Choice Joyce: How to Mansplain the Abortion Wars

Choice Joyce

Essays from a pro-choice feminist liberal skeptic infidel activist (and animal lover)

Friday, December 18, 2015

How to Mansplain the Abortion Wars

I’ll start by giving Kurt Eichenwald the benefit of the doubt in one respect – he probably didn’t choose the inappropriate cartoon fetus on the cover of this week’s Newsweek to illustrate his cover article: America’s Abortion Wars (and How to End Them).  Abortion is not really about fetuses. It’s about women – what’s at stake in the abortion issue above all is women’s rights, lives, health, freedom, and dignity. 

Eichenwald’s article makes many strong arguments, but they are not original and his overall framing is offensively wrong. He paints both sides as extremists and complains about the “hypocrisy” and “flaws” in both sides. Yet, he fails to point out a single problem with the pro-choice position. Instead, he spends most of his article attacking the anti-choice side, while agreeing several times with the pro-choice side. I guess that makes Eichenwald an extremist too, just like the rest of us who defend truth and justice. 

Eichenwald does make an attempt to compare the twin evils of pro-choice and anti-choice rhetoric. A feminist calling a guy a “mansplainer” is just as hyperbolic as an anti-abortion person calling a doctor a “baby killer.”  Right, no difference there – they're both so incendiary. Although when’s the last time you heard about a deranged feminist going on a murderous shooting rampage against mansplainers? 

It’s not possible to find common ground with anti-choice fanatics and terrorists. They must be strongly opposed as a threat to our lives and freedoms. Let’s get a few other things straight, too:
  • Being against terrorists who kill people at abortion clinics is not an “absolutist” position.
  • Defending women’s lives and health is not an “absolutist” position.
  • Supporting constitutional freedoms for women (and everyone else), such as privacy, conscience, religion, speech, etc. is not an “absolutist” position.
  • Anti-choice ideology relies on religious dogma and doctrine, which are absolutist. The pro-choice view is steeped in the Enlightenment values of tolerance, secularism, autonomy, and universal rights.
  • Religious belief and fanaticism do not occupy the same playing field as evidence-based medicine.
  • The misogyny inherent to the anti-choice position is not morally equivalent to the respect and compassion extended to women and their families by abortion providers and the pro-choice movement.

There is also no “rational middle” in the abortion issue. Eichenwald probably means the “muddled middle”, a segment of the public that is unfortunately misinformed because it’s been fed too much anti-choice propaganda and tends to distrust women. Pro-choice is already the broad middle ground, the democratic position, the reasonable and rational position. Indeed, the pro-choice movement found the best solution to the abortion issue long ago and has been trying to put it into practice ever since: safe and accessible abortion without stigma and discrimination. 

The author expects people to open their wallets to help women have babies they can’t afford, but it’s delusional to expect private charity to prevent most or even some abortions.  Individuals can’t be financially responsible for helping a million women a year in the U.S. – on that scale, the problem becomes a societal and government responsibility. More importantly, many women having abortions don’t want to go through pregnancy or have a baby at all, regardless of finances. Not to mention that full-term pregnancy comes with medical risks and negative side effects and major disruptions to a woman’s life. And even when unintended pregnancies are carried to term, the vast majority of women won't give up the baby for adoption.

When the author recommends increases to the minimum wage, funded daycare, free healthcare and the like, he is simply talking about Reproductive Justice. Eichenwald seems to believe he conceived all this by himself just last week, which is offensive to say the least. Reproductive Justice was developed over two decades ago by Sistersong, a group of women of color in the U.S., and it has been widely adopted by the pro-choice movement in North America. It is the feminist movement’s solution to the "abortion wars", not the author’s.

Shame on Kurt Eichenwald for equating anti-choice extremist rhetoric and terrorism with the progressive, pro-choice values shared by a majority of Americans. Shame on him for being ignorant of history and feminism, and for failing to give credit where credit is due – especially to women of color. Dare I say it?  Eichenwald’s entire article is a classic example of mansplaining.

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  • At 5:05 PM, Blogger Terry Sallas Merritt - Connections said…

    I think you 'splained this perfectly - concretely and concisely. Thank you!

  • At 12:01 PM, Anonymous Alison said…

    Thanks Joyce. I rather seethed reading Eichenwald's article, you know, deja vu all over again re people who haven't been steeped in this issue swooping in and offering up some brilliant "rational" "middle way" solution (that none of us have ever thought of, because, gee, I dunno) between the, yeah, extremists on both sides. I challenge any of them, including Eichenwald, to actually try to implement their brilliant "middle" way solutions, to argue them to the anti-choice movement, and see how far they get and how long they last. But, nah, it'll be on to the solving the next problem from behind a keyboard.

  • At 11:16 PM, Blogger choice joyce said…

    Thanks a lot Alison, and that is a great point about the difficulty if not impossibility of implementing those solutions. We would need a sea change, like a Democratic revolution or something.

    So much I didn't say in my piece, but another totally off-base thing was the assumption that anti-choice and pro-choice are waging a war that we're both invested in somehow. No, the anti's are attacking us, and we're only trying to defend ourselves (and women, and doctors). The Newsweek article was blaming the victim as well as the perpetrator. Well, the anti-choice movement pretended to condemn the shootings while accusing PP of "killing babies". Eichenwald's view comes from the exact same mold.

  • At 4:30 PM, Blogger Donna said…

    More importantly, many women having abortions don’t want to go through pregnancy or have a baby at all, regardless of finances. Not to mention that full-term pregnancy comes with medical risks and negative side effects and major disruptions to a woman’s life.

    Yes. If it were simply a matter of finances then affluent women would never abort and we know they do, although at a lesser rate due to better access to unplanned pregnancy prevention services. Adequate assistance and support for mothers and children is hugely important and woefully inadequate in this country but it is not a substitute for reproductive autonomy. We need both.

  • At 8:15 PM, Blogger choice joyce said…

    Katha Pollitt from The Nation has quoted my blog article! Her take on the issue is excellent. In the so-called "abortion wars", only one side is murdering the other.


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