Are anti-abortion ‘feminists’ really ‘feminists’? Not if they seek to extend their anti-abortion stance in any way that dictates what someone else does with their own uterus, they’re not.
Just like people who support the occupation of Tibet aren’t Marxists, and folks who thought they should still be able to lawfully refuse to provide food to black people, but said they supported the right of black people to fight for rights they didn’t want them to have were not civil rights activists. Feminists who seek to control other women’s bodies aren’t feminists at all.
But I don’t think a glib answer suffices, whether it’s mine or Kathleen Parker’s. Honestly, I can’t even believe we’re having this conversation. I thought hell would freeze over first and I’d at least get to ice skate while cute, pudgy pigs with itty-bitty wings flew overhead in Bugsby Berkeley choreography.
Feminism is a social justice movement with a long and varied history; with not only waves but millions of ripples and tsunamis within, around and outside each. For a given feminist, feminism is also a process we each constantly refine and re-evaluate as we go, if we’re doing it right. A rare few of us can say we’ve never made any missteps in our feminism, or taken up views as feminist we later questioned or realized were counter to feminism, either at its core, or to our own feminism.
Parker’s statements like “we’ve now witnessed a bearded transgender man having babies — and fake wombs are inevitable — so anything’s possible, apparently. Good luck with all that,” show that her issues with abortion are hardly her only feminist hurdles.
It’s hard to take someone seriously on what’s feminist who in but a few paragraphs, voices transphobia, suggests someone with a complete dismissal of rape survivors feelings should be “cause for feminist celebration,” and who says that, “behind almost every successful mother/politician/CEO is … a very good man” and “Real men don’t hold their wives back.” Newsflash: feminists recognize the accomplishments and achievements of women without finding a way to make them about men. Suggesting all grandmothers and mothers feel the same about abortion post-parenting does not a realistic view of feminism or abortion represent: half the women who choose abortion ARE already mothers, after all. It’s hard to take someone seriously about abortion and choice who, in more than one piece, represents women who choose abortion as making a choice we all find “simple” or “convenient,” and who says women who have felt empowered by a choice to terminate demonstrate “callousness that merely reiterates the lack of empathy implicit in every abortion.”
Her questionable feminist street cred based on statements like that notwithstanding, while Parker isn’t clear in this piece about what she’d like abortion policies to be, she makes it clear here: “It begins with ‘Nevertheless,’ and ends with ‘I am reluctantly pro-choice.’I favor far stricter limits than most pro-choicers, beginning with “six weeks and time’s up.” I figure 42 days is enough time for a gal to figure out whether she’s up for motherhood. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a sane remedy to appalling recklessness.”
So, Parker herself apparently isn’t anti-abortion. Sure coulda fooled me. She says she is pro-choice, but with the constant reminder she thinks those of us who choose abortion are reckless, heartless bastards, and only within a window of time a woman can make a choice within that is a reproductive neverneverland. Maybe she means six weeks after a woman finds out she’s pregnant. But since some women find out 8, 12 or 18 weeks in, probably not.
Most, if not all, women who want to terminate would prefer to as early as possible. But getting a termination isn’t so pat as making a choice about motherhood in 42 days. Women can’t know we’ve become pregnant from the moment a pregnancy begins. A pregnancy test can only give accurate results no earlier than 10-14 days after a risk. But most women who aren’t planning pregnancies won’t be taking a test before they miss a period, so we usually find out even later than that. Many women don’t even know they could be pregnant six weeks in, especially those with irregular periods or other physical or mental health issues. Even once we know we are pregnant, there’s more to enacting a choice than there is to making it.
Some areas have so few providers you can’t get an appointment within a month’s time, and getting an appointment within a very narrow window of a week or two is nigh unto impossible, especially if you have, say, an average-Jane job or kids which create gross limitations in your own schedule. Many women who want to terminate spend weeks or months trying to raise funds to pay for their procedures. Many women want to have conversations of depth with partners, or anyone else in their support system, in order to find out if remaining pregnant and having a child is a good choice for them and a child. For women who terminate due to maternal or fetal health problems during pregnancy, the vast majority won’t even find out those problems exist until their second trimester. Of course, we also can’t terminate right at the gate. The earliest a surgical abortion can be performed at is usually six weeks. So, unless all women wanted to have a medication abortion, were sound candidates for that type of abortion, and had access to it, many women would not be able to fit in the narrow window Parker feels is so generous simply based solely on the implicit limitations of early abortion procedures, something I’d expect someone talking about abortion as if she knew what she were talking about would have familiarized herself with.
But all of that is secondary to this: one woman doesn’t get to presume she knows what is enough time for all women, or for any women at all besides herself. If Parker is trying to show us how an anti-abortion stance — even though she’s calling hers pro-choice — can be feminist, she fails miserably.
There are as many opinions about what feminism is as there are about what it isn’t. But I think we can agree the core of feminism is about gender equality and equity; about allowing people of all genders equitable and real autonomy and agency, including the right to decide who or what we will allow to take up or keep residence inside our own bodies, and who, besides ourselves, we will choose to be responsible for and beholden to. These have always been the few things feminists can agree on. The fact that Parker’s view of the import of reproductive choice to women is about it being the only way we can have “full equality with men” tells me that someone forgot equity and equality aren’t the same thing. The value of full ownership of our bodies and lives isn’t really about making the playing field level with men. It’s about having rights for a whole set of situations, circumstances and issues completely unique to people with working ovaries and which burdens us the most. It’s about the quality and integrity of our own lives and our ownership of them, no matter what the hell is going on with men.
I’ve been a teacher for around twenty years. I’ve worked in and around reproductive justice, choice and health full-time for over a decade. Having spoken with many diverse women making choices with pregnancy and also having worked with so many people’s children, you will never hear me say that being supportive of every woman’s reproductive choices is easy. Often it is, but sometimes it is deeply challenging and tremendously difficult.
It’s difficult to be supportive of women in violent relationships who choose to bring children into them. It’s difficult to support a methamphetamine addict choosing to take a pregnancy to term with no intention of discontinuing her use of meth. It’s difficult to support the right to choose to parent when you’ve seen developmentally disabled teens abandoned by parents who chose to bring them into the world, then put them in shabby residential care not because they didn’t feel qualified to care for them, but out of social embarrassment. It’s difficult to support the right to choose to parent when I work with homeless youth thrown to the wolves by parents and other adults because of their sexual or gender orientation, mental illness and other disabilities or their parents own issues they refuse to remedy; kids stuck in the ever-revolving door of the foster care system, or who go back and forth between the streets and their parents homes at their parents whims. It is very hard to be supportive of a woman’s right to choose to parent when you counsel the children she’s abused. It’s difficult to be supportive of a woman choosing to remain pregnant who does not seem to have the capacity or agency to make any kind of choice at all.
It’s difficult to be supportive of a woman choosing abortion who is doing so because she says if she gave birth, her child would be unilaterally hated by everyone she knows because of being biracial. It’s difficult to support a woman choosing abortion who tells you her male partner makes all her reproductive choices, this is what he wants, and that’s how she likes it. It’s difficult to be supportive of a woman choosing abortion who strongly does not want to, but who also knows and tells you it is the only way they can avoid being tied to someone who has abused them for as long as she can remember. It’s difficult to be supportive of an abortion a woman is choosing to have in order to be able to help a man hide an extramarital affair. It’s difficult to be supportive of a woman choosing abortion who was outside a clinic just last week calling all the women walking in murderers, and who you see again outside again next week doing the exact same thing. It’s difficult to be supportive of a woman choosing abortion who does not seem to have the capacity or agency to make any kind of choice at all.
Those scenarios and others like them have been incredibly difficult for me as a feminist and someone who loves and supports both women and their children. But if I’m serious about being a feminist, it’s on me to work though those difficulties and challenges and remain unwavering in my support of the right to choose to be mothers or not, even when it breaks my heart or makes me furious. Another woman’s life and choices are not mine to make or dictate, even at times I wish they were. If I ever say or suggest another woman’s life or choices are or should be mine to dictate, or I try to dictate them, I don’t get to say I’m a feminist anymore.
Parker says, “I’m libertarian-leaning enough to insist that government should have no role in determining what anyone does with her or his body — as long as no one else is hurt.” Again, greetings from Utopia Reproducta! Pregnancy is a far-reaching event where nothing can guarantee no one will get hurt. We also cannot separate or compartmentalize a woman from her body: whatever is part of her body and her life impacts her.
No matter what choice someone makes, does or does not have the right to make, we cannot guarantee a lack of harm. If only. Pregnancy, no matter what choices we make with it, is one of the biggest events a human body endures, and often one of the most potentially or actually life-altering events there is for a person who becomes pregnant. Pregnancy can always potentially hurt the woman who is pregnant or a child that she delivers physically, emotionally, psychologically, economically and in a myriad of other ways, sometimes for lifetimes. We can create and support laws and policies that lessen that burden on women and children, we can care for both as much as possible, but there is nothing we can do to make pregnancy a situation where no one can potentially be hurt, not for any one person, let alone all.
So, as with any situation like that, we do triage. We look first and foremost at who may be or has been hurt or harmed the most, and we look at how and why. To determine that, we must listen to and privilege the people who have expressed being hurt or harmed, acknowledging them as the experts of what can hurt and what can help them. As feminists taking any political action that does or may impact all women’s lives, we must do our best to enact and support that which best protects and supports all of us, but especially those they do or would impact most; which provide the most help and do the least harm, especially for and to those women who have the fewest rights and privilege of us all.
There are plenty of feminists who are, themselves, not in favor of abortion; who have not themselves made that choice, who do not want to and do not anticipate choosing to. Plenty of those women, however, have no trouble recognizing how great it is they get to make these choices for themselves and want all women to share that same freedom. Plenty of those women are still supportive of other women’s choices, and if they want to work to try and change the choices being made, do so by working to provide more agency — like increased access to birth control, comprehensive sex education, or better economic support for mothers — that give women more choices instead of seeking to take women’s choices away. Can women like that be “anti-choice feminists?” Sure, so long as the only choices they limit in this respect are their own. But they don’t usually call themselves that. Mostly ’cause they’re not.
I’m a fan of big-tent feminism, and we all need to be flexible in our thinking about what feminism is. But sister, the tethers have got to end somewhere. Everyone can’t be feminist just because she says she is, especially if and when they are speaking or acting expressly counter to women’s rights.
“Equality, after all, means that every woman has a voice,” Parker says (perhaps to explain why we’re reading what she’s written). No, it doesn’t. Equality means that every woman’s voice matters and is given equal value. We’ve always had voices. Sure, historically, they’ve been good for little but shouting into the void, but we don’t need equality or equity to have a voice. We need equality or equity for all of our voices to be heard and valued as ALL having authority, particularly about our own lives, our own bodies and our own needs and circumstances, particularly when they differ from the needs and circumstances of people with the most power and privilege. The issue isn’t whether or not we have the ability to communicate what we have to say, it’s whether what we say matters to anyone, particularly when we are fighting for equities we still do not all have or which we are at risk of losing.
When you’re talking about women like Sarah Palin or Carly Fiorina you’re not talking about “every woman.” You’re talking about women with a level of power and privilege very few people, let alone women, have. You’re talking about women who have positioned themselves to legislate other women, who will likely abuse or have already abused that privilege, and who are in positions they have acquired in part because of, and will use to further, initiatives and groups who work to ensure that while every woman may have a voice, it won’t mean jack because she won’t have a choice. If that looks like feminism and equality to you, you need to have your eyes examined. Especially if you think you can see Russia from your house.