From my perspective, I’m the one advocating for a “both/and” way of seeing the world in this debate. I’ve been arguing that since the most effective ways of reducing abortion don’t involve banning abortion, there’s no need to choose between pro-woman policies and pro-fetus policies. We can have it both ways, reducing abortions far more than any ban plan can while preserving women’s bodily autonomy.
For all his chatter about preferring “both/and” solutions, it’s plain that – on this issue at least – Hugo passionately opposes “both/and.” In his view, we should absolutely ban women’s rights wherever women’s rights come into conflict with fetal rights; he believes it’s an either/or choice, with no compromise possible.
That said, let’s look at Hugo’s more recent post.
First of all, Hugo asks me to prove that women will be hurt by future pro-life laws, but then says that he refuses to accept the past results of actual pro-life laws as evidence (such as the actual history of banned abortion here in the US, or what’s happened in other countries that have banned abortion, such as Poland). Since no other kind of evidence can possibly exist, I’m afraid that I can’t fulfill Hugo’s request.
But (at the risk of losing my civility a tad) I understand why Hugo and other pro-lifers don’t want to talk about the disgusting carnage they’ve caused; there are about 70,000 women who die every year from unsafe abortions, mostly in third-world countries where evangelical Christians have succeeded in banning legal abortions. Not only do pro-lifers not take responsibility for their death toll, they make things worse by slandering organizations that provide non-abortive health care to third world women, such as UNFPA. (“Feminists for Life,” an organization Hugo admires, is no different from any non-feminist pro-life organization in this regard.)
Would it get that bad in the USA? Of course not – the pre-Roe record shows pretty clearly that illegal first-world abortions are many times safer than illegal third-world abortions. Would there still be occasional women in the US, if abortion were banned, who’d be afraid to go to a hospital if their illegal abortion led to complications – which could then lead to serious health consequences, or even death, for the woman? Of course, there would be – and, again, the pre-Roe record is clear about that. Since Hugo is anti-evidence, perhaps he’ll accept simple logic instead: if you pass a law that makes it effectively impossible for people to seek needed medical help without fear of arrest, then of course some people will be harmed.
(And, of course, that’s not the only harm banning abortion does to women – not by a long shot.)
Hugo suggests that injuries and deaths from illegal abortion won’t be a problem “if — as leftist pro-lifers insist — anti -abortion legislation be accompanied by considerable aid to help single (and married) women either afford to keep their children or give them up for adoption.” But leftist pro-lifers have never insisted on this; instead, as Hugo points out later this same post, they “make common cause with Christian right-wingers,” advocating pro-life bans that are not accompanied by a stitch of aid for women. (According to Hugo, he “rejoiced when President Bush signed the Partial-Birth Abortion ban” – a ban so misogynistic that it doesn’t even include a health exemption. Of course, the PBA ban was not accompanied by any of the nice policies Hugo suggests.)
The basic fact – the fact that Hugo never addresses directly – is that there is not a single country in the world in which banning abortion has led to a low abortion rate. Logically, there is no compelling reason for someone whose goal is a low abortion rate to support abortion bans, because they simply don’t work. (What does work, judging from those countries that do have low abortion rates, is Belgium-style generous social support combined with widely available birth control).
There is no logical way, given the evidence, that a pro-lifer can claim to support banning abortion because they want the US to have a low abortion rate. The two things are not connected.
Hugo does address this a bit, writing:
What’s striking to me is how Hugo’s analogy completely misstates my argument. If Hugo had been true to my argument, he might have written this: “The fact that outlawing prostitution victimizes women while not actually reducing prostitution significantly, and that other methods which don’t victimize women will reduce prostitution much more, is a poor argument for legalizing prostitution.” That would be an accurate analogy, but it would also be an excellent argument for legalized prostitution.
(Regarding prostitution, I strongly favor decriminalization. Specifically, I favor the Swedish approach, which decriminalizes prostitution but criminalizes being a John. But that’s a subject for a different post).
First of all, it’s not the law that makes abortion possible. As Hugo well knows, abortion takes place whether or not it’s outlawed. By spreading the lie that it’s laws that make abortion possible, Hugo is being deceptive – except the main person he’s deceiving is himself.
I think the question Hugo should ask himself is where his real priority lies: in restricting and punishing women and doctors, or in saving as many fetal lives as possible? If it’s the former, then perhaps it makes sense to remain pro-life – even though that locks us into an endless political deadlock, and will never really prevent abortion.
But imagine an alternative world. Imagine a world in which pro-lifers realized that 1) banning abortion has never, in the real world, led to a low abortion rate, and 2) feminists and civil libertarians will never, ever give up fighting to protect reproductive rights. On the other hand, what if the endless people-hours and billions of dollars pro-lifers spend on banning abortion were instead spent on working to actually reduce abortion, by incrementally working towards a Netherlands-level social support system? Sure, it would be a hard fight – but instead of being enemies, feminists, pro-lifers and civil libertarians would all working in the same direction. And unlike banning abortion, a victory in this case actually could lead to a low abortion rate, if real-world abortion rates are anything to judge by.
Hugo likes to say that he’s against “either/or” choices, but in the real world sometimes choices have to be made. Every dollar spent on trying to ban abortion is a dollar that could have been spent advocating for a policy that would more effectively save more preborn lives. Every minute spent supporting banning abortion is a minute that could have been used supporting policies that would more effectively save more preborn lives.
Thinking of it that way more than justifies not working for an abortion ban. Assuming, that is, that the point is saving fetal lives, not controlling female lives.
And that’s the bottom line, isn’t it? If being a feminist pro-lifer means anything, it should mean an eagerness to support both the best interests of women and the best interests of preborns. And, in fact, there’s a practical real-world way of doing that – a more effective method of reducing abortions that doesn’t attempt to punitively control women’s bodies. That’s something pro-life feminists should be eager to support.
But when I talk to pro-life feminists, they don’t seem eager about the possibility that they can have it both ways. Instead, they seem eager to dismiss the possibility. I think that’s a mistake on their part.