Beyond The Body: My Trouble With Abortion

Feminism is for Everbody
bell hooks

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I have to be upfront and honest with you. Abortion is the issue in feminism that I struggle with the most and it’s very difficult to have a conversation about it in our social climate. Either you are a baby murderer if you sympathize with the pro-choice crowd or you are a fundamentalist anti-feminist Christian if you sympathize with the anti-choice crowd.  The binary is blinding and makes me run from confrontation and avoid the conversation all together. Which just isn’t productive or helpful. There’s room for me at this table. From the outset of this conversation I will reject extreme binaries; I do not believe that this issue should be as polarizing as it is and that it has several answers, but even more importantly, it often has no answers. Where there is no room at this table are for people who will not entertain that perhaps they are wrong and will not consider other’s opinions, experiences, or answers. I haven’t brewed enough coffee for you and quite honestly, I have no desire to hear what you think of my uterus, my sex, or my babies. For the sake of transparency I will say from the outset that I am pro-choice. I know that claiming that identity immediately isolates many of you in this conversation, however I think that owning our beliefs and opinions and pinpointing their existence on the spectrum of identity is important. So, with that, onward.

bell hooks is extremely helpful in her chapter “Our Bodies, Ourselves: Reproductive Rights.” She explains that abortion rights were never meant to be front and center in the feminist movement: reproductive rights were. As she explains in the first chapters, the mass media has had a tremendous negative affect on feminism. It is not in any way intellectual nor does it seek to understand what feminism is or believes. Because it is historically very conservative, anti-intellectual, and dominated by white conservative males, the mass media has latched on to abortion as the sole reproductive issue for the feminist movement, and it simply is not. Radical feminism, again, does not simply want to change the patriarchal system, it wants to completely get rid of it. That means that abortion cannot be at the center of the reproductive rights conversation. It means that access to preventative health care, safe contraceptives, menstrual hygiene products, sex education, and knowledge about the risk of unnecessary cesarean sections and hysterectomies are the bread and butter of reproductive rights. When radical feminism is actually allowed to speak, all of these issues then become centralized in the conversation about women’s reproductive rights, women take control of their bodies from the male dominated media and healthcare field, and lo and behold the need for abortions would diminish. Isn’t that something?   That’s why the attacks on Planned Parenthood infuriate me. Abortions are such a small percentage of what their clinics do. They provide necessary services, often for free, to women who lack the class privileges to gain access to them. In this radical feminist paradigm of reproductive rights, women have so many choices concerning their bodies. It’s rarely a choice between receiving an abortion or not. But that’s where the media, the church, and conservative feminist thinkers have latched on.

So then, where do I struggle with abortion? I struggle with its violence. I struggle with its marginalization of children. I struggle with understanding why we scientifically frame this conversation around the conception of life’s beginnings. I believe that it is manipulative and violent to frame the conversation around if life takes place at conception or birth. Is it a baby or a fetus? Does it deserve rights or not? And if it does have rights, do they trump the rights of the mother? What rights do we have over our own bodies? What rights do we have over other’s bodies, both a woman’s and a fetus’s? See how complicated it gets? See how choosing a concrete answer can be manipulative and harmful either way? Because here’s the rub: I don’t believe there is an answer. I don’t know if life begins at the moment of conception. I don’t know if we have a moral responsibility to protect unborn babies or fetuses. I simply don’t know.  But what I do know is that men have historically attempted to control women’s bodies and sexuality and we must frame the conversation around that truth. This is about life but it is also about control. Pushing aside the concerns that women, like me, have about the violence of abortions, concerns about safety and invasiveness, concerns about marginalizing and framing pregnancies and children as being “unwanted” are dangerous as well.

Toni Morrison has said that, “everywhere, everywhere, children are the scorned people of the earth.” And we must be careful how we talk about children and pregnancies. As many unwanted pregnancies there are, there are even more unwanted children. We cannot divorce children and pregnancies. We cannot divorce humanity and life from conception. When women are shamed for being sexual and becoming pregnant, that’s when children become so unwanted and scorned. In that way, we cannot divorce patriarchy’s affects on violence against children.  Children are so unwanted and scorned because patriarchy has shamed women’s sexuality and bodies that create children. Because women’s sex and pregnancy often are shamed, so too are the birthed children. That’s why I believe that abortion is a violent and defensive reaction against patriarchy. Patriarchy says that sex, pregnancy, and children are shameful, are less than, and unwanted and abortion is then the answer to that shame. We see this most apparently in cases of pregnancy in rape. The violence of rape is a direct result and symptom of patriarchy and abortion is then the response to that patriarchy. It is simply not enough to defensively react against rape with abortion; we must actively work against violence against women, rape culture, and patriarchy. Abortion should absolutely be a right for women who want to have control over their own bodies, however I believe that answering patriarchy’s imposed shame on women should be a call do what radical feminism has always done: to dismantle patriarchy, not simply react against it.

I’ll close by saying that feminism has worked to help oppressed children since it inception. Patriarchy has worked to harm children. Patriarchy works to control women, their bodies and children. It says that the sole purpose of a woman is to make and have babies, only under male control. Materially disadvantaged women and their children are hurt most in patriarchy. When organizations like Planned Parenthood are banned, the women are not given access to necessary reproductive services and healthcare and the resulting children are born into a cycle of having limited or no access to social mobility. That’s what patriarchy does and what it is responsible for. That’s why we must not simply react against it but actively work to dismantle it. So, yes. I’m pro-choice. But I’m more importantly anti-patriarchy. That’s how it will be dismantled.





3 thoughts on “Beyond The Body: My Trouble With Abortion

  1. Well said! This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and you’ve really touched on the core of my struggle with the issue, as well as a few things I haven’t been able to put into words myself. Thank you for sharing!


  2. Thank you, Ashley, for putting into words my own complicated views on abortion. Abortion is reactive (as you said, against patriarchy); we need to become more proactive in making abortion unnecessary (by dismantling patriarchy).


  3. Wow, Powerful. It is definitely not a black and white issue. I used to be a single issue voter. That issue was abortion and I didn’t vote for President Obama either time because of it. But as I’ve been thinking about the issue more (along with a continual awakening to kyriarchy) , I see that it’s not enough (to paraphrase MLK) to condemn the act of abortion without paying any attention to the systems that give rise to it. Maternity/paternity leave, the cost of child care, access to health care and equitable living. The polarizing conversation around abortion addresses it as the *cause* and not the result of other things. I really appreciate your openness and nuance on this topic.


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