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Abortion: The Litmus Test of Feminists

Posted by Curt on Friday, 18 June 2010

I find many of the individuals who espouse feminism envision it as an ideology that essentially endorses self-determination – the idea that every individual should have the choice to do whatever he or she wishes with their own life.  In this vein, it would make sense that they would seek to fight inequalities given that, in the way they’re interpreting it, inequalities are seen as discrimination which hinders free choice.  Feminism, therefore, could be seen as gender aspect of those fighting for self-determination.

There’s a lot to be said about that.  I agree with self-determination to no end (in fact, it’s perhaps the underlying drive behind my beliefs), but I’ve already stated how I think feminism has it wrong with their framing and how inequality should not necessarily be seen as indicative of discrimination.  But it’s not about what I think.  As wrong as I may think many feminists have it at times, this is generally how they envision it.  And in that context, it’s how they come up with the ultimate feminist litmus test, the one which excludes most right wingers: that of abortion.

The pro-abortion stance has been better known as “pro-choice” for quite some time – this is no accident.  Feminists for quite some time now have construed the legalization of abortion as allowing women the fullest choice for her reproductive options.  Indeed, without abortion, women would be forced to endure a full pregnancy each time they wound up pregnant, a long 9 month process which is by no means easy.  To make abortion illegal, therefore, would be to take a woman’s control away from her body – limiting her choices, thus impeding on her own self-determination.  At least in the eyes of feminists.

Thus anybody who opposes abortions (typically conservatives) would be excluded from feminism in the way feminists characterize their ideology.  This is one of the arguments Jessica Valenti, founder of Feministing, uses in her Washington Post editorial to deny that Sarah Palin is a feminist, along with other anti-abortion / pro-life / “anti-choice” (as feminists like to derogatorily use) self-defined feminists.  The cynic in me agrees with Jessica for the most part – Palin most certainly is espousing the label of feminism for pure politics, to promote a group of right winged feminists to oppose left wing feminists who have composed the bulk of mainstream feminists for the last 50 years now.  In the way most of the feminism I see is constructed, both online and offline, her exclusion of such right wing feminist groups is consistent with others.  Feminism itself may as well be seen as an exclusively left wing ideology.

The funny thing is that as much as feminists talk about pro-choice and assert their position as one of self-determination, pro-lifers do more or less the same thing.  The world is a little more complicated than that.  The abortion debate itself runs far deeper than simply one side being for abortion and thus self-determination, while those opposed are “anti-choice” and totally against self-determination.  In fact, pro-lifers have a tendency to frame their argument as one of self-determination as well; but instead of from the mother’s perspective, from the fetus’s.  Under their framing of the argument, to deny the fetus the choice to live is a violation of its self-determination, equivalent to murder itself.

Both sides have their point, and according to their framing of the argument, they both make perfect sense.  It surprises me that a number of feminists generally will not recognize the merits of the pro-life argument in that regard, opting to instead denigrate them as “anti-choice”, thus by extension, all against self-determination.  Typically they’ll dismiss such an argument by putting forth the viability argument – the argument which claims that a fetus does not have a right to life until it is able to survive on its own outside the womb (and thus not dependent on the mother’s body for growth and survival).  They may also bring in the personhood argument – the one which asserts that because the fetus is not conscious, it is not yet deserving of full human rights, including the right to life.  But I find they tend to only use this latter argument as a counterpoint to what pro-lifers argue as opposed to any place to start their argument, making it a kind of secondary argument.

But despite these arguments against it, pro-lifers’ claims to self-determination shouldn’t be disregarded.  After all, if we go by taxonomy (the way in which all animals is classified by biology in this context), the fetus is most certainly fully human and contains a fully human genome which isn’t going to change at birth or as it grows into an adult.  A fetus certainly meets all the requirements for life, making it as much of a living entity as you or I am.  Thus given that it’s both fully human and fully alive, a pro-lifer would ask why it doesn’t deserve full human rights.

Given this, the exclusion of pro-lifers from feminism simply on the basis of their being against abortion, thus against self-determination from the view of feminists like Jessica Valenti, appears extremely arbitrary in my mind.  It’s all a matter of how you frame the argument, and if you can frame it in one way or the other and still be all for self-determination for either side, but choose to exclude one or the other side on the basis of your disagreement, that is arbitrary.  And it’s worthwhile to note the fact that this exclusion fits right in with political lines, excluding most conservatives from feminism; convenient, perhaps?  This is just one of the reasons why so many accuse feminists of operating as a sort of hive-mind; groupthink and one-sidedness runs rampant when you manage to exclude and dismiss any significant disagreement (which isn’t to say that disagreement among feminists doesn’t exist, but rather, there are a number of core issues and the way they are framed which are generally accepted by feminists).


I feel it is worthwhile to note my position on the subject to give you, the reader, a better sense of where I personally come from.  If I were to lay out my beliefs, I would technically be pro-choice.  I’m for the legalization of abortion on the basis that I do not believe just being fully human and fully alive is deserving of human rights on its own.  I utilize the personhood argument, arguing that consciousness is the third step that makes all the difference – however, this doesn’t mean that it’s okay to kill anybody in a coma.  Rather, if one has never been conscious before, to kill them would thus result in no change as far as they are concerned with.  Likewise, if one has been conscious, but has suffered an incident and will never become conscious again (such as irreversible brain damage), to kill them would also result in no change – hence why I support euthanasia for the same reasons I support abortion.

This isn’t to say that I don’t think an abortion is tragic – killing any human life is most certainly tragic.  But simply put, the fetus’s lack of consciousness and never having been conscious before makes the tragedy acceptable enough to leave it to the decision of every individual’s own conscience and thus why I do not believe it ought to be illegal.

Practically speaking, only the mother can make the choice of whether to undergo an abortion or not.  It would be, in my eyes, a violation of the mother’s body if the father was able to force her to undergo an abortion when she doesn’t want it.  On the flip side, the same holds true in reverse.  I do not hold the “my body, my choice” argument to the same level as feminists however – if the fetus was fully conscious, you can be sure I’d argue that the fetus’s right to life trumps the mother’s right to her body.  And this isn’t to say that the father’s say is not important; I’d argue that any pregnant mother considering an abortion has a moral obligation to seriously consider the father’s opinion (when available at least).  To violate that would be despicable and irresponsible.

You are free to disagree with my stance on abortion.  I’ve thought it through a lot for many years.  I can understand why you may disagree, but don’t worry – I won’t try to question your dedication for gender equality or self-determination if you disagree with me.  At least not on the specific point of whether to allow abortion or not.


3 Responses to “Abortion: The Litmus Test of Feminists”

  1. Anonymous said

    I’m an anti-abortion woman, but I appreciate your level-headed, calm approach in this post. Thank you for not falling to name-calling and judgment. The abortion conflict might be more tolerable if both sides had more people like you in them.

  2. Ben said

    How dare you post that crap. Pro-lifers are out there defending women from proto-fascist hypocrites trying to force their backward, irrational values on other women. Shame on you. Anti-choicers are anti-women and anti-liberty.

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