurate than 'pro-abortion'. The thing is, I really don't think 'pro-abortion' is an accurate term, at least for me, and it's not even remotely because I think abortion is shameful or because I'm interested in euphemisms. If I got pregnant, yeah, I would most likely be extremely pro-abortion for me, but as I said in the Feministe thread, I really don't have any investment in what other women do. That's why I'm not sure it would be reasonable to refer to myself as pro-abortion/pro-birth/pro-pregnancy - I don't really care what other women choose to do; one choice is as good as another - what's important to me is that women have the legal right to make whatever choice is the best for them (and for the record, I don't think there should be any legal restrictions on abortion - I think the whole concept is insulting and implies women can't be trusted to make decisions for ourselves). Does that make sense? It's not the decision itself that matters so much; it's the ability/right to make a choice.

    Just my thoughts, anyway. :)

  2. This is a really fraught issue, and I think it's instinctual. The main issue I would take with this comment is not your reasoning, which seems like it's in line for you at least - if the choice is what you value, then that's the way you should phrase it, but I'm about the ability and the right to do it more than the actual choice. I just don't think that there's any one "accurate" terminology - the language, as the choice, is personal.

    But that's just me. :)

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your ideas!

  3. The problem is that saying 'pro-abortion' makes it sound like you're all for aborting fetuses. As if that's what you support. That's not what you're all for, if I'm reading this right. It sounds like you're all for women have the choice to do with their bodies what they will. That's why I think pro-choice is a more accurate phrasing of the philosophy. I understand that you want to call a spade a spade but in this case I don't think it serves your position.

    Also, I'm all for reproductive rights or whatever you want to call it but I'd hardly go so far as to say that abortion is "...a choice, like any other." It's not like you're selecting toilet paper.

  4. The problem is that saying 'pro-abortion' makes it sound like you're all for aborting fetuses. As if that's what you support.

    No, I am all for aborting fetuses. I do support abortion. I support women who make the choice in the affirmative. If there were a fetus in my belly, I would abort it. I am for aborting fetuses. I don't think that all fetuses should be aborted. But if people want to abort fetuses, they should abort fetuses. Focusing on the choice to me implies that I shouldn't make the choice in the affirmative. It's not about "having the choice" for me. It's about having the ability to have an abortion.

    It serves my position because I think that using euphemisms is shaming. Abortion is not always a tragic choice, and I shouldn't be forced to feel shamed or conflicted about it by not using the word when I talk about it.

    but I'd hardly go so far as to say that abortion is "...a choice, like any other." It's not like you're selecting toilet paper.

    Well, why not? I don't think that we should moralize this choice. It may be a tragic choice for some women, but for some it's just a necessary choice. Maybe it's not for you. It wouldn't be that trivial for me, but if it is for others I'm not going to judge them.

  5. Pro-choice is a political label, not a ethical or philosophical one. It unites people that believe people have a right to decide what they do with their own bodies.

    I think abortion is wrong and is tragic. But I don't think the government (or anyone) should control what people do with their own bodies.

    So you and I definitely don't agree about abortion (and maybe thus you don't give a shit about what I think anyway) but we do agree on choice.

    Pro-choice is a helpful big-tent label in terms of reproductive rights.

  6. I think you make some good points. I would agree that pro-abortion sounds like being for aborting all fetuses, it is by and large because of way we currently and historically addressed the topic. I for one am pro-woman's rights. The women is the cognitive being in the situation when an abortion is concerned, and the fetus(used for all stages of the unborn) has no rights, and if you must say it does have rights, it doesn't have rights over the woman who would be forced to make life-altering changes (whether she keeps the child or not).
    Another not- I've always been against the term "pro-life" because of its obvious political tactics. The term is there to facilitate the thinking "if you're not pro-life than you must be pro-death or pro-killing"

  7. yeah, I came from feministe, and have more or less the same statement here as I did there-pro abortion makes it sound like you think there is one right choice for women, the same way that pro-life does. There simply isn't, either way. It's got to be up to the woman involved. Which is why I'd be okay with pro-rights, or pro-abortion access. because that's important. but to say pro-abortion makes it sound like the abortion is the most important thing. That obscures other things that I think are important-birth control access to allow women who don't want to be pregnant to avoid getting pregnant in the first place; and support for women who really do want to keep a pregnancy. These are both aspects of why choice means more than just abortion to me.

  8. actually, I'll go out there and ask it-You say you're pro-abortion not pro-choice. What does that mean when confronted with a currently pregnant woman who wants to be a mother, but needs help affording to feed and clothe and house her baby? I agree with you that we have to be honest that abortion isn't always a tragic choice. I'd have an abortion no question if I got pregnant right now. For some people it really is just that simple. but not for every single woman in existence.

  9. KB, I think you need to read my thoughts for carefully. Pro-abortion describes my specific beliefs on abortion and are strongly tied to my body.

    For her, abortion & reproductive rights means something different than to me. "Pro-abortion" reflects my personal beliefs on abortion. It does not mean that I am not also pro-reproductive rights, which is how I would describe my attitude towards the situation you describe.

  10. no, I do know these thoughts are more based around you. I guess my question is more political then-your belief is that you'd have an abortion, no shame. and I support that. and I know you've said you aren't for aborting all fetuses everywhere. But how should all of that be reflected in social poliicy? Pro abortion doesn't seem to suffice. so is there a different word that should? to me that's what's more important. What policies around abortion should be implemented? because, frankly, I don't believe in taking too strong of an interest in what a woman does with her body.
    That may not have really been what the post is about, so that's why I'm asking

  11. Great question, kb. My post is mainly linguistic, so there are a lot of answers politically. I think that abortions should be automatically covered by insurance (especially considering women are penalized for carrying pregnancy to term), but there should also be an emphasis on preventing pregnancy through promotion of sex education and lack of shaming around sex, and promotion of different methods of birth control

    This is moving back to personal, but I am much more scared of actually being pregnant than of getting an abortion. My main motivation is not avoiding abortion, but avoiding pregnancy.

    Does that make sense? I've rambled a lot here, I know. You've touched upon something I'm trying to figure out in the posts I'm writing for this coming week.

  12. Very interesting, RMJ, and I agree with you, to an extent. I suppose that, for me, pro-choice is all-encompassing, in that pro-choicers, IMO, support abortion, adoption, parenting, access to these things as well as health care and sex-ed, etc., no judgment involved...But I definitely see where you're coming from as far as your concern that choice = tragic.

  13. What a good point!! And not one that I have heard before. Your personal experience here gives so much weight to what you say. I think that you are right. We should feel comfortable to say pro-abortion if that is how we feel. It's not shameful.

    I have had an abortion and I have also had four children, so I will still call myself pro-choice. I wish all women were free to choose NOT to be Mothers. I wish women were free to keep the children that they want too. The anti-choice faction does nothing to support Mother's rights. So, to me, they are not pro-life, they ARE anti-choice. Anti-abortion they are yes, but they are also so much more than that. They want a world where women are slaves to child-rearing, but have no say over when, whether and how they Mother.

    I want a world where Motherhood is a valid career path that is economically validated with a living wage. Where Motherhood isn't economically dependant on marriage. And a world where abortion is free and freely available when a woman chooses it. That would be a world of true choice. That is the choice that I am pro.

  14. What bothers me the most are those that say that they are pro choice and then quickly qualify that statement by declaring that they would never have an abortion. If you truly support this as a viable option why the need to qualify the decision as though it is terrible. It is apologism pure and simple.

  15. @Cassandra - Thank you so much for sharing your story! It's very valuable.

    @Renee - Exactly! It's all so shaming.

  16. I'd like to see you get pregnant and THEN decide whether you're "Pro-aborting-fetuses." You may shock yourself.

    I'm not saying you'd change your mind, but I've never known a single woman who's aborted a fetus (and nearly every woman I've ever known has had this procedure) and walked away from it saying she's PRO-abortion. I've never met a woman who'd recommend the procedure to anyone as flippantly as you are. It's not a tooth cleaning.

    I am pro-choice and absolutely 100% NOT pro-abortion. Pro-abortion means that I'd advocate for that solution above anything else, regardless of how the woman or her partner feel about it. I think she and her partner should have the CHOICE to make that decision for themselves, as well as the choice to decide how she births that baby if she chooses to keep it. It's about medical autonomy, NOT pushing a lifestyle onto someone else. Saying you're PRO-any procedure is pushing a life choice on others, and yourself, and I maintain that there is no way in this world you have any clue how you'll handle a positive pregnancy test until you see one. You also have no idea how your parter will handle it (and neither does he) until you're there. You can say you won't care what he'll say, that it's your body, but if he looks into your eyes with heartbreak, and you love him, this issue will get messy in your head very fast.

    You seem to make life decisions for yourself/others without the benefit of experience or empirical evidence to root yourself in. That's okay... it's what we all do before we learn that life is much more complicated than we thought it was.

    Decide what you'll call your openness to abortions after you've had one (or not.)

    I call it Pro-autonomy, because it is exactly that, nothing less, and nothing more.

    My "of-course-I'll-have-an-abortion" baby just turned 3.

  17. Gina, what if it were like a tooth cleaning? What if we didn't put that moral weight on it? What if society stopped shaming women and requiring that they see the choice to have an abortion as tragic or a necessary evil?

    I think it would be awesome if we saw it for what it was - a simple surgical procedure. More invasive than tooth cleaning, but not necessarily worse, or more guilt-and-shame inducing.

  18. I commented on a related post on Alas, a blog (the link goes straight to the comment) bringing up the ethical construct of bodily domain and how it essentially ethically justifies complete and total agency by any pregnant individual to abort, even if you consider the fetus a person.

    I really see it as the cardinal argument that essentially crushes every Anti-Abortion argument out there.

    Because the fact is, I have yet to meet or even hear of a single "pro-lifer" who would be okay with the state mandating that they donate their kidney (while they were still alive) to give it to a person who needed a transplant to save their life. I have yet to meet or even hear of a single "pro-lifer" who felt that if killing a rapist was the only way to stop a rape in progress that you weren't ethically justified in doing so (with the exception of one who was actually pretty misogynistic and victim blamed.)

    Fact is, even to so called "pro lifers" there are situations in which killing a human person is justified. So even their own reasoning for calling themselves pro life doesn't hold water.

    In the end it all comes down to abortion itself and reproductive freedom to these people.

  19. Rachel,

    No moral judgment involved - speaking only in medical terms here - but how can you know if it's like a tooth cleaning unless you've had an abortion yourself?

    You can look at all the drawings and diagrams you can get your hands on, but until you've experienced a procedure (this or any other) there is no way in the world you have any idea whether you'd be "for" or "against" it - even for yourself. It's like saying you love Sweden without ever once having stepped foot in the country.

    You are shackling yourself to a procedure without having any first-hand experience with it - which is, in turn, removing your own choice to think critically about the many components (both phsyically and emotionally) of having the procedure.

    Medically speaking, it is nothing at all like a tooth cleaning. I haven't watched a friend cramp, bleed, and sob in pain for 6 days after a tooth cleaning. I've never seen a person bound back into work while getting an abortion on their lunch break (which is when I get my teeth cleaned - there's a "hot dentist" in the building next door that we all go to.) ;)

    Whether it be a kidney transplant, or an abortion, or a cesarean, or living to Sweden - you can't be Pro-something you've never done, or even been in the situation to do.

    You CAN, however, support your own right, and others' rights, to remain free to make those choices for themselves when they ARE faced with those situations.

    Until then, you're chaining yourself to a procedure and a life choice that you've never been in the position of making.

  20. Gina, thanks for your consideration and time in commenting. I don't think either of us are going to change each other's minds her (as per usual :) ) but I do really like this quote:

    You are shackling yourself to a procedure without having any first-hand experience with it - which is, in turn, removing your own choice to think critically about the many components (both phsyically and emotionally) of having the procedure.

    I don't agree, but it's an articulate and well-taken point. Thanks for joining in the conversation.

  21. I think the most important part of the above statement is that it can go either way, and apply to either side of the debate.

    Whether you're pro-abortion, or anti-abortion, one just never knows until they're in that situation. Isn't that the argument that most of us "pro-choicers" make to the "pro-lifers?" We march and chant and tell them "never say never until you're daughter/wife/sister/neice is faced with an unwanted pregnancy."

    I say never-say-never goes both ways.

  22. The problem is that my identifying as "pro-choice" goes beyond just the abortion issue and limiting it to "pro-abortion" ignores that.

    I am pro-choice in that I believe women -- and all people -- should have full autonomy over their bodies.

    I believe women should be able to choose abortion. I also believe that women should be able to choose to NOT have an abortion.

    I believe that pregnant women should be allowed to choose when, how, where, and with whom to give birth.

    I believe that individuals should be allowed to choose their own time and manner of death if they so choose.

    If my pro-choice values were just about abortion, I may label them as such. But they are much bigger than that and encompass a values-based philosophy on life in general. Not just where it involves an embryo or fetus.

  23. This is a year late. But comments saying "you don't know if you're for the procedure until you've had one" come across as terribly patronizing. I don't see that being told to women who want to become pregnant/mothers. Ever.

    And not all abortions mean crying for 6 days afterward. You may know women who had the procedure and act one way, but I can say that I know women who haven't acted that way post-abortion.

    And the "my would be abortion is now 3 years old" comment? Really, really unnecessary. "Well I changed my mind so you'll change yours." Guess what? There are plenty of women who believe that they'll quickly get an abortion, and not feel bad about it. And they get the abortion, and feel relieved and happy.

  24. Now that people are coming back and looking again - I have had an abortion, and for me it was not much worse than a tooth cleaning. More like a tooth pulling, maybe (haven't had one of those yet, though!) - you get drugged and experience a short moment of discomfort. My pains were less severe than regular period cramps, and lasted only for a few hours. I had my abortion in the afternoon after work, so I did not go back to work straight after, but I was there the next morning at 8 am, with no trouble.

    There were several painful moments in the process of getting an abortion - phoning around for hours trying to find the right person to talk to, two mandated counseling sessions with 1-week waiting period inbetween, mandated ultra-sound and blood test, the doctor at my check-up the week after being a patronizing, misogynistic asshole, no one in the whole process ever believing me when I tell them that hormone pills render me mentally unstable. If not for all this crap, I would even have been in time for the miscarriage-inducing pill (I forgot what it's called, R-something?) instead of having to have my uterus vacuumed (which is a more invasive procedure). But the actual procedure was not the problem.

    So, yeah. Abortion was definitely the right choice for me, and I am unabashedly in favor of unrestricted access for all, or pro-abortion as RMJ defines it.

    However, I still prefer the label pro-choice, because I really think the important part is the choice, not the medical procedure. Whether you become a mother or not, you are far less likely to feel regret and resentment, if you felt in control of the situation and uncoerced in your choice.

  25. I'm sticking to pro-choice here, it is a valid and honest description and here is why: I support the right of women to decide her reproductive fate, period. This means everything from contraception choices, to who she is sexual with, to staying pregnant or not to how she is pregnant and when, where and with whom she delivers with.

    Too often I read women who are "pro-life" rally against the right to choose an abortion and yet they are pro-birthers, that is support the right to choose when, where, and with whom a woman delivers. It is hypocritical to support the right of a woman to choose a very bad choice in some cases of birthing at home and also not support her right not to remain pregnant. To me we humans spend to much fucking time dictating what a woman can do with her body that it comes down to supporting a woman's right to medical autonomy even when it may not be the "best" choice in my opinion, I mean, are not women adults?

    So, you can use the term pro-abortion but I think you're missing a bigger picture here, it's about, to me, medical autonomy when it keeps being taken away from us. I am pro-choice, I support women and all their choices.

  26. Interesting. I am more on the "pro-life" end of the spectrum and you know that on a million other blogs "pro-lifers" are arguing the hypocrisy of being called pro-choice and stating that most of pro-choicers are really just anti-life or pro-abortion. I am very much opposed to abortion and I do not think that it should be any woman's right. However, I agree entirely on your point about the titles that the sides take. No, pro-life does not mean pro ALL life. And pro-choice certainly doesn't mean that you advocate for woman to have ALL choices. You certainly don't support her choice to steal or murder etc... So I think the titles should change to pro-abortion and anti-abortion. This doesn't mean that a pro-abortion person would be pro-abortion in every situation, but that you are support legalized abortion.
    I think this would clear up much of the abortion debate where people quit debating the actually problems and viewpoints and just turn it into the death penalty and welfare.

  27. I use anti-abortion, but not pro-abortion. My logic is that, anti-abortionists disagree with the specifics of abortions, and insist that they should not be performed, while pro-abortionists do not insist that abortions should always be performed. The positions are not opposites, and do not require opposite terminology.

    I am pro-reproductive choice, but not pro-abortion. I would love to live in a world where we didn't require abortion, where contraception always worked, where everyone knew exactly what they wanted, and no one ever made mistakes, or was raped or coerced. Since we do not live in that world, I support abortions on demand. However, it is a horrible thing for a person to go through, and I hope that one day, we reach a point where we don't need it.

  28. I've never known a single woman who's aborted a fetus (and nearly every woman I've ever known has had this procedure) and walked away from it saying she's PRO-abortion.

    Now you do.

    I was 20, in college, no job, with a boyfriend that I knew was not going to be my life-partner -- though he was a good guy and stuck by me through the abortion. I was self-aware enough to understand I was emphatically not emotionally mature enough to be a mother. I was stressy and snappy because I knew having a baby would be bad for both of us.

    When I woke up after the abortion I was both relieved and thrilled -- it was like a crushing weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Does that make me a bad person? I don't think so. If anything, it makes me a realist -- I recognized I'd be a deeply resentful mother at that time.

    For myself, I prefer the term pro-choice to pro-abortion. Two reasons: one, I understand your argument and think it has some validity, and two, I really do think this is about personal choice and autonomy -- it's not just about abortion to me.

    I would also note that I can be anti-rape without experiencing one -- nor do I wish to. It has been my experience that the theft of a woman's bodily autonomy -- regardless of how that theft is acted out upon her person -- is an act of violence and control, rather than sex or morality.


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