“Pro-life” Rhetoric and Coercion

I’ve learned a lot today about “pro-life” arguments. It started when I read this interesting post at Siris, responding to our discussion of the video asking befuddled anti-abortion protesters what penalties they think women should suffer for having abortions. Here’s what Siris says:

I’m inclined to think it overlooks an obvious feature of the dispute — namely, that whereas pro-choice rhetoric tends to portray abortion as something women do, pro-life rhetoric tends to portray abortion as something doctors do. Given that it’s common in pro-life discourse to talk about most women as being bullied or pressured into abortion — whether by boyfriends, husbands, parents, or pro-choice groups — I’m not sure why it would be surprising that they’re vague about what penalties the women should get if abortion is criminalized.     

To me (a life-long pro-choice feminist) this feature was far from obvious. And it seems to me it’s important for pro-choicers to be aware of the fact that this argument is being made by “pro-lifers”: after all, we all oppose *coerced* abortion, which is absolutely antithetical to reproductive freedom. Now, my first reaction to the claim that women who have abortions are generally coerced was that this is extremely insulting to women’s autonomy. It’s a form of infantilization, and it shows “pro-lifers” who make this argument to be anti-feminist. But then I realized that merely claiming that many women who take themselves to be free are really victims of coercion is not enough to make one anti-feminist. After all, this is what MacKinnon says about sex workers, about women who enjoy pornography, and so on. And even though I don’t agree with MacKinnon on this, I don’t doubt that she’s a feminist.But other things about the argument struck me as well:

    The claim that the pro-choice lobby is coercing women into having abortions. What possible reason could a political movement have for doing this? Are we supposed to be baby-haters who want to prevent their birth?   There are also some suggestions here that there’s an immensely profitable abortion industry that doctors go into for the big bucks.  Oh, yeah– they chose abortion over radiology because they want the money and the cozy lifestyle.
    Many “pro-lifers” also support things like harsh penalties for drug addicts.  This suggests that they don’t take lack of free choice seriously as a defense.  So what’s going on in the case of abortion?
    Pro-choicers are also concerned with the lack of viable choices for some pregnant women.  There are, after all, women who abort who would prefer not to if they could afford to have and raise a child.  On the pro-reproductive rights side, this leads to advocacy for healthcare, a living wage, and so on.  From what I can tell, there isn’t a lot of discussion of this amongst “pro-lifers”, but maybe there are some less-heard-from groups who do discuss this.

Anyway, I’ve found this very educational.