What would we do without Katha Pollitt? By "we", I mean the progressive world at large, but especially feminists. Few people outside the US may realize how far the war against women has gone there. In her recent column, "Prochoice Puritans", Pollitt holds the radical line.
Do you think abortion is tragic and terrible and wrong, that Roe v. Wade went too far and that the prochoice movement is elitist, unfeeling, overbearing, overreaching and quite possibly dead? In the current debate over abortion, that makes you a prochoicer. As the nation passes the thirty-third anniversary of Roe, it is hard to find anyone who will say a good word in public for abortion rights, let alone for abortion itself. Abortion has become a bit like flag-burning--something that offends all right-thinking people but needs to be legal for reasons of abstract principle ("choice"). Unwanted pregnancy has become like, I don't know, smoking crack: the mark of a weak, undisciplined person of the lower orders.

On the New York Times op-ed page, William Saletan argues that prochoicers should concede that "abortion is bad, and the ideal number of abortions is zero," and calls for "an explicit pro-choice war on the abortion rate." Sounding a "clear anti-abortion message," prochoicers should promote a basket of "solutions" to unintended pregnancy: the Prevention First Act, which calls for federal funding for family planning programs; expanded access to health insurance and emergency contraception; comprehensive sex education. "Some pro-choice activists" are even "pushing for more contraceptive diligence in the abortion counseling process, especially on the part of those women who come back for a second abortion." Give those sluts the lecture they deserve.

Saletan is a very shrewd analyst of political framing. Indeed, plenty of Democrats have already picked up the "I hate abortion" mantra. I seem always to be reading calls from prochoicers to antichoicers to work together on contraception. Calling their bluff sounds so clever. Why isn't it working?

The problem is, although of course many abortion opponents support birth control, the organized antichoice movement hates it. To the movement, the most effective birth control methods--the Pill, emergency contraception, the IUD--are "abortifacients" and "mini-abortions," and even barrier methods like the condom promote a "contraceptive mentality": a selfish, licentious attitude that leads straight to abortion hell. Wherever antichoicers have political power, they've slashed funds for family-planning clinics, passed laws enabling pharmacists to deny women EC and the Pill and promoted abstinence-only sex ed that tells kids condoms don't work. In 2003 the Republican-controlled Missouri state legislature handed over the entire state family-planning budget for poor women to "abortion alternatives" centers. Among antichoicers, the political will to mount a significant public-health campaign for contraception, safe sex and accurate information simply does not exist. Democrats for Life of America is pushing "95-10," a plan they claim would reduce abortions by 95 percent in ten years. It doesn't even mention birth control. And that's the liberals!

And there's another problem, too. Inevitably, attacking abortion as a great evil means attacking providers and patients. If abortion is so bad, why not stigmatize the doctors who perform them? Deny the clinic a permit in your town? Make women feel guilty and ashamed for choosing it and make them sweat so they won't screw up again? Ironically, improvements in contraception have made unwanted pregnancy look more like a personal failing. "Why was I so careful? Because I never wanted to have an abortion," wrote 32-year-old Laurie Gigliotti in response to Saletan's op-ed, describing her super-vigilant approach to safe sex. You can just see how unwanted pregnancy will join obesity and smoking as unacceptable behavior in polite society. But how is all this censoriousness supposed to help women control their fertility? If half of all pregnancies are unplanned, it doesn't make sense to treat them as individual sins.

Fact is, there will never be zero abortions. Half the women who abort are using birth control already--there are no perfect methods or perfect people, except maybe Laurie Gigliotti. Even in small, tidy, prosperous Sweden and the Netherlands, there are abortions. So how can there be zero abortions in America, with our ramshackle healthcare system, our millions of poor people, our high school graduates who can't even read a prescription information sheet?
There's more here.

Pro-choice activists have a saying: most people in America are against abortion, with three exceptions - rape, incest, and me. All this moralizing makes me sick.


Unknown said...

Thanks for posting that piece. Have you seen this, as well?

"The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion"

And on that cheery note, hello. I'm lj user=who_is_sylvia, I'm a Californian in Oregon and the only Diefenbaker I know of is a dog on television, but I'm trying to learn more, since I've seriously considered becoming a Canadian for a while. . .

laura k said...

Hello! Thanks for stopping by, and thank you so much for highlighting wmtc on LJ.

If you're thinking of moving to Canada, you might want to read up on the links on the right (process, timeline, etc.), and feel free to email me with questions.

I do know that "moral abortion" piece. Thanks for linking to it here.

David Cho said...

"most people in America are against abortion, with three exceptions - rape, incest, and me"

LOL. Never heard that before even though I consider myself pretty well versed in the abortion debate.

I think it applies to virtually everything. Everybody hates lawyers until they need one, for example.

Marnie said...

... settling in to enjoy the show ...

laura k said...

Sorry, no show this time. If I hadn't been writing another post at the time, that comment would have been instantly deleted.

Daniel wbc said...

Thank you, L-girl, for this post. I am pro-choice, but always feel kind of on the outside, like I can't say anything, because I'm a gay man. This gave me something to think about.

I will say that I find it very interesting that women are always "blamed" for pregnancies, as though they got there alone. OK, I'm not the best on this sort of thing, but isn't there usually a man involved? Why does no one ever talk about the *men* and why is the stigma always the woman's? And why are we so big on blame anyway?

And don't get me started on lying to kids in school. Lie to kids about drugs, about sex, etc., they'll never believe a word you say when they figure it out. And then how does education work in those circumstances?

Sorry if this is rant-y.

laura k said...

Daniel wbc, it wasn't ranty, but you'd be welcome to rant on this blog anytime. :)

I appreciate your thoughts, and they are so on the money.

but always feel kind of on the outside, like I can't say anything, because I'm a gay man.

Every anti-choice man in the US seems to feel entitled to decide what women can and cannot do. You are at least as entitled to speak up to denounce that.