Either you believe abortion should be legal and we need to protect access to safe, compassionate, and confidential abortion services, full stop, or you want to fall right down the slippery slope of moral relativism and directly into the hands of conservatives. You do not need to justify abortion because a pregnancy endangers the life of a patient, because a pregnancy is the result of rape, because you think certain people shouldn’t be allowed to have children, because you think a fetus carries disabilities, or for any other reason.
Every time a progressive justifies abortion, one of those horrid ‘lamenting the preborn killed by pinko commie scum’ websites gets another set of animated sparkling angel wings and a dreadful midi.
Private medical procedures do not require justification. As soon as you act like they do, you open up a line of conversation that is better left closed; you’re creating an opening where there wasn’t one before, and it’s one that directly harms the people who need access to abortion services. As soon as you start talking about why people have abortions, you set up a tiered world of ethically justified abortions versus others. You tell patients getting abortions after rapes, for example, that they will be supported and no one blames them for making a private medical decision, while leaving patients getting abortions for ‘bad’ or ‘selfish’ reasons with the impression that you are judging them.
Abortions don’t come in kinds or flavours, unless you want to talk about specific differences between individual procedures related to the stage of the pregnancy and the best procedure for the patient’s needs. There is no such thing as an ethically justified root canal versus an ethically ambiguous root canal. There’s just a procedure deemed medically neccessary after examination and discussion between doctor and patient, and a decision made on the basis of all available information.
You can talk openly about having a root canal. And you don’t need to justify it. ‘I just wasn’t ready to have a cavity.’ ‘It was causing an infection that could have killed me.’
Abortion must be treated the same way by members of the progressive moment, or they are going to find themselves forever circling around the issue, locking horns with conservatives who will seize any opening they can to undermine access to reproductive rights. As soon as you set up the idea that abortion is something that needs to be justified, you’re creating an opening which suggests that abortion is something bad which requires an excuse, rather than a private medical procedure. And that means that progressives are playing on conservative turf, here.
Everyone knows about homefield advantage, right? Why would you voluntarily walk on to the other team’s playing field and try to go up against them when you can stay on your own ground and argue your points just as well? You’re basically throwing free points to the other team, and believe me, they’re going to run with them, because they take this business every bit as seriously as we do. While their goal is to undermine bodily autonomy and our goal is to protect freedom of choice, both battles shouldn’t revolve around the idea that abortion is bad and requires excuses. We can, should, and must rise above that idea to reposition the ideological standpoints in this debate.
There is a strange squick factor among many progressives when it comes to abortion, and that undermines the very points we are trying to make. People say they’re fine with abortion but would never have one themselves, setting it up, again, as a negative; it’s a tainted medical procedure that they don’t want to associate with. Or they say that they want to see abortion occurring infrequently, implying, again, that it’s a bad thing; while this statement may be rooted in the idea that pregnancy prevention should be our first and foremost priority (and I agree), it’s not usually read that way, and people need to be conscious of how their rhetoric is going to be conceptualised by the other side. Likewise with people who refer to abortion in general as a tragedy; I’d argue it can be when people are forced to abort a wanted pregnancy for a variety of factors, but abortion as a whole? No.
All of these well-meaning progressive framings are ultimately designed to soft-pedal abortion, and that’s a mistake. We don’t need to justify, excuse, or soften abortion in order to make it palatable. People need to understand that it is one among many medical procedures that take place across the United States every day, and that people deserve access to it without judgment or commentary. People don’t need to produce their justified abortion licenses to have a right to speak about abortion, and someone who had a D&C to treat a miscarriage should be treated with the same respect as someone who took RU-486 to terminate an early and unwanted pregnancy.
Progressives often make the mistake of attempting to meet in the middle, to be the moderate ones, justifying this on the grounds that they want to foster a dialogue rather than alienating people. Unfortunately, what it actually means is that they’re ceding ground immediately, before the discussion has even begun. If you open a conversation about abortion with a discussion about justified abortions, you’re immediately setting abortion up as an ethical negative, rather than something that is neutral in nature; if you force conservatives to approach an ethically neutral argument rather than a compromised one, it’s going to be more difficult for them to attack us on ethical grounds. And they’re going to be forced to reveal the real reasons they don’t want patients to be able to access abortion services.
When they can’t hide behind pandering about exceptions for the life of the mother or cases of rape, they’re forced to admit that they just hate abortion. And that is a much easier ideological standpoint to attack, because it’s a hard, clear line. It’s also a much easier line to mobilize their base around; moderate conservatives making decisions at the polls who care about this issue might feel differently about casting their votes if the abortion debate took place with different goalposts and standards because it would force them to probe deeper into how their candidates actually feel.
And for patients, unilateral support for people seeking abortions is critical. There’s a reason even progressives in pro-choice circles are sometimes hesitant to speak out about abortion, and it’s the knowledge that they may be judged and condemned for having ‘the wrong kind’ of abortion, for ‘giving the movement a bad name.’ They’ll be told that people ‘completely respect their choice, but, you know, people like you are what gives conservatives fodder to attack us,’ or they will be openly informed that they’re ethically repugnant. And this needs to stop.
There’s nothing wrong with abortion. And it’s time for progressives to openly say that instead of dancing around the issue.