Books, Politics

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt

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I’m going to be honest: I am 100% strongly pro-life. I personally don’t believe in abortion for any reason. Not even rape, incest or life of the mother. That’s radical (especially for a woman) and puts me in an extremely exclusive group of only about 20 percent of Americans who believe all abortion should be illegal. Why don’t I believe in exceptions? It’s because I don’t believe there are gray areas. You’re either for it or against it and to truly be against it, you have to be against ALL forms of it.

So by now you’re probably wondering why in the world I picked this book up. Here’s why: even though I am so against abortion, I still want to know the other side’s perspective on the issue. I don’t believe in screaming and yelling at pro-choicers nor would I picket a clinic out of protest over something that is legal, instead I’d rather have an intelligent discussion about why we believe what we believe. And to do that, you need to know their argument just as well as you know your own.

I’ll be honest – I had a hard time getting through this book. Pollitt’s position and opinion on abortion upset me and  several times I had to put it down and come back to it. I didn’t dare read it before bed or I know I would have been up all night tossing and turning over the things she wrote. Surprisingly though, there were a few places we found some common ground (more on that later).

My first issue with Pro was Pollitt’s choice of language. She, like many others in the pro-choice movement, refuse to use the term pro-life and instead have adapted terms like anti-choice, forced birthers or anti-woman.

“In general it makes sense to call people what they wish to be called…but pro-life encodes too much propaganda for me: that a fertilized egg is a life in the same sense that a woman is, that it has a right to life as she does, that outlawing abortion saves lives, that abortion is the chief threat to “life” today, and that the movement to ban abortion is motivated solely by these concerns and not also by the wish to restrict sexual freedom, enforce sectarian religious views on a pluralistic society, and return women to traditional roles. It also suggests that those who support legal abortion are pro-death, which is absurd.”

Ok. So instead, you slap the pro-choice movement with terms that are equally as negative as pro-death? And you also assume that every pro-lifer wants to keep women in the kitchen or restrict their sexual freedom? How about those of us who don’t believe that fertilized eggs are babies until they’re implanted in the uterus? It makes me wonder if Pollitt even talked with anyone in the movement one on one.

I recognize that the most popular view (and one that most religious people adopt) is that life begins at conception. It’s an easy moment to pinpoint as the beginning of life but scientifically, until the fertilized egg implants, it can’t develop into anything. Which is why I personally take the “life begins at implantation” view and many other conservative pro-lifers feel the same. Taking it a step further, some believe that life begins when the heart forms around five weeks. (I think if it’s already growing, the formation of the heart is just another step in human development and there was life before a heartbeat.)

My second issue with Pro was that abortion was treated as morally necessary. By assuming this position, the author doesn’t give any sort of individual right or person-hood to the fetus at any stage of development.

“We need to see abortion as an urgent practical decision that is just as moral as the decision to have a child – indeed sometimes more moral. Pro-choicers often say that no one is pro-abortion, but what is so virtuous about adding another child to the ones you are already overwhelmed by? Abortion is part of being a mother and caring for children, because part of caring for children is knowing when it’s not a good idea to bring them into the world.”

It’s very hard for me to wrap my head around this kind of mindset. How can you not recognize that a developing fetus is a human being that deserves the same unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When we’re in the womb, we share the same DNA and characteristics as those outside the womb but somehow to pro-choicers, that doesn’t qualify us as a person until we’re born. Is a baby all that developmentally different one day before it’s born?

Much time is spent discussion the toll pregnancy takes on a woman’s body. And even though ultrasounds have improved greatly since Roe vs. Wade, giving us a clearer picture of the developing life inside us, Pollitt claims “it’s true that reason and science can tell us a lot about fetal development. But they can’t explain why a bean sized embryo, a being with no consciousness and no self-interests, has a right to use a woman’s body, no matter what the cost to the woman.”  So basically Pollitt is giving the smallest, most innocent of us the finger. The woman’s body takes precedent over the separate body inside her and in essence, not all men are created equal and have the same equal rights.

Pollitt doesn’t believe that a fetus is a human, therefore abortion is not murder. And she has to get a jab at the Second Amendment in too (because it would’t be a true liberal thought piece without that). “If abortion is different because it’s about life and death, so too, potentially are guns. And unlike abortion, guns kill more than 32,000 actually existing people every year.”  Once again, sorry unborn person, you are not an actual, existing person.

The “religious right” is also repeatedly accused of trying to squash women’s ambitions by forcing them to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. Pollitt claims the real reason people are pro-life isn’t that they want to save lives but that they want to keep women sexually oppressed, uneducated and in the home where they belong. Honestly, this is the most absurd thing I think I’ve ever read. We’re not in the 1950s anymore – it’s normal and encouraged for women to succeed in life. The older generation may care more about what’s going on in someone’s bedroom – but I don’t. In fact, this is where pro-lifers are pro-choice – the choice to have a child or not comes before you choose to have sex. If a pregnancy occurs, you accept the responsibility of caring for another life – don’t end it just because it’s inconvenient.

So by now you’re probably wondering how in the world I found any kind of common ground with someone so opposite to my position on abortion. Two words: birth control. Pollitt argues that Republicans and the pro-life movement should start pushing for better contraceptive access and sex education. And actually, many are coming around to that kind of mindset. The GOP even tried to push through a bill that did just that but Democrats vetoed it.

Abstinence is the best way to prevent an unintentional pregnancy but it’s also unrealistic to think that all teens and adults will abstain until marriage and that’s why I am in agreement with Pollitt that we should advocate for contraception. I know that many have religious objections to the Pill or Plan B but isn’t it better to prevent something before it happens that way abortion never becomes something a woman has to consider? A lot of those views are based on incorrect information that birth control or emergency contraceptive causes and abortion and many right to life groups still claim hormonal birth control is an abortifacient, which is simply not true.

Women’s issues and healthcare have become such an important part of politics in the modern era and the stance Pro takes on abortion is becoming pretty commonplace in the pro-choice movement. To the left, abortion isn’t something women need to be ashamed of and don’t even need a reason for getting one. Gone are the days of “safe, legal and rare” and in are the days of “abortion on demand and without apology.” Democrats have craftily created a War on Women and it’s working – they’ve painted Republicans, especially men, as anti-feminist, anti-equality and unconcerned about women’s health care issues. If the pro-life conservative movement hopes to regain some of the ground its lost, the GOP has got to start addressing these kinds of issues that women voters see as important. As long as Roe vs. Wade stands, we’ve lost the war on the right to an abortion but we haven’t lost the ability to utilize every other avenue available to us to make the case that the unborn are people too and should be treated as such.


4 thoughts on “Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt

  1. cellenbogen

    August 14, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    Good for you for reading it. I’ve heard good things about her as a writer, but I probably won’t start with this one.

    1. lostbetweenthepages

      August 14, 2016 at 10:41 pm

      Thanks for your comment! I do think she’s a good, effective writer and it was an interesting read. I think it’s good to read a wide variety of perspectives even if you don’t always agree. Helps for good discussion and making one a more well rounded reader.

  2. sylvia

    December 5, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    Since it’s been a few years since reading this book, I’m curious about a few things:
    – if your views have changed or stayed the same?
    – if abortion was illegal, how do you see a course of action for punishment for women who have had abortions or attempted to have an abortion?
    – being pro-life (assuming you still are), would miscarriage qualify as an abortion? If not, how do you distinguish the two?

    1. Kelly

      December 5, 2018 at 4:55 pm

      Hi! Thank you for reading and thank you for your questions.

      -My views have not changed since reading the book and writing this.
      -I do not believe abortion will ever become illegal in the United States, just possibly more restricted. Should it become illegal, I don’t see how punishing women helps anything – I would think it would make more sense to charge a doctor who carried out the procedure.
      -I also don’t believe a miscarriage qualifies as an abortion and would distinguish between the two as a miscarriage is a naturally unintentional occurrence and the other is an unnatural, intentional procedure.
      -A couple added thoughts: I don’t believe pro-lifers should give up on the movement but I think the GOP as a party should drop it from the platform. It’s legal and probably will stay legal. I would like to see an effort to prevent women from needing them in the first place and more resources to support women who find themselves pregnant and think an abortion is the only option because of finances, family, etc.

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