Recently my FB newsfeed delivered
me this gem: “5 Thing Pro-Choicers Wish Their
Anti-Choice Friends Understood
To my disappointment, the article includes plenty of sarcasm, negative
assumptions, and (in my experience) incorrect stereotypes. It certainly doesn’t
come off as a conversation between friends, so maybe the title was just
But I really do have pro-choice
friends. Family too. I get along with them well, for the most part. And I
appreciate when we have opportunities to explore each other’s perspectives in a
non-combative way. To that end, I wrote this article as if I were discussing
these issues with friends. I know there are plenty of people who feel more
comfortable with the cartoon villain versions of their ideological opponents…
…but if you recognize that life
is more shades of gray than black and white, this post is for you. (As Timothy Brahm said
, “There are no Snidely Whiplashes…”)
We’re so much more than a bunch of old straight religious
white Republican men.
I actually think that anyone who
is (a) intellectually honest and (b) paying enough attention probably already
realizes this, so I am going to go through these misconceptions kind of quickly
and move on to the less known issues.
We’re not all religious.
a. Depending on polls, between
one sixth and one fifth of nonreligious Americans are anti-abortion. (See “Are you One of Six Million?
b. The non-religious pro-lifer
isn’t a “fake” secularist either. Atheist apologist Christopher Hitchens
himself argued on behalf of the
c. The U.S. is becoming less
religious all the time; in particular, the youngest generation identifies less
with religion than generations before us. Yet national anti-abortion sentiment
remains largely unchanged—for every generation
We’re not all white.
51% of African Americans and 61%
of Hispanic Americans think abortion is morally wrong. And a range of 30% to 40%
of African Americans as well as 50% of Hispanic Americans think abortion should
generally be illegal. A multivariate analysis
of answers about abortion from
the General Social Survey going back four decades found that black men and
women have consistently been less accepting of abortion than white men and
Many people on both sides
of the debate are aware of the
disproportionate rates of abortion for African American and Latino communities.
It’s important to recognize this disproportion isn’t something people of color
readily accept. Many people within these communities are anti-abortion.
Historically the pro-life
movement was actually quite progressive
, and the Democratic Party was
more accepting of pro-lifers in its ranks. Unfortunately, now being pro-choice
seems to be a litmus test of a “true” Democrat. It makes sense to me that the
same groups who insist all pro-lifers are Republicans insist any
self-identifying pro-life Democrat isn’t a “real” Democrat, regardless of how
many leftist positions the person holds. But wishing the stereotype-defying
pro-lifers will disappear won’t make it so.
We’re not all men.
Not even close, actually. Of all the demographic stereotypes pushed on the
pro-life movement, I think the gender narrative is the most strident and
possibly most dishonest.
Even if the ratios aren’t 1:1,
there are real correlations between being pro-life and right-wing or being
pro-life and religious. And given the strong correlation between being LGBT and
being a left-winger, there’s probably a real correlation between being pro-life
and straight. And while the data isn’t there to support the “old” and “white”
stereotypes, people don’t harp on those factors nearly as often as they repeat
the gender myth.
The “anti-choice war on women”
narrative is ubiquitous: out-of-touch, controlling, misogynistic men are the
driving force of the pro-life movement, and any woman who doesn’t hate herself
is pro-choice. By now the idea is conventional wisdom. It’s also total
According to Gallup
, once you account for the margin
of error, women are just as likely as men to think abortion should be illegal
all or most of the time. Moreover, there are significantly more women who think
abortion should generally be illegal than there are those who think it should generally
And this trend is reflected in
the makeup of the pro-life movement. Despite the endlessly echoed (and uncited)
claim that “77% of anti-abortion leaders are men,” much of our movement is led by women
I think it’s possible for
intellectually honest people who just aren’t that involved in the abortion
debate to miss the pro-life secularists, LGBT people, and other non-traditional
pro-lifers. But a person would have to really not be paying attention to
genuinely believe the pro-life woman is an anomaly.
(Click to enlarge.)
2. We’re not anti-woman.
This accusation actually comes in two forms.
first and more common form is that pro-lifers are against abortion because
we don’t respect or like women.
That is, our misogyny motivates us to try to control women’s bodies, choices,
I think this idea comes about largely
because many pro-choicers assume the fetus is not a morally relevant human
being, and, importantly, they further assume pro-lifers secretly or
subconsciously agree with this view. If that’s the case, our anti-abortion
efforts can’t truly be motivated by concern for human lives; there must be some
other, more sinister reason we’re making such a big deal about abortion. It
must be because we’re misogynists, and we talk about human rights only as a
cover for our disdain.
But this perspective doesn’t
explain why abortion views don’t divide along gender lines or why there are so
many female pro-life activists, including pro-life leaders (see point #1f). And
it definitely doesn’t explain the existence of feminist pro-lifers—by that I
mean people who share traditionally feminist goals outside of abortion on
demand. For example there are plenty of pro-lifers who care about fighting rape culture
, decreasing gender stereotypes
, increasing support for pregnant women
(and parents and families in
general), and generally fighting prejudice based on gender
, and race
. You can be for all of those
goals and also against abortion. I am.
And, most of the time, when I
develop friendships of some depth with people who are pro-choice, they
recognize my passion for gender issues and my embrace of the feminist label,
and they see that my anti-abortion stance is based on reasoning quite separate
from any anti-woman sentiment. This is one of the reasons I think it’s so good
for us to have friends who think differently than we do: friendship destroys
prejudice. We’ve seen this when it comes to race and sexuality, and I think it
can also be true for politics. Some of my pro-choice friends have told me they
think differently about pro-lifers just for having known me, and I feel the
same way about them.
I’m not pretending there’s no
such thing as a misogynist pro-lifer. Misogyny is a real problem, and I believe
some pro-lifers are misogynists because some people are misogynists (and a lot
of people are pro-life). But I don’t think the two views are as correlated as
our opposition likes to insist. In fact, I suspect the more you get to know
pro-lifers, the more you’ll see how much many of us care (see point #7) and the
less you’ll believe we all just hate women.
The second form of the anti-woman accusation is sort of a fall back from the
first. When face-to-face with pro-lifers who clearly do care about women, some
pro-choicers will say that, while we may not have specifically anti-woman motivations, it doesn’t matter because
our goal of restricting abortion will have anti-woman effects.
First, this makes the
“anti-woman” accusation pretty misleading. We generally accuse people of being
“anti-[whatever group]” based on their motivations, not their effects.
Conflating motivation and effect is the tactic used to accuse pro-woman
policies of being “anti-man,” religious diversity policies of being
“anti-Christian,” or affirmative action policies of being “anti-white.” This
tactic ignores the positive, affirmative reasons people might hold a position
and insists such people, by definition, are “anti-[whatever group],” regardless
of their actual motivations or feelings on the subject. So I think this version
of the “anti-woman” accusation is pretty disingenuous.
Second, it’s not at all clear
that abortion restrictions are anti-woman while fully embracing abortion is
pro-woman. Many of us believe unrestricted abortion is the excuse society uses
to not support pregnant and
parenting women and the excuse certain kinds of men
to guiltlessly skip out on unplanned fatherhood. “Choice” doesn’t have such a
nice connotation when it comes in the form of “well it was your choice to have
the baby, so you deal with it.” Feminists against abortion
, including some of our country’s
most prominent feminist
have long called attention to how abortion can exploit women.
I’m not saying the average
pro-choice person is aware of or accepts all of these problems. I don’t think
that’s true. But I am saying that if being “anti-woman” is about effects, not
motivation, than our country’s relatively liberal
embrace of abortion can be quite
The “War on Women” rhetoric would
have you believe abortion is unquestionably at the heart of women’s liberation
and therefore anyone against abortion is against women. But in reality abortion’s
effects on women are more complicated than that—so much so that, even independent
of the question of fetal value, people who care about women can have compelling
reasons to come down on either side of the abortion debate.
I can understand why people would
get the impression that if I am anti-abortion I must be anti-contraception.
There are plenty of pro-life organizations and leaders who are openly
anti-contraception, and if you aren’t very involved in a given political
movement, it’s easy to assume after a cursory glance that the most prominent activists
represent the majority of the movement.
But in this case you’d be mistaken.
minimum of 78% of pro-lifers find
contraception morally acceptable. And
it’s not just that we think it’s alright in theory; we think so in practice,
too. Research suggests the strong majority (over 80%) of
sexually active American women use some form of artificial contraception. Note
that, if about half of American women are pro-life, this means the
majority of self-described sexually active pro-life women use artificial
(Pro-choice author Will Saletan
over at Slate has a great post
explaining why the data suggests
pro-lifers are not anti-contraception.)
The “anti-sex” accusation stems mostly from our different views of fetal life,
not our different views of sex.
There are a lot of different
reasons people are pro-choice. I think
most pro-choicers empathize with the very difficult position an unplanned
pregnancy can put a woman in, and many are concerned about protecting bodily
But it also seems some people
advocate for abortion primarily based on sex. That is, they think people ought
to be able to have sex lives unhindered by potential procreation. Such an
abortion advocate might describe this idea in terms of sexual liberation and
gender equality, but for many on our side of the fence, it doesn’t sound so
noble. For those of us who view the fetus as a morally relevant human being,
advocating fetal destruction in the name of sexual liberation sounds supremely…backwards.
It sounds like valuing an active,
enjoyable sex life over not killing people.
But of course that’s not how most
abortion advocates see it. In my experience, most of the “sexual liberation”
pro-choicers don’t see the fetus as a human being, or at least not a morally
relevant one. So it’s not about advocating an active sex life over actual human
lives. It’s about valuing sexual freedom over nebulous, irrelevant “clumps of
cells.” If I thought that’s all abortion involved, I would feel similarly.
In other words, our views differ more
based on how we think of fetal life than how we think of sex.
It’s important for pro-lifers to
understand this, rather than hurl accusations of selfish, sexual promiscuity at
the other side. It’s likewise important for pro-choicers to see this, rather than
accuse us of simply hating sex. Saying people should make sexual decisions such
that they’re not in a position to want an abortion doesn’t mean we hate sex any
more than saying people shouldn’t drink and drive means we hate driving. Drive
as much as you like. But do so safely and, above all, please don’t kill anyone.
Different views of sex are still a factor, but not as big of one as people
I think most of the anti-sex
accusation comes down to different views of fetal life, but not all of it. Religious
people are more likely than non-religious people to be pro-life, and plenty of
religious people are more likely to speak out against sex outside of marriage.
I think there’s a decent argument to be made that “anti-premarital
-sex,” or the broader “anti-reckless
-sex,” are not equivalent to “anti-sex.” Plenty of people
who think it’s better to wait until marriage have active, enjoyable sex lives
with their spouses and like sex quite a lot. But I think the more compelling
point is that most pro-lifers don’t actually wait until marriage to have sex.
How do I know this? First and
foremost, because the vast majority
of people in general have
premarital sex, and pro-lifers are about half of the country. So there’s that
math. Besides that, the pro-life movement doesn’t fit the 1:1 correlation to
conservative Christians that so many people expect (see point #1). We like sex,
we have sex outside of marriage, we have sex using contraception (point #2), and
we still think it’s wrong to kill fetuses.
5. We experience unplanned pregnancies too…
…but no, that doesn’t
automatically mean we turn pro-choice.
pro-choicers seem to think we are only anti-abortion because we just don’t
understand how frightening and life-changing an unplanned pregnancy can be, and
that if we were to be put in that difficult position, we’d choose abortion too.
interestingly, is isn’t just pro-choicers who make this assumption. Some
anti-contraception pro-lifers seem to think that anyone who has sex while using
contraception (which, as shown in point #3, would include most pro-lifers) isn’t
“open to life” and thus will choose abortion if they accidentally procreate.
That’s not to say every self-described pro-life woman always
chooses life. It’s true, of course, that some pro-life women do rescind their
views and get an abortion. But it’s also true that plenty of women stand by their convictions, carrying out
crisis pregnancies even when (from a pro-choice perspective) abortion may have
been much simpler. Insisting we’re all one unplanned pregnancy away from being
pro-choice not only implies none of us are sincere in our beliefs, but also
demeans or outright ignores the courage, sacrifice, and love with which so many
mothers have carried and birthed their unplanned children. In that sense,
frankly, I think it’s a pretty anti-woman thing to say.
|Claudia and her “crisis pregnancy,” Taylor.
And meanwhile pointing out inconsistency isn’t as meaningful as
so many people suggest, mostly because it goes both ways. Just as some women
switch to the pro-choice side in the face of an intimidating pregnancy, some
women switch to the pro-life side when
they experience a planned pregnancy and come to a new understanding of
fetal development. And some women switch to the pro-life side because of their
experiences with abortion. Which brings me to my next point…
6. Many of us are post-abortive…
…and converted to the pro-life
side for that very reason.
This is really an extension of
the previous point. Pro-choicers seem to think the pro-life movement is made up
of people with no experience: no relationship problems, health issues,
financial hardships, postponed education, complicated careers, and, above all,
crisis pregnancies. They seem to think someone would only be against abortion
if they were out of touch with life’s hardships and naively idealistic about
how people should handle crises.
But (again), pro-life people are
roughly half of the country. We span political views, ethnic groups, and
fact, we’re more likely than pro-choicers to be low-income). We’re not as
different from you as you might think. And that includes the fact that some of
us know exactly what it’s like to have to choose. And while many of us have
chosen life (point #5), not all of us have.
Now, just as pro-choicers shouldn’t
believe every pro-life woman would choose abortion if put in the position,
pro-lifers shouldn’t believe every woman who gets an abortion will end up
regretting it. It’s more of a mixed bag than
. Some women
don’t regret–not in the moment, not years later.
7. We care about what happens to the child after birth.
But first, this accusation is nonsensical.
We’re against abortion because we
think it should generally be illegal to kill people. By “people” we mean
morally relevant human beings, which of course is how we see the fetus. We get
you don’t agree, and that’s really the crux of the debate.
But understand that, from our
perspective, saying we can’t be anti-abortion until we’ve solved problems like
child poverty or a messed up foster care system is as ridiculous to our ears as
if you said we can’t speak out against child abuse unless we are going to adopt
all abused children. Does anyone actually believe that? Would you argue people can’t
condemn child marriage unless they will personally pay off the child’s family
debts? People can’t say slaves should be freed unless they’re prepared to personally
house and employ all the newly emancipated? Suggesting people can’t call out
human rights violations unless they personally have the resources to absorb all
impact is just a terrible precedent.
Pro-life organizations do help born people.
Bad precedent aside, we do
care about what happens after the
child is born.
There are a lot of pro-life projects
revolving around helping mothers and their children. Students for Life of
America encourages it’s 900+ campus groups to organize diaper drives
and to pursue Pregnant on Campus
initiatives, which connect pregnant
and parenting students with resources
for healthcare, housing,
clothing and food assistance, child care, insurance, financial aid, and more. Feminists For Life
has fought child exclusion
provisions in welfare reform, worked to get poor working pregnant women
prenatal care through SCHIP, and advocated for the Enhanced Child Support
Enforcement Act. And there are 1,000s of pregnancy resource centers
across the country that provide
maternity and baby clothes, diapers, wipes, baby wash, strollers, bouncy seats,
infant toys, referrals (for housing, employment resources, and educational,
financial, and social assistance), parenting classes, even laptops, phones, and cars
Pregnancy resource centers also
work to connect women with adoption services if that is what they need. And
plenty of pro-lifers have themselves adopted
. Here’s a list
of countless ways individual pro-life people have helped low-income single mothers.
Pro-life individuals help too, independent of their pro-life work.
When people ask “If you’re really
pro-life, why don’t you care
about [X quality of life] issue?” they seem to assume that everyone who does
care about and work on the issue
they’ve picked is pro-choice. But I’m not sure why they make that assumption.
Between September 2013 and September 2014, over 62 million people
did volunteer work of some type (rock on, guys). As
far as I know, no one polled the volunteers about their views on abortion, but with
the country split on the issue it seems like quite a leap to assume few or none
of them are pro-life. Sometimes it seems like unless we assemble en masse with
picket signs that say “I’m anti-abortion but today I’m protesting this other
issue,” people will insist we don’t care about anything else.
And yet, for example, my very
anti-abortion grandmother volunteers every week packaging food and other
supplies for local low-income families. For a long while my pro-life brother
and I spent our volunteer time tutoring at the Boys and Girls Club. Before that
I did volunteer tutoring at a nearby state prison, and since then my brother
has offered free tutoring at his university. My anti-abortion dad offers
parolees jobs and training, and has attended some of their hearings as a
character witness. During the first year of her son’s life, my pro-life sister
pumped and froze her extra breast milk so she could donate it to a little girl
with spinal muscular atrophy. (Incidentally, for young mothers with no funds
for charity, donating breast milk is an excellent way to help other moms and
their babies. Learn more here
My pro-life mother spent years
taking care of an elderly woman she met who had no children and no local
family. My mom put a lot of her time into keeping the woman company, taking her
on outings, driving her to and from doctor’s appointments, and making sure she
was taking her medications all the way until the end. Then Mom took care of the
woman’s funeral arrangements and issues with her estate. When pro-choicers claim
pro-lifers only care about people until they’re born, I think of my family, and
then think how ridiculously false this accusation is.
And my family isn’t an anomaly in
the pro-life movement. I know pro-life activists who work for gay rights, children’s
rights, and animal rights. I have pro-life friends who conduct cultural
proficiency trainings to try to help diverse organizations understand the
cultural and racial differences among the people they work with. One of my
pro-life friends has based his career helping families, foster providers, and
agencies that work with children with behavior challenges or mental health
issues. I have two other pro-life friends who do long-distance running to raise
money for causes like fighting human trafficking.
With a topic as highly polarized
as abortion, it’s easy to view our opponents as fools at best, evil at worst,
certainly deficient in various ways. And while there really will be fools and
even genuinely bad people out there (on both sides), I do believe the reality
is that most pro-lifers and pro-choicers aren’t quite as different as the
political narratives suggest. I mean, yes, we start with some fundamentally
different premises and those are worth debating. But most of the caricatures
are just that. And I’ve found within friendships even the more passionate people
from each side are able to see that.
[Published on 2/24/16.]