“I’m pro-choice, but I could never have an abortion.”

Amanda Marcotte has a piece on RH Reality Check that I agree with 100%. In this piece she explains how adding that tiny but loaded word “but” to the end of the phrase “I’m pro-choice” can serve to enforce a barrier between the person speaking the sentence and those ~other~ women, the ones who have abortions, the naughty ones.

This article is timely for me, as I just experienced the birth control incident days ago. And what Amanda says about women maintaining they are pro-choice yet distancing themselves from being looked at as a woman who actually would have an abortion, is directly related to this woman who rode the bus with me and felt the need to insist she does not have sex when I saw her packet of birth control pills.

A lot of us might still have internalized hang ups about sex. If you were raised in the United States like me, then it goes without saying that you were most likely not raised in a sex-positive environment, or maybe in an environment where sex was not discussed at all. Further, if you were raised in the Christian school system (also like me), then there’s a good chance you were a teenager with conflicting attitudes towards sex and sexuality, and a definite attitude towards abortion: something sluts do. I thankfully overcame a lot of cultural and religious brainwashing in order to hold the beliefs I hold now, yet even for women who have done the same, some of us can still find ourselves contemplating everything that is implied with the use of that little word “but.”

In the piece, Amanda says:

But even if you are absolutely positive you’d never have an abortion, you have to ask yourself: If you’re pro-choice, why do you need to exclaim about how you’d never do it? What purpose can it serve but to stigmatize abortion further?

Exactly. Commenting on someone’s freedom to do something (in this case, a woman’s right to abort) really doesn’t call for you to include your own personal commentary, unless you want the person or people you are speaking with to explicitly know that you do not identify with the group of people who would do it. If you are so concerned about being lumped in with those people, I think it’s worth asking yourself why, like Amanda suggests.

I would love to be able to say with certainty that I will never have an abortion. However, as I am not abstinent nor do I have my tubes tied, that isn’t a statement I can make in good faith. I use contraceptives that do not come with a 100% guarantee, and I’m thankful that abortion is an option available to me should I need it. I hope I won’t ever need it, but our lives simply aren’t able to be put in neat little boxes.

I know that women who get abortions are women just like me. We aren’t different, I am not better than them. I know this because I’ve been the person driving my pregnant, terrified roommate to the abortion clinic at 8:00 in the morning, while she fidgeted in the passenger seat, hoping we didn’t see anyone we knew. I know this because I have had a pregnancy scare, and without a moment’s hesitation I started to look for a clinic in my area. I know this because I’ve been the shoulder that a childhood friend has cried on after deciding to have an abortion, while saying she never thought this would happen to her.

The danger in distancing yourself from women who do have abortions by exclaiming that you never would is that 1) it is a statement I feel you can’t make with complete certainty unless you are in the situation yourself and 2) it reinforces the oppressive social stigma that women who seek abortions are doing so because they did something bad: they had sex. Anti-choicers want the general public to believe that all of us slutty sluts are out here having sex every moment of the day while laughing to ourselves and saying, “Oh,  fuck the condom, I can just get an abortion, ha ha ha!”

The reality is a lot of women who find themselves sitting in the waiting room at the abortion clinic are women who didn’t think it would happen to them. I guarantee you some of them have said, “I’m pro-choice, but…….”

They are me, I am them.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to ““I’m pro-choice, but I could never have an abortion.”

  1. This and the article you linked us to are very interesting and I’m trying to write my thoughts on it. While I mostly agree, I’m kind of concerned about alienating a segment of people that may agree that abortions should be legal but who have personal moral issues with it for themselves. I hear a lot “we shouldn’t legislate morality,” and I think that catchphrase can be a tool to help get people on the legal side (for example, if a pro-lifer’s legal side of the argument is grounded in their faith, they can hopefully intellectually be convinced that the first amendment prevents their twisted belief system from becoming law, thank god!) and worry about the stigma later. I guess I feel this way because right now I’m worried that the US is in a precarious position regarding abortion and birth control rights, not merely access or stigma.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. I have no doubts that there are women out there who don’t think they could ever have an abortion but are still pro-choice. But when it comes time to speak up and say what side you’re on, I don’t understand feeling it’s necessary to emphasize that *you* wouldn’t never do x, although you support other women’s right to do x.

      Apply this to any other situation: I believe same-sex marriage should be legal, but I am not gay! I believe people should be able to eat whatever kind of food they want, but I would never eat at McDonalds! Soda is legal, but I would never drink soda!!!! And so on.

      It’s human instinct to want to establish our positions and opinions on certain things, especially things that are important to us in a personal sense. I’ll use a personal example here. I am childfree and I plan on getting my tubes tied soon. I’m in my mid-twenties so a lot of women I know are at the age where they’re having their first or second child, and when I go to baby showers or visit my friends’ newborns in the hospital, I have to constantly stop myself from saying that I will never have kids. Why do I want to say it so badly? Part of me wants everyone in my immediate surroundings to know that that woman lying in the hospital bed who just gave birth will never be me. But why? Why do I feel so compelled to let everyone know that I will *never* give birth? It isn’t that I think I am a better woman because I am childfree, and I don’t think that women who have kids are not as “good” as me, whatever that means. I just have a strong urge to let everyone know that I am never having children, because it’s important and personal to me. I imagine this is what a pro-choicer who believes they would never have an abortion feels like, although I can’t say so with complete certainty. But I do hold my tongue, because blurting out what I feel is 1) irrelevant to the situation at hand and 2) rude.

      The reason it’s so important regarding abortion is because of the potential an unplanned pregnancy has to wreak havoc on a woman’s life. It can cause her to drop out of school, lose a job, become trapped in an abusive relationship, go into debt, kill her, cause health problems, and the list goes on. Because of the gravity of abortion, the “I’m pro-choice, but….” crowd only helps maintain abortion’s status as something big, bad an awful that we dare not speak of or agree with.

      Although I will probably never find common ground with people who have moral issues with abortion yet are pro-choice, I believe they have the right to their own opinions and beliefs. I just don’t think verbalizing the fact that they themselves would never have a procedure that they believe women have the right to have safely and legally helps anything at all.

      Hope that made sense! 🙂

      • It made sense. Part of me wishes I could argue for the position (in defense of myself), but I held that position only before I became sexually active and can’t even imagine myself being that stupid. So if I’m not having sex, it’s an easy position to have…if you also completely lack imagination.

        Do you think there is a difference between verbalizing the position and holding it?

  2. I think there is a difference when the issue is something as big as abortion. Abortion is so polarizing, entrenched in emotional rhetoric, comes with so much stigma, shame and guilt, even though it is a legal medical procedure, that in this case I feel it makes a difference.

    If it’s something like soda, to use one of my earlier examples, I doubt anyone cares at all if you don’t drink soda. Big deal. But when dealing with an issue so many people feel so passionately about, I think it’s important to be careful about vocalizing what could be interpreted as disapproval.

    Thanks again for your thoughts!

    • Yeah, I think I agree. I was trying to think of things that I think should be legal but that I probably wouldn’t do myself (prostitution, gambling, wear fur) and all of them were recreational things that can’t compare. Women don’t get abortions for shits and giggles (at least…not that I know of). I think anyone who holds the position they should be legal but she’d never get one really hasn’t thought about all the reasons for abortions.

      Even now, married and trying to have a kid, I can think of scenarios under which I’d have an abortion.

      • “Women don’t get abortions for shits and giggles.”
        Exactly. A lot of anti-choicers want everyone to believe that there are hoards of hot, sexy young women going out clubbing, sleeping with every man they meet, getting pregnant then having an abortion just so their dresses will still fit. I’ll make this an entirely separate post in the future, but part of the reason so many fervent anti-choice leaders are men is because they maintain this narrative in their imaginations about all the beautiful women out there who are ignoring them, and it enrages them. But I digress …..

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