From the November-December 2014 issue of News & Letters
Pro by Katha Pollitt is a wake-up call to the pro-choice movement to reclaim abortion as a positive social good. Ever since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, we have allowed religious Right rhetoric to sneak into our own discussions so that even we now call abortion “tragic” and say it should be “safe, legal, and rare.”
The movement wants to win the support of pro-choice people who feel that there is something vaguely morally wrong with abortion and want to restrict it. Pollitt says these people are trying to sound reasonable under social pressure to have what is perceived as a moderate position. However, they are not thinking through their views, which have been influenced by religious Right propaganda. She analyzes the opinions commonly expressed by this “muddled middle” in detail, showing how they are self-contradictory and nonsensical and how restrictions on abortion harm women.
Pollitt discusses how the notion of the personhood of the fertilized egg, embryo or fetus does not hold up to scrutiny. All of these lack a conscious mind. She explains some of the science of pregnancy, such as the fact that half of fertilized eggs do not implant and one-fifth of pregnancies are miscarried. She writes, “If fertilized eggs are persons, God is remarkably careless about them.” She debunks other myths about abortion such as the notions that they are dangerous, that most women are coerced into them and that legal abortion in the U.S. is a genocidal plot against Black people.
The religious Right has mostly rejected their image of women who have abortions as cruel, unnatural murderers because it did not sway people. They now relentlessly promote the view of women as childlike with no agency of our own. Pollitt explains that anti-abortion activism and propaganda is not to protect embryos, but to make women as powerless as we were before the feminist movement.
Roe v. Wade was a turning point in changing women’s view of ourselves as no longer controlled by others but in control of our own lives: “Women’s lives are different now—so much so that we’re in danger of forgetting how they used to be.” Legal abortion has allowed women to be more human in that we can participate in society without randomly changing our lives to become mothers. Now, even a woman who chooses against abortion for religious reasons has made a choice.
Women’s humanity is endangered as the religious Right uses the public distaste it has created for abortion to demonize women’s enjoyment of our sexuality, which should be a human right, and use of birth control, which obviously limits the need for abortion. The religious Right also trivializes childbirth and motherhood as “inconveniences” so easy and socially unimportant that even a preteen can do them while living in poverty with poor health.
Pollitt says young feminists are pouring into the movement with an eagerness to reclaim abortion from stigma. They are creating new techniques of activism and, in the reproductive justice movement, connecting abortion with other reproductive rights and with social justice. Pro is being widely discussed among feminists and will help give this renewed pro-choice movement a boost during a very reactionary time.