On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we can all pat ourselves on the back for making it one more year without a theocratic take-over of our own personal wombs. Good work, everyone!
Sure, self-proclaimed life enthusiasts say they just care deeply about babies, but it’s important to cast a skeptical eye on a person’s self-reported motivations before you hand over the keys to your womb with modest, downcast eyes. They love the sinner, and hate the sin, too, and that doesn’t work out too well for the sinner.
There are somewhat graphic descriptions of bad things that can happen during pregnancy and to cause it. A trigger warning bunny is in effect.
So, they hate abortions – which, for clarity, we’ll define as the intentional halting of a pregnancy in progress. A pregnancy is a process in which a genetically distinct, developing embryo attaches itself to some tissue, commonly the endometrium, suppresses its parent’s immune system and produces its own hormones, such as hCG, the one urine pregnancy tests measure, that circulate within the parent and can cause various complications, syndromes, and side-effects, including death. This process, left untreated, will end in one of two ways: a miscarriage (or spontaneous abortion), or in a live birth. Both results can have major psychological and physiological consequences for the pregnant person.
Notice anything these two images have in common? If you guessed, “they completely erase the existence of the pregnant person who privately owns and manages the womb in question,” you win! The first line of the accompanying text is worth highlighting as well:
A fetus located in the womb has no protection under Canadian law.
How unfair that Canadian law ignores those poor fetuses located in the womb, when fetuses who are located in their one bedroom apartments and spend their days walking their dog and self-actualizing up a storm enjoy the full protections and responsibilities of citizenship! What an outrage that:
when it changes location and travels a few inches out of the birth canal, it is suddenly recognized as a precious little person. [Italics mine, bold in original]
“The birth canal.” Otherwise known as my vagina. It’s not Ellis Island! I do actually have complete authority when it comes to what exits (and for that matter, what enters) my vagina and when, and for how long. That’s the thought that keeps them up at night: that I, a lowly woman, helpmeet to Adam, might be using my own personal nethers as I see fit, saying no to some people, yes to others; no to some fetuses, yes to others. To the creators of that image, though, the birth canal is the only part of the woman worth mentioning when discussing pregnancy. The fetus suddenly (there are many accurate adjectives for giving birth. This is typically not one of them) moves a few inches, so what’s the difference? The location of the fetus is irrelevant only if women are irrelevant.
This next part is sad, so here’s a brief advertisement tailored to this post and an atheist audience.
And that’s the core of the issue: the erasure of women. Our health is irrelevant. Many of you no doubt remember John McCain putting up air quotes when he contemptuously uttered the phrase, “health of the mother.” But many of Queereka’s readers are probably too young to remember another phrase that was once common knowledge: septic abortion ward. Not giving a shit about women’s health was kind of the thing to do in the 70s: doing a big study on the symptoms of heart attacks? No need for female test subjects! Need data on depo provera? Informed consent is such a hassle; just give it to Puerto Ricans.
Before Roe legalized the most common outpatient surgical procedure, women still needed it, and they sought assistance from unscrupulous individuals who also cared little or nothing for their health. If they were lucky, they were put in touch with a network like Jane, which actually did facilitate safe, illegal abortions by trained medical professionals. As a last resort, they would attempt to self-abort, leading to the iconic coathanger as the symbol of that era. The main purpose of the coathanger was not actually to complete the abortion, but to cause enough blood loss that a doctor would diagnose a spontaneous abortion and complete it in a hospital. Women bled to death by inadvertently puncturing one of the large arteries that feeds the uterus, or by perforating their uterus and contracting an infection at the site. The infections could lead to septicemia, which is when the infection spreads to the blood stream (hence, septic abortion) and is an incredibly painful condition that can be fatal.
To show how much has changed, consider that according to the CDC’s abortion surveillance and maternal mortality surveillance, more women die every year from childbirth than have died in every year from legal abortion since Roe combined. Since 60% of people who get abortions already have at least one child, that’s a lot fewer motherless children. Abortion is simply safer than continuing a pregnancy to term, and that means fewer people who are permanently disabled in some way by being pregnant. It means fewer people out of work for months while their c-section scar heals. It means fewer people with post-partum depression, fewer bodies that give out from multiple pregnancies, even fewer murdered women (a woman’s risk of being murdered goes way up when she’s pregnant. Homicide is the leading cause of death for pregnant women).
Pregnancy is dangerous business. I admire anyone who does it, because actually building another person (rather than merely surrounding them until they take the bold, few inches move) is nothing short of phenomenal. So phenomenal, so important, in fact, that religions take that credit and that power away from women and give it to men, or to male gods. People who can literally build other people are then scolded by the representative of the Cosmic Dudebro.
This pervasive belittling of the enormous work and sacrifice of a person who becomes a mother angers me to the point of apoplexy. I hate it when someone asks, “If you’re an atheist, then who do you think made you?” as if the answer isn’t so obvious as to make the question obscene. My mother made me! And her mother made her! And it turns out, it’s been mothers making mothers for quite some time now. It’s a tale as old as sexual dimorphism.
This erasure is the dictionary definition of contempt: the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn. It’s hatred of women. And talking to someone with that mindset is just hard – it’s emotionally draining, infuriating, and humiliating to explain to yet another blowhard why I am not the scum of the Earth for having sex while female, why that doesn’t have anything to do with whether I am entitled to the full menu of medical options to which I can give my informed consent, and where he can go pound sand. Here are some pointers for how to keep these conversations short and to the point by recognizing what kind of fetus fetishist you’re dealing with so you can bait them, slam them with their own bullshit and get on with your day.
In my grand experience as a professional Internet Feminist, I’ve encountered two major species of forced birth advocates.
The first group just does not give enough of a fuck to actually learn anything about pregnancy, the history of abortion rights, or which policies actually reduce the abortion rate. They’re the first to cry, “baby murderer!” but when asked how much time a person should spend in prison for this “murder,” will get a blank look. Convinced you’ve tricked them somehow, they’ll backpedal to a stance of compassion and forgiveness, or occasionally admit that they haven’t given it any thought (often framed accusingly as, “I’m not a lawyer so how should I know?”).
This type will not have the faintest idea what a pregnancy actually entails, mistakenly believing that life “begins” despite the mountain of evidence that life has continued in an unbroken chain for several billion years (there’s a strong overlap with people who believe in a literal biblical creation, but I digress).
They imagine that as soon as a man ejaculates, a tiny homunculus is born and immediately endowed with a soul. No matter the circumstances of conception, this homunculus has the absolute right to colonize the womb and emerge from the birth canal when it sees fit. Sometimes, hammering at them with actual facts can change their minds, or at least force themselves into a rhetorical box. Don’t get angry with them – yet.
I encountered this species in the wild last night, after I posted the seed of this rant to a debating group.
This argument is surprisingly common despite making absolutely no sense. The reason for an abortion is that you have found yourself pregnant, and you desire to be unpregnant. I questioned him further, asking if he really believed that abstaining from sex would end a pregnancy, or if he was so unfamiliar with the mechanism of action of birth control that he thought it caused an abortion (and if so, how/why he thought this was an alternative to an abortion). I philosoraptored about whether there is no reason get a cast, when you had the option of not breaking your leg.
The irony of a dudely paean to the importance of caution in preventing unplanned pregnancy, as if that’s why he’d never gotten pregnant, was lost on him. We went around several more times, but he could never just focus on the fact that it’s fundamentally impossible to prevent a pregnancy you’re already pregnant with. This type may not hate women the way the second type does, but he assumes, with the slimy certainty common to all mansplainers, that he is smarter than any mere lady, and must be right, for he is the man in the conversation.
The second group are the more active haters. They know women will be maimed and killed by their policies. They don’t care, in several ways. Some don’t care because in their mind, the life of a precious proto-male is innocent and therefore superior to the life of a grown member of the sex-class whom we know for sure has had the sex, rendering her impure.
Some might – might – relent and approve of an emergency crypto-abortion-by-hysterectomy to save the life of the woman if there is no hope for the fetus. But everyone involved has to pretend that the abortion is an unintended side effect of removing the fetus from the body. For this fiction to be maintained, the woman must be sacrificially maimed.
Generally, they will take the position that anyone who finds themselves possessed of a uterus must avoid sex at all costs unless they receive prior authorization from their local priest, imam, boyfriend, or father. If they have sex with a male person of their own accord, they must have known pregnancy was a possible result, and must be punished with ‘consequences’ for their ‘irresponsibility.’ A man has sexed her – and we have proof! – so therefore, he must pay her father 40 shekels and buy, er, marry her, and she shall cleave to him, for she shall only earn 70 cents on the dollar and cannot support these children she was forced to have on her own.
This is nonsense, of course, as this is the same camp that campaigns tirelessly against sex education for minors that would let them know what kinds of sex can result in pregnancy, accessible birth control for minors that would allow them to have heteroprocreative sex responsibly, and acceptance of homosexuality as an alternative to abstinence. A sincere person would recognize that gay sex is just as effective as abstinence – but with sex! Alas, the Cosmic Dudebro only permits PIV sex without a condom in the missionary position after marriage.
Here’s a tricky example:
Here’s an example of a politician, Sharron Angle, saying that God uses rape to bless women with babies:
” I think that two wrongs don’t make a right. And I have been in the situation of counseling young girls, not 13 but 15, who have had very at risk, difficult pregnancies. And my counsel was to look for some alternatives, which they did. And they found that they had made what was really a lemon situation into lemonade. “
It can be hard to tell immediately whether Sharron Angle is actively chugging the haterade or is just willfully and maliciously ignorant (camps 2 versus 1, respectively). She may be a mix of both, but here is how you would find out. First, be skeptical of the very idea that someone could actually think that being raped is a “life hands you lemons” situation.
She’s no plucky ingenue just making her way in life with nothing but her bright attitude and faithful Collie, Kendell, at her side; and so we can safely assume she’s encountered people in her life who have experienced sexual assault. And when those individuals told Sharron their story, she either acted like a human being and empathized with their pain, or she had a lot of sugar in her purse that day.
She’s also old enough to understand the difference between life handing you lemons, and someone choosing to attack you. So try to pin her down on other violent crimes. I would never advocate kicking someone in the shins to make a point, but it’d be a useful thought experiment to pose to her to see whether she’d call the police and handle it like a normal person, or decorate the bruises with glitter and Lisa Frank stickers.
Finally, the dead give-away is that she stipulates that this child had a “very at risk, difficult pregnancy.” She is fully informed of the risks, but hates those girls so much that she’s willing to risk their lives and their health so that a rapist can have an heir.
In the time it took me to write this post, Rick Santorum santorum’d out another example of this fetid trope where God gives women the gift of rape:
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And so to embrace her and to love her and to support her and get her through this very difficult time, I’ve always, you know, I believe and I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created — in the sense of rape — but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you.
Rape: God’s gift that keeps on giving! If burglars broke into Santorum’s house and started a fire, would he scold the firefighters for not accepting God’s broken gift of arson? Does he stand resolute between paramedics and car crash victims, because God sent them the broken gift of broken necks? What a mystery that women are singled out for state mandated presents from Jesus.
Beware Santorum’s chocolate baby-love. If you bite into it, you’ll have a mouth full of the gross Kirsch cherry center of misogyny. You can’t spit it out, either; God sent Santorum to make sure you swallow.
By this point, your subject should have talked himself into a box or said something so horrifyingly misogynist that even the most disinterested dudebro onlooker is taken aback. Good. Now is when you break out the big guns.
Pro-choice policies lower the abortion rate.
The countries with the highest abortion rates are the countries where abortion is illegal and women are imprisoned for decades. These are also, unsurprisingly, countries with really terrible maternal and infant mortality rates. The countries with the lowest abortion rates have safe, accessible abortion. They’re also the countries with easily accessible contraception, gay rights, and comprehensive sex education.
The reason that this is the case is obvious for those of us who understand that women are human. Who has the most incentive to prevent an unplanned pregnancy? People who can get pregnant! So who should we target with the most methods and information about pregnancy prevention? People who can get pregnant! Who cares most about making sure children are raised by loving, healthy parents in a nurturing environment, at a time when the parent is financially stable enough to support that child? Why, the people who are having the kids!
So thank you, Roe, for being the test-case for a decision that saved countless lives and restored one more bit of women’s dignity and right to self-determination, improving the lives of women, children, and even men, in the process. You really did us all a solid.