5 Signs You’re Arguing With An Incognito Anti-Choicer

by | April 7, 2012
filed under Feminism, Politics

by Josey Ross

1) They use the term “Unborn”

It’s an emotionally and linguistically manipulative move made to put the discussion in their terms. It’s also a meaningless term. Since 30-50% of pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion (commonly referred to as miscarriages), and 22% of those remaining pregnancies end in termination, the likelihood that an embryo will actually develop into a full-term fetus and be delivered is somewhere between 39-55%.

More importantly, however, is the fact that it attempts to confer the ethical weight of personhood upon the embryo/fetus, with the implication that personhood de facto makes abortion an immoral act.

2) They capitalize “Abortion”

To be honest, I don’t understand the significance of capitalizing it, but assume it is meant to make it ominous and to imbue it with a sense of institutional power that simply doesn’t exist. Think of the way right-wingers capitalize Government when talking about the need to remove things like healthcare from its jurisdiction.

3) They state they are pro-choice, “as long as it isn’t being used as birth control.”

This is one that actually gets thrown around a fair bit by people who would consider themselves progressive but have drank a little too much of the misogynistic Kool-Aid that is our cultural conversation about women’s rights.

For one thing, abortion is, in the most simple terms, a form of birth control. It is used by women to control if, when, and how they will become mothers, as well as how large of a family they are able to adequately care for.

For another, the majority of women (54%) who have abortions were using contraceptives in the month that they became pregnant. The fact that many of those women report incorrect or inconsistent use is testament to the fact that we have a culture that shames women for being sexually responsible and does its damnedest to ensure our young people are not learning how to keep themselves safe.

Most importantly, pro-choice is pro-choice. We don’t get to decide which abortions are right and which are wrong. Every abortion a woman chooses in her own best interest is the right abortion.

Finally, so what if a woman is “using abortion as birth control” (whatever that means)? Isn’t it better that a woman who (probably) has inconsistent access to other contraceptive means or doesn’t have the knowledge or ability to correctly use them recognizes that she is incapable or unwilling to be the kind of mother she would want to and thus takes the necessary steps to not bring an unwanted child into the world?

4) They state they don’t have a problem with abortion “IF the unborn are not human”

First, this is a strawman. There is not one pro-choice person, literally not a single one on the planet, who is arguing that a fetus is not human. There is no feminist out there advocating reproductive justice on the basis of fetuses being toasters, or goats.

The real issue here is one of personhood, but that again, is a misdirection. It is an exceptionally clever move the anti-woman movement has made, I will grant them that. The simple fact of the matter is that we have no more ethical, moral, or legal responsibility to continue a pregnancy for the sake of the fetus alone than we do to donate a kidney to our Aunt Rita, even if the proposed recipient will die without it. Regardless of the personhood, or lackthereof, of the recipient of your good will and sacrifice, it is immoral, illegal (for now), and incredibly misogynistic to coerce women into carrying and birthing a child they do not want.

Personhood arguments are being made all over the United States, and have been trotted out multiple times in bills and motions in Canadian Parliament. They are used in an attempt to grant ethical weight to fetuses while denying women our personhood.

5) They tell you they are pro-choice but “sex-selective abortions are absolutely wrong”

You know what the problem is with sex-selective abortions? A patriarchal culture that so undervalues girls that women would rather abort a wanted child than face the repercussions (for themselves and their girl-child) of having a girl. You know what isn’t the problem? Abortion.

So let’s stop acting as if abortion is the cause of women’s oppression, when it is, quite clearly, one of—if not the—biggest causes of what emancipation we’ve gained.

And, for god’s sake, let’s stop using sex-selective abortion as a dog-whistle for xenophobic resentment and racism.



  • Pat

    I really liked this article! I was just wondering if you think there are pro-abortion positions, however qualified, that are compatible with feminist discourse?

    Thanks for the great read!

    • Pat

      anti-abortion*: oops.

  • Josey Ross

    I think that we need to be very linguistically careful when trying to find anti-abortion positions that are compatible with feminism.

    Is it possible to be uncomfortable with the reality of abortion and still feminist? Certainly.

    Is it possible to know you would never yourself have an abortion and still be a feminist? Absolutely.

    Is it possible to be anti-abortion and still be a feminist? I don’t think so. I think that we can be personally uncomfortable with abortion, and I think we can work towards lessening the number of abortions needed and performed (through comprehensive sex-ed, access to contraception, increased social supports), but the second we use the term “anti-abortion” there is an implicit judgment that terminating a pregnancy is not sometimes the best and safest choice for a woman. There is an implied stance that we know better than the woman herself what is best for her.

    I don’t think that being pro-choice means you love abortion, I think it means you recognize that each woman (and only that woman) knows what is best for her, and any children she chooses to have or not have.

    And since reproductive choice is a fundamental tenant of feminism, I simply don’t think that anything that attempts to curb that choice can come legitimately under the rubric of feminist discourse.

    • “Most importantly, pro-choice is pro-choice. We don’t get to decide which abortions are right and which are wrong. Every abortion a woman chooses in her own best interest is the right abortion.”
      I disagree, on a legal basis. I mean, there are no laws, no case studies, saying that abortion is a right, even in the ruling of R. Vs. Morgentaler, which stated that making abortion illegal infringes on the right of security of person and liberty. That does not inherently mean that abortions are a right.
      Also, I personally believe the personhood argument is moot. A fetus should have rights accorded to to, a right to be born. Obviously that’s not law, and your rhetoric defies that, but it is also logically fallacious when you say it’s a point to try to deny a woman of her personhood. No one wants that, and just because someone is trying to stop abortions doesn’t mean we want to truncate your rights. We just want other options.
      I believe we shouldn’t legislate the consequences away from the action, and that we should focus on educating women about preventing pregnancies, making preventative measures widely available. But once the egg is fertilized, the zygote developed, and the biological process of a developing human is started, lets invest in ways to allow the mother the choice to not have the baby without killing it (fetus transplantation), and helping that woman, if she decides to carry it, find a suitable home for the child through adoption.
      Sure, I might be wrong, but it’s my right to believe that while abortion should definitely be legal, and psychological and medical care should be provided for people having to go through a pregnancy or abortion, there has to be a better way.

    • I agree that it is not really possible to be anti-abortion and still be a feminist. The idea pushed by pro-lifers that abortion is not a reality of life, often a necessary medical procedure, and a common practice is simply naive. Being anti-abortion is undermining the health, safety, and well-being of many women. That is not a feminist stance.

      I also don’t think one’s personal choice has much to do with whether or not one is pro-choice. Personally, I have a lot of girlfriends who say “I’m pro-choice, but I would never have an abortion.” I don’t really understand why it is necessary to tack on that extra information. If a woman pro-choice, all it means is that they support a woman’s right to choose. It doesn’t mean that if they had an unwanted pregnancy, they would automatically abort the child. It means they would feel comfortable making their own choice. I think this feeling comes along with the misunderstanding that pro-choicers are “pro-abortion” like you said, which is of course not true.

      I think reproductive rights are an essential part of feminism because despite women’s biological capability to produce life, they should not be reduced to objects that exist solely to fulfill that capability. We of course have a wide variety of other purposes in life.

      Thank you for the great article!

  • Desmond Gorven

    I am sure that the notion of rights stirs up plenty of argument and settles few arguments. Democratic&other governments make crazy regulations. Regulation of abortion is meddlesome in a harmful way, and the popularity of the human rights / democracy style of thought will give us this type of harm for all the many years it will take for democracy to collapse. However, in the world after democracy, women will pay for protection (as will men), and their security contracts will provide for compensation in the event that security failure results in rape & forced pregnancy. Some registration services will register surgeons who perform abortions, other registration services may refuse to. You will be able to find a registered surgeon whose convictions align with yours.
    Your security provider will also protect you from harassment by people who hold opposing convictions, and in this, also, you get compensation if there is a breach of security.

  • I maintain that a person can be personally prolife, as in they would never personally choose abortion for themselves, but be prochoice politically, allowing others to choose what is best for them & their family.

    • Josey Ross


  • Jesse

    I understand your point that sex-selective abortions are a bit of a red-herring issue (in that most people who bring it up don’t actually care about it, and are using it as a step in their foot-in-the-door technique.

    However, surely in and of itself you oppose sex-selective abortions? Doesn’t it seem like it trends uncomfortably close to eugenics?

  • Josey Ross

    Do I oppose sex-selective abortions? I do. But as I mentioned in the article, the problem is with a culture that so undervalues women and girls that women feel compelled to abort a wanted child because she is the wrong sex, not with abortion in-and-of itself. It is not simply a question of an isolated incident or a series of isolated incidents. It’s a broader cultural problem.

    I would argue this is the same issue with eugenics. Eugenics happen(ed) because broad swathes of the population (cut along very racist and ableist lines) are deemed to be inferior. The problem does not lie with the medical procedures of abortion or sterilization but in a patriarchal, white-supremecist, ableist culture that draws very fine lines around the ideal citizen.

    I simply don’t think it is meaningful or useful to discuss the procedure itself without speaking about the broader context. And I think that it is often used as a way to demonize reproductive choice.

    I don’t think that the answer lies in constricting individual women’s choices, and I think that outlawing sex-selective abortions leads us down a very, very slippery slope. A slope, in fact, that we are seeing in the United States right now–in Arizona and perhaps other places–where the male contributor of genetic material or the woman’s parents if she is a minor can sue a doctor if an abortion is determined to have been done based on the sex or race of the fetus. The real intent of this, of course, is to make doctors ever more cautious and unwilling to perform abortions for fear of later legal repercussions. All of which leads to less choice and more danger for women. The fact that a teenage girl’s PARENTS could sue speaks volumes to me about the intent of the bill.

    • Don Johnson

      Your lack of the law is rather obvious considering the final line in your post. If the parents of the minor were not allowed to bring suit on behalf of the minor, then there would be no recourse for the minor under any circumstances, dumbass!

      Also, the fact that you keep referring to this “culture that so undervalues women and girls that women feel compelled to abort a wanted child because she is the wrong sex” is a red herring much like the ones you decry in your pathetic excuse for an article. Where in the U.S. or Canada does such a culture exist (outside of your manufactured delusions)?

  • Gail

    I think you are bang on Joey, the language is the key. I won’t even discuss my views on same-sex abortion, or ANY reasons a woman will seek an abortion. If I truly support a woman’s right to choice, then I have to trust that she knows and the medical professionals she approaches for service, know what is best for her. That’s the long and short of it. I hear lots of people defending abortion for the issue of rape, but I’ll defend it for even the most irresponsible of reasons…because…I believe that woman has the choice, and the reason is none of my business. End of discussion, for me. I find that when fols want to discuss specific instances, it still in the end, is some sort of arguement against the curtailment of choice. Great article, enjoyed it very much.

  • Gail

    *sex selective abortion meant to say

  • Gail

    *bah, sorry…too rushed typing!
    *FOR the curtailment of choice

  • Desmond Gorven

    Really, people. We give some people some unnatural super-right to forcibly collect money [taxes] from us, and immediately they ignore our needs and pay themselves to think up unneccessary rules for us. Funny. I wonder why they do that, instead of working. Hmm. Puzzled frown. Maybe if we just swap back and forth between one bunch and another, they will suddenly care more to serve, and less to sit making rules for others. That method has only been tried for 200 years or so… maybe it will work this year.

  • Desmond Gorven

    Dr Q, in a hypothetical situation as follows: is on a huge island which has been bought by 10 000 anarchists, and has seceded from it’s former nation-state. Ms P, whose view of herself as an adult, is not disputed for the purposes of this argument, contracts Dr. Q to terminate her pregnancy, holding her reason entirely as her personal, unshared secret. After the termination, person F feels aggrieved that the termination was performed. The question is: Can any rational law be found on behalf of any such person F, either in this instance, or, foreseeing similar future situation, as a measure to resolve beforehand and prevent such ill-feeling from arising?

    The answer will be no. Even if 9 998 islanders feel aggrieved at the pro-termination decision, if any law prevented the termination, there will certainly be one aggrieved person: Ms P. One aggrieved person, or 9 998 aggrieved persons, still amounts to an unhappy island. It defies rationality to protect one or more people from feelings of grievance by imposing on another person a decision of unpredictable physical consequence vis-a-vis health and survival.

    [my own editing note: logically parenthesised below, but please read attentively, or meaning escapes]
    In parallel with the aforegoing, rational law must protect Dr Q and Ms P from aggression by any and all persons F who may feel aggrieved. Such law would enforce predictably improved likelihood of health and survival of Q and P [because neither has wealth stolen (fine), neither is abducted(imprisoned) and neither is driven from his/her home(banished)], by imposing on person(s) F an unpredictable emotional consequence [F may actually quickly reach acceptance – or never so].

    The resulting peace under law, has P as the person responsible for calculating the social outcome for P: predicting who may feel aggrieved, P has responsibility to minimise the social harm (to P) consequent upon such ill-feeling. Q calculates the social outcome for Q (perhaps relying on written terms of contract with P). P and Q insure themselves against aggression, and the insurers of P and Q insist that each must hire a security-provider for physical safety. The assessments of the insurance and security providers, become part of the cost of the practice of this type of procedure.

    Firstly, the above has nothing to do with perfection or utopia. All the real issues exist. Also existing, is a framework within which key matters are fully resolved. Law is found to lie in one position only, and no level of popularity can give rationality to any other position.

    Secondly, nowhere in the above, is there any mention of rights or human rights. Rights have no definition ex natura, nor in language accepted from ancient times; rights have mutable and assorted definition in modern nation states. They do not derive legitimacy from the democratic theory – clearly they are operationally imposed as limits against the free action of democracy. Arguably, rights theory derives legitimacy from nowhere. It is my prediction that rational arguments in favour of any right, will not exist unless there also exists a more compelling argument that any law intruding upon that right, would be irrational law.

    Conclusion: toss rights out of your mental processes, seek the rational laws which exist out of the nature of things, laws which need no popularity contests and need not be endlessly batted to and fro. Advise your government that it is time to hand out all public assets and liabilities and retire it’s parasitic self so that we do not keep re-hashing debates on simple law. Escape your thieving negligent harridan nanny state. Be free.

  • Anonymous

    This comment has been removed because it violates the Gender Focus comments policy. Please feel free to post while refraining from personal attacks.

  • Desmond Gorven

    It appears to me that there may be at least one person who thinks that there can be law which determines whether or not an abortion will be performed.

    The physicality of pregnancy is very clear: the foetus is entirely and helplessly dependent upon the woman. No regulation of this physicality makes any sense without the express consent of the woman affected by the regulation.
    Given that we are talking about law under the system of democracy, which falsely represents that laws can be made up, if they have enough popular support, the article we are commenting on has an important point. The ignorant people in this popularity contest for the idea of being in charge of the foetus inside someone else, are naturally tempted to feel a sense of power and to exercise it.
    If the individual (F) whose feelings of grievance are aroused by termination, were to attempt to personally ensure birth, not only would F have no method of performing this attempt, except by abduction, against which there is natural law, and for which no case can be made; but additionally, our person F has now taken responsibility for the health of the pregnant woman and her child. All blame now passes to F, and F is a target for lawsuit. In return, F only gets to feel better. It is near insane to trade feeling better against being sued for violating the health of another.
    What makes no sense at all, is the introduction of a proxy D, being the person of democratic government, to stand in for F, do what only an insane F would do, and then claim that due to the popularity of the notion that this is a good idea, D may also invent law to limit his liability to the person P, who was pregnant.
    What person P really needs, is self-hired security against insane persons F, and also the absence of persons D with made-up superrights.

  • jarrahpenguin

    Hi Desmond,

    While I appreciate that you’re engaging in the discussion, please keep your comments relevant to the original post as per the comment guidelines (see the “About” page).

  • Desmond Gorven

    The article lists 4 types of rhetorical devices used to misalign the frame of debate about abortion.
    Awareness of these devices can help a pregnant woman to re-frame the comments made by people who carry influence in her life.
    I am glad of the article’s suggestion that we avoid the these devices, to avoid misleading the decision-maker. For example, unborn is reminiscent of the totally fictional, though poetic term: undead.
    So, in my view, the use of appropriate language is helpful, for those who know a pregnant woman, and feel invited to comment on her options.
    Where I feel the use of rhetoric is irrelevant, though, is in deciding legislation. I challenge anyone to debate me on the following assertion: Every argument for regulation of abortion can be outweighed by argument which shows that reason dictates complete absence of regulation, and, furthermore, every argument for publically funded healthcare, can be outweighed by argument which shows that reason dictates complete absence of publically funded healthcare.

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