If there’s one thing I can’t understand, it’s a feminist who is “pro-life.” (“Pro-life,” in this context, means someone who favors using the state to force childbirth on unwilling pregnant women.) Even for feminists who – for religious or other reasons – consider it essential to save as many fetal lives as possible, should favor doing so by helping women, not by using the law to override a woman’s preferences.
One thing I believe – but I don’t think many “feminist” pro-lifers believe – is that feminism is a word that has meaning. If you’re a feminist pro-lifer, you should be able to point to some aspect of policy (not just rhetoric) in which your feminism has caused you to differ significantly from non-feminist pro-lifers. Otherwise, the word “feminist” becomes meaningless, a word used to make pro-life policies more palatable while not actually advancing any feminist policies. This is why I’ve never taken the group “Feminists for Life” seriously. They don’t criticize the mainstream pro-life movement; nor are the policies they favor different from those favored by anti-feminist pro-lifers. “Feminists for Life” even supports extremist right-wing positions like the discredited slander of UNFPA – despite the fact that UNFPA doesn’t support abortion, and despite the fact that defunding UNFPA reduces important medical help to poor women worldwide.
“Feminists for life” are, in short, identical to all other pro-lifers, once you put their rhetoric aside. To “Feminists for Life,” feminism is nothing but a rhetorical stance they take to support their pro-life policies. I don’t think that a feminism that means so little that it doesn’t alter a single preference or policy position is really “feminist” – because if that’s feminism, then feminism must be meaningless, without content or consequence.
Lately I’ve been wondering if there’s any grounds for compromise between pro-choicers like me – who, frankly, see next-to-no value in fetal life, aside from the value projected onto fetal life by eager, willing parents – and pro-lifers who claim to have progressive values. So once I became familiar with Hugo Schwyzer, who is pro-feminist (and sincerely so, as far as I can tell), politically lefty – and pro-life, I emailed him pointing him to this post of mine discussing the supply approach to reducing abortion (punishing women and doctors) versus the demand approach (providing women with more resources, so that fewer will feel forced by circumstance into having unwanted abortions). (Just to make things clear, my criticisms of “Feminists for Life” are not meant to be criticisms of Hugo).
Hugo recently posted a response to my post on his blog.
The rest of this post will reply to select passages from Hugo’s post (but do read his entire post).
This is a digression from the main point of our exchange, but I’m curious. Hugo, do you have any objective evidence to support this contention?
One problem in measuring how money is spent is that there are two kinds of pregnancy counseling centers – the ones that sincerely try to help pregnant women and girls, and the ones that use deceptive and cruel tactics to frighten women and girls away from abortion. Counting money that goes to the latter sort of “clinic” as “addressing demand” is wrongheaded (as are the clinics themselves).
More importantly, even a good pregnancy crisis center isn’t worth much. They’re not going to pay for a child’s clothing, doctor bills, food, etc past the first year of life – and many don’t even go that far. They’re not offering to pay for braces. They don’t offer enough child care to allow the mother to attend college – and they don’t offer to pay the mother’s college tuition, either.
The countries with the lowest abortion rates in the world all offer a relatively comprehensive social support system that supports not just the child(ren), but also the mother; and not just for pregnancy and infanthood, but for the long term. To imply that “pregnancy crisis centers” – even the few of them that don’t trade in deception and fright-shows – are any substitute for a real social support system is nonsense. And the vast, vast majority of pro-life groups support politicians who are adamantly opposed to allowing American women even one-tenth of the social support system that women in truly low-abortion rate countries have available.
Well, I certainly agree with Hugo on the distribution of condoms.
I’m puzzled as to why Hugo “rejoiced when President Bush signed the Partial-Birth Abortion ban.” The only way the PBA ban will actually prevent abortion is if its proponents have been deceptive about what the PBA ban means (if it actually bans a wide variety of abortion procedures, and not just what doctors call the D&X procedure). I assume Hugo is not pro-deception. But if the PBA’s proponents have been truthful, then the PBA ban won’t actually prevent a single abortion; all it will do is force women to use a different abortion procedure. Why is that cause for rejoicing, for those who want to reduce abortion?
Those somewhat digressive points aside, here is what I think is the crux of Hugo’s argument:
I agree with Barry — and with President Bush — that the abortion struggle can only be won through a change in hearts and minds. It can’t be won on the legal front alone. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthwhile and noble to expend energy and money on curtailing legal access to abortion — I think it is. But it’s even better to devote time and resources to reaching those women most at risk for abortion, preferably before they conceive a child. That can include abstinence education and information on contraception. One does not preclude the other, nor do I see any reason to believe that teaching both together vitiates the message of either.
As I argued in the post that Hugo is responding to, there is no empirical evidence that bans on abortion are an effective way of reducing abortion. On the contrary, the countries with the lowest abortion rate in the world all have abortion that is effectively legal and on-demand. There is not a single example, anywhere, of a country which has produced notably low abortion rates with pro-life laws banning abortion.
Hugo asks, why not embrace both the supply and demand-side methods of reducing abortion, rather than making a choice? Hugo’s position only makes sense if he believes that banning abortion would harm nobody to any significant degree. And if you accept that premise, then Hugo is correct: It makes perfect sense to ban abortion if the ban harms no one and might do some good by preventing some abortions (even if the number of abortions prevented is low).
But how could anyone think that banning abortion does no harm?
It’s clear that banning abortion would do harm. Some women (and their doctors) will have to be thrown in prison to enforce such a law. Some women (most likely poor women) will be hurt or killed by botched illegal abortions. Some working- and middle-class women will be forced to spend their life savings getting a safe, legal abortion in another country. And some women will be forced to give birth against their will, giving up control of their fertility (not just whether or not to have children, but also how many children to have and when in their mother’s life plans they’ll be born) and often being forced to give up life dreams and career plans. All women will have less freedom than before.
There is a substantial price to pay for banning abortion. And even if we accept -for the sake of argument – that reducing abortion is a noble and important goal, all the evidence indicates that banning abortion is a very ineffective way of reducing abortion.
So we’re faced with three choices for what our legal approach should be. One, we could try to reduce demand for abortion with social support polices (and also widespread distribution of birth control); this is the approach used by the countries in the world with the lowest abortion rates, such as Belgium. Two, we could follow the pro-life plan of reducing supply by banning abortion, which has never produced a low abortion rate in any country, and harms women. Three, we could go with Hugo’s plan – combining a proven-effective demand-side approach with a supply-side approach that may not even work and harms women.
I think it’s obvious why I – and, I’d argue, why any feminist – should prefer the supply-side approach to reducing abortion. I know Hugo disagrees, but I honestly can’t see why.
In his post, Hugo wrote that people should “admit that the ‘other side’ might have some excellent and useful ideas.” But if Hugo can’t see that banning abortion significantly harms women, then I can’t imagine what “excellent and useful ideas” he can possibly credit to the pro-choice “side” of the debate. If pro-choicers are wrong about that, then we are wrong about everything.